The moveable feast: Food lore

Kathmandu :

We have been eating out so much that it is time to sort of go into the theory of what was once called Aristology, which is the science of dining or art of eating well, a word that was coined in 1835 by a London magistrate named Thomas Walker. He thought the ideal number of guests at the table should be six and they should be chosen for their interests and experiences. As a sort of postscript Thomas Walker says, “Salt, vinegar, pepper and wine should be within easy reach of every guest so the conversation flows uninterrupted.”

One of the most delicious dishes ever to grace an Aristology dining table would be the Beef Wellington, which some say was an Irish dish called the Steig Wellington. The recipe calls for fillet of beef wrapped with cooked mushrooms in flaky pastry and baked. This was said to be the favourite of the Duke of Wellington, who was born in Ireland. Today a very delicious Beef Wellington can be got in London’s most famous Food Emporium, a favourite of gourmets.

Says Craig Claiborne, The New York Times food critic, “Gourmet is, of course, the ultimate praise to describe an individual of extraordinary sensitivity, one of whose ruling passions is food and wine. What would a gourmet be? It would be, first of all, someone of impeccable taste who would know, blindfolded and with only a sip, the vineyard and vintage of the wine he samples. It would be someone of scrupulous taste who could detect the least trace of any herb, spice, or spirit in a sauce; someone who could relate instantly a precise choice of wine to any given food. This admirable figure would never drink strong spirits and an excess of alcohol would be unthinkable. A raconteur of elegant manners and speech — one who never repeat a choice anecdote twice in the same manner.”

What would the gourmet do with Spaghetti?

I have always found that Spaghetti and other long pasta should be eaten alone (while huge wet sandwiches should be eaten over the kitchen sink) so that I don’t disgust fellow diners at that famous table for six. How do you get long strings of Spaghetti with sauce into your mouth? The famous ‘Madam Of Manners’ Emily Post says, “Twirl Spaghetti against a spoon or with the tips of the fork resting against the curve of the plate.”

Should strands of long pasta be broken before being tossed into the pot?

An Italian lady recalls, “My grandparents spent hours teaching me how to eat pasta without using a spoon, how to twirl my fork so that not a strand of spaghetti would be hanging down as I lifted that fork to my mouth. At home if I couldn’t master the technique, they’d punish me by taking all the food away.”

A gentleman adds, “If your sauce is very liquid — a juicy primavera, a clam sauce — you might use a spoon to prevent splattering.”

Of course we could eat it with chopsticks like the Chinese.

And what would be the ideal dinner for six? Here’s what Queen Victoria served in 1900 mixing Indian and Western dishes thereby becoming the First Lady Of Fusion. Mixing a Turtle Soup or a soup of almonds followed by salmon in a creamy Pernod sauce or fingerlings of salmon in a herbed spicy sauce, game in a white sauce or a quail and potato curry...

The menu went on and one imagines that the conversation must have been as mixed and as delicious as the meal.