Right. It's final and authoritative now. For some reason that eludes me, crime fiction authors in foreign tongues incorporate lavish descriptions of local foods and cuisine to - what's that Wodehousian expression? - 'add verisimilitude to an otherwise bland and unconvincing narrative.' I've noticed this now in a couple of Latin authors (Italian and Spanish), but the enormity of it all dawned up on me only when I read Leonardo Padura's Havana Gold, a laid-back noirish account of goings-on in the sex-filled drug-fuelled underbelly of the Cuban capital. There are entire recipes in this book, mouthwatering ones, true, but why have them in a murder mystery? Just solve the damned crime, fella, and move on.
"Ajiaco sailor-style," she announced, putting her banquet stew-pot on the stove almost half filled with water, adding the head of glassy-eyed stone bass, two of the sweetest, off-white corncobs, half a pound of yellow malanga, half of white, and a similar amount of yam and marrow, two green plantains and others drippingly overripe, a pound of yucca and sweet-potato. She squeezed in a lemon, and drowned a pound of white flesh from that fish the Count hadn't tasted for so long he thought it must be on the way to extinction, and, like someone keen to offload, she added another pound of prawns. "You could also add in lobster or crab," added Josefina, like a witch from Macbeth before the stew-pot of life, finally throwing onto all that solid matter a third of a cup of oil, an onion, two cloves of garlic, a big pepper, a cup of tomato puree, three, no better four small spoonfuls of salt - "The other day I read it's not as bad for you as they say, just as well" - and half a spoonful of pepper, almost completing that creation which had every possible flavour, smell, colour and texture, with a last quarter of a spoonful of oregano and another such of cumin, cast in the pot almost in a mood of irritation. Josefina smiled as she started stirring her concoction. "There's enough for ten people, but with four men like you... My grandfather used to make this, he was a sailor from Galicia, and according to him this ajiaco is the daddy of all ajiacos and any day beats Castilian pisto, French pot-pourri, Italian minestrone, Chilean cazuela, Dominican sancocho and, naturally, Slav borsch, that hardly merits a place in this Latin stew competition. The secret lies in the mix of fish and vegetables, but you know, one ingredients is missing that you always add to fish: potatoes. You know why?"
Hypnotised by her magic incantation, gawping incredulously, the four friends shook their heads.
"Because the potato is hard-hearted and this lot is of more noble mind."