He was a man of great appetites, a gourmand with adventurous tastes.
It had started when he was just a boy. On a trip to France, his classmates had squeamishly refused to eat frogs’ legs, snails or horse meat. He had consumed all three with gusto. His appetite was thus whetted for a lifetime of culinary travel.
His morning coffee was an expensive kind which had previously seen the insides of a civet’s digestive tract. In China, he had tried bird’s nest soup, cat meat and dog meat. He went to Thailand for deep-fried grasshoppers, and to Taiwan for rooster’s testicles. He had fugu in Japan, but it was well prepared and he didn’t die. He was almost disappointed.
None of this satisfied his desire for strange foods. He heard about a cheese which had been banned by the Italian government, and hopped on a plane straight away to find some. Once he had charmed the locals and convinced them he truly was only interested in eating the cheese, it was given to him in a plastic tub which emitted strange plunking sounds. When he investigated, he found that it was the sound of maggots jumping from the cheese and hitting the sides of the tub. He shrugged, refrigerated the cheese overnight to sedate the maggots, and chowed down on it for breakfast.
He travelled across Eastern Europe for a stew of mice; went to Norway to eat a sheep’s head; then went down to Egypt for pigeons and another kind of maggotty cheese. He even went to Kenya in search of a Masai tribe who would share their blood and milk diet with him.
Yet he was still unsatisfied.
Whispers began to reach him; rumours of a dish that was truly unique. Served only on a tiny island in the middle of the ocean, an island which accepted no visitors. An anthropologist had visited there once and witnessed the meal. When he tried to leave, the villagers had attacked him- he reached his waiting ship and escaped, only to die before the island was even out of sight, describing the village and the meal in his dying breaths.
He had to have it, he decided. A unique dish that no other Westerner had ever tasted? It was the ultimate goal. He made meticulous plans, learned to pilot a seaplane himself, learned the language of their nearest neighbours, and made for the nearest accessible island.
There they told him more. Yes, they said, there were people on the island. No, nobody had ever visited and returned alive. Yes, they said, they had heard about the anthropologist and what he had seen. They protested when he said he was going there. You’ll never return, they told him.
He didn’t care.
He set off early in the morning, piloting his seaplane across calm blue seas until he found the island. He circled overhead, spotted the village by the smoke that drifted up from their fires, and set down in a nearby bay. He waded in, taking a big knife to cut through the jungle, and made his way to the village.
The villagers stared at him. He spoke to them, hoping they would understand. They nodded, smiled, and brought him to the centre of the village, seating him on a decorated wooden stool near the fire. He eyed the large cooking pot, salivating with anticipation. There must be a lot of soup in there. For a tribe who accepted no visitors, he thought, they were surprisingly hospitable.
The shark’s teeth soup was presented to him in a bowl made from a large shell. Villagers knelt around him and watched as he sipped from its edge. It had a delicate flavour, lightly spiced and truly unique. Although he racked his brain, remembering every dish he had ever eaten, he could think of nothing that compared in any way. He smiled and complimented the villagers.
He was still smiling when they struck him expertly on the back of the head with a large rock, and the smile was still on his face as they slid him into the pot.
© Kari Fay