I’ve been to two unusual local meals recently.
The first was in the village, at the house next door to the school, and was hosted by Momm, who works in the special needs department at Grace House.
The whole school staff was invited to lunch, and it was a special lunch for Momm’s mother-in-law who lives with them.
We arrived to find that they had hired special covers for all the chairs, and brightly coloured tablecloths, and they’d obviously been cooking since dawn.
I asked what the feast was in aid of, and was told that it’s an old people’s feast. As people get older and start thinking about their impending death, they often decide to hold this particular feast to atone for the wicked things they’ve done in their life. It’s a very important occasion, and all family members must come, regardless of how far away they live.
I was intrigued and asked what sort of wicked things can be wiped off the slate by holding this feast. They said that it could simply be killing a chicken to feed your children, which doesn’t sound terribly wicked to me, but Buddhists believe in Karma, and killing anything at all means you won’t make it to the realm of the gods, and you may end up being reborn as a cockroach.
Then mother-in-law herself came slowly down the stairs to say hello to us. Here she is with Momm.
I scrutinised her to see whether she looked as though she was atoning for a chicken she popped into a curry many years ago, or for three husbands buried in a rice paddy somewhere, but she wasn’t giving anything away.
The second meal was at a barbecue restaurant – very popular here. You get a small brazier full of burning coals on the table, with stock in the bottom, and a raised area for barbecuing above it.
They put a large piece of lard on the top of the barbecue, to grease it, and then away you go.
The idea is to take a tray and help yourself to meat, seafood and vegetables, and then cook them yourself at the table.
Vegetables and shellfish are boiled in the stock, and meat and fish are grilled on the top.
Some of the ingredients are more tempting than others.
These clams turned out to be black inside, and they don’t open regardless of how long you cook them, so you have to fight them every step of the way to get them apart and then it’s difficult to tell whether you’re poisoning yourself or not.
I decided to concentrate on decreasing the local crocodile population, slice by slice.
I can now reliably inform you that, in order to get the best out of your recently butchered crocodile, you must briefly marinade the meat before barbecuing, and above all, do not overcook it or it takes on the texture of a warm flip-flop.
Halfway through our meal there were shrieks from another table and the roar of a fire extinguisher, as one enthusiastic diner decided to barbecue his friends rather than the many other ingredients available.
With so many coal braziers in one room, it gets very smokey and they occasionally turn the fans off (apparently to clear the smoke??)and you can hardly see the other side of the room.
We discussed the possibility of opening such a restaurant in Europe, with a whole room full of free-standing braziers of hot coals, and men threading their way through the tables carrying these braziers full of hot coals topped with a pot of boiling stock. We decided that the regulations would be so draconian that you’d probably have to compromise with an electric sandwich toaster screwed firmly to the table, and every piece of food would have to be independently tested with a probe before anyone was allowed to eat it. The downside of this freedom to give yourself third-degree burns if you so wish, is that there’s probably nobody to sue in order to pay for your skin grafts.