My wife and I normally have an almost entirely vegetarian diet, but we depart from this on Christmas Eve. For three years we had cooked chicken from the local supermarket. This time we fancied something different. There are several Chinese and Indian restaurants and take-away places within easy walking distance of us, so I picked up a menu from each of them and we drooled over the offerings, finally deciding on one of the most expensive dishes from the largest Indian establishment – £11.45 a head.
It was a memorable occasion. Panting with anticipation, we laid out the repast, described as a Chefs Special – succulent pieces of prime duck, cooked in a delicious sauce, with rice and a selection of vegetables. The rice passed muster, but the vegetables comprised five large chunks of boiled potato, plus about an ounce of grated onion and a tomato, both raw, per portion. However, it was the duck that gave us the most entertainment.
We sawed and tore quietly at our few bits of this alleged fowl for a few minutes before I broke the silence by remarking that it seemed like something left over from the Indian Mutiny, and that it might well have been called Gandhi’s Revenge. I also ventured the suggestion that it had possibly been supplied by the Worshipful Society of Cordwainers, or in view of the price, perhaps by Lobb of London. Picking up on the leather analogy, my better half, glumly stirring the brown sludge in which our web-footed acquaintance had been presented, countered with observations featuring the names Gucci and Prada.
At length I concluded that we were on the wrong track with regard to texture. The only similar thing I had ever previously encountered came into my life about sixty-five years ago, when my father bought me a tiny plate of whelks from a stall in Scarborough. There were four of the creatures. The three small ones I coped with passably well, but the fourth was a monster. I chomped on it for half an hour as we walked from North Marine Drive to the south shore, then for a further hour as we sat through a brass band concert. At last I dropped it, scarcely reduced in size, into a drain. I’ve never tried to eat a whelk since then.
Now back to our meal. Battling on, my wife asked whether we were attacking Bombay duck. I pointed out that that delicacy is a fish, and that there was nothing piscatorial about our treat, save that the description was more than slightly fishy. After about twenty minutes of gallant effort, we gave up and dumped everything we had left -most of what we started with into the brown bin. As we are not in the habit of wasting food, this went down badly, but I think we avoided a touch of Delhi belly.
I’m not normally a griper, but I phoned the restaurant to voice displeasure. “Goodness gracious me (or words to that effect),” said the manager. We have been selling that dish for eight years and have never had a complaint until now.”
“I’m not surprised,” I snapped. “We’re probably the first survivors. Where do you get your duck?”
“From the very best sources,” he said.
“I’ll bet,” I retorted. “My guess is that you’re speaking of Goodyear or Pirelli.” That was lost on him. “I do not understand,” he replied, then the line went dead.
* * *