Thursday, January 10, 2008

Presentation is two thirds of the meal

They usually say that the new year is a time to look forward, and speculate on the good fortunes to come, rather than dwelling on the past, and what has been and gone, but true to his thirty year history of cutting-edge, extremist, confronting radicalism, Donkey has decided to kick off the new year by harking back to a report he filed way back in September when he first arrived in Lhasa (he heh, "filed", makes me sound like a hard-boiled, J. J. Jamieson-type news editor). Fair's fair, though, this particular rant was sparked by an incident that took place in this new year, so let's get on with it...

The post I'm referring to explored the odd practices of meat vendors throughout the world, and in particular, here in Lhasa, in regards to presenting their wares in order to make them appear more attractive to the consumer. As I described, the practice here is to skin a huge hock of yak right back, but to leave a big shag of fur hanging off the end, which can be sculpted into an attractive, foodie-fashion statement using the tasty morsel's very own juices.

Now on the weekend, while making my way back to the sparse air of Lhasa after spending an awesome week on the beaches of Goa with Mrs. Donkey, I found myself stranded in Kathmandu for an extra day thanks to the rather sinister flight re-scheduling of Air China. Regular readers would be aware that Kath-ers is one of Donkey's favourite cities in the world, so spending an extra 24 hours there was no great chore. After wandering around that enchanting place for the day, taking in all the wondrous sites, sounds and smells, I found myself meandering along the very same, narrow street of Thamel that had been my first introduction to the developing world, coming up on a decade ago.

This happened to be the very same street that I'd referred to in the afore-mentioned post, and at the very end of the street, I was not so surprised to see the exact same, open-fronted butcher shop with the same rickety table outside, its flimsy legs straining under a mound of grisly wares. You will recall my amazement at the glistening, perfectly bled and skinned white flesh of the goat on display a decade ago, but ten years has obviously been good for Adesh the Butcher and his family, because what I was confronted with as I approached his shop, was not dismembered goats, but a number of enormous pigs. And not just any old, garden variety, pink porker with a curly tail, oh no, what I saw as I stood there, agape, oblivious to the on-coming traffic, was this...

OK, OK, the change in Adesh's merchandise was shock enough, but have a look at the colour of that thing – it looked like one of those single, male, British septuagenarians on holidays in Ibiza, looking for a bit of teenage skirt and having overdone it a bit with the rub-on tan on the first day – Porky was completely orange.

And will you have a look at that mohawk – it would make Mr T look like a "damn fool" (oh yes, bravo Donkey, that was magic!). A massive, spiked mohawk right down his porcine back. Incredible! I always did have a hunch that Adesh the Butcher was more artist than gruesome murderer of defenceless beasties, and now I'm certain of it.

It was quite a strange, and I'll admit, harrowing discovery on the dusty streets, and I was shocked for some time thereafter. I can only imagine this form of presentation is all about impressing the would-be shopper, and if that's what turns on the good folk of Old Kathmandu, then all I can say is they've got a lot more to worry about than homicidal royals and Maoist guerrillas. Still, I guess Porky's unusual get-up had the benefit of standing out from the crowd of other dead, partially intact pigs, and I suppose that's what Adesh was gunning for. On the streets of Kathmandu, presentation is definitely the key.

Which brings me to the title of this post, "Presentation is two thirds of the meal", an oft-quoted missive from Donkey, especially when he serves up some steaming bowl of bland-looking (and more often than not, bland-tasting) brown, topped with a jaunty sprig of green, such as some coriander leaves or parsley. Ridiculous really, but the quote is all effective, and puts a sharp stop to any criticisms, which I think you'll agree, is very handy indeed.

The actual origins of the quote are a bit spurious, and if I hadn't had a few beers while writing this crud, I might not tell you that between you and me, I may just have made it up. But be that as it may, it's a part of the cultural landscape now, so there's no turning back, and despite its implausible origins, I think there may actually be some truth in it.

I've already given you the examples of the butchers of Lhasa and Kathmandu, and we've all sat uncomfortably in a restaurant whose entrées alone are way above our means, and wondered why the teaspoon-sized morsels are delivered on plates which, angled in the right direction, can pick-up restricted communiqués between North Korean subs, but if you're still in doubt, perhaps this might seal the deal for you.

There's not much you can do to make a stock-standard, everyday sausage look particularly attractive or appetizing, but a while back, I nearly ended up with a step-sister-in-law (that's another story for another bed time, kiddies) who, trying her darndest to break into the entertainment industry, often took on work as a model in some of your less high-brow "gentlemen's" magazines. On one photo shoot, Shirley (not her real name, obviously) was seen bending towards the camera wearing nothing but a string bikini, holding an ordinary, although incredibly phallic (I wonder if they knew) pork and onion sausage up to her open mouth while looking seductively at the camera. Now I never did get to see the shots which appeared in that particular issue (my subscription must've lapsed), but I hear on the grapevine that the sales of pork and onion sausages went through the roof for a week and a half after the issue's release.

So you see, when it comes to serving up a steaming, pile of crap, presentation is AT LEAST two thirds of the meal.