Friday's Book: The Anthropologists' Cookbook (revised edition) edited by Jessica Kuper

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Indy Lifestyle Online
This classic banquet of strange feasts from around the world tickled Angela Carter's palate when it first appeared in 1977. And no wonder, for the mistress of macabre wit would have relished its deadpan servings of recherche recipes and stewpot lore from New Guinea to New York. With its hors-d'oeuvre and its dessert in the form of essays from Mary Douglas and Claude Levi-Strauss, and a cook's tour of the planet's dishes from ethnographers in between, it mixes the erudite, the enticing - and the frankly emetic. Isobel White learnt in the Australian Outback that a steak left out to rot until it turned bright green could be safely savoured - "Once meat goes green it is not poisonous." So there's hope yet for that ... thing at the back of the fridge. Just be patient.

As Kuper's new preface puts it, in an understatement, "this is not a book for the cautious, hidebound cook". How about roast puffin, caught in the Faroes on 2 July, the local version of the Glorious Twelfth? It sounds easy enough to cook (with some fat bacon, on gas mark 6, like any humdrum fowl) but you might have some trouble getting hold of the elongated lacrosse-stick device with which you have to pluck the blighters from the Arctic air. Even dog - a speciality of Panape in Micronesia - poses few problems if you have the right sort of clay oven (Conran take note). Cooked with breadfruit and banana leaves, "the dog did not taste as bad as its smell would have led one to believe". As Naomicho Ishige - our intrepid dog-eater - points out, the "man's best friend" notion arrived on the scene only with grazing and long-distance hunting.

Lest you get a skewed idea of the menus on show here, plenty of practical goodies also feature. They include banana bread (a Hawaiian treat), Greek Island cheesecake, West African sesame chicken, and pork curry from Catholic - hence swine-friendly - Goa. Even "Some Yoruba Ways with Yams" turns out to be far less painful than it sounds.

Yet the frisson of disgust that grabs you by the guts from time to time in this, or similarly outre, cookbooks has an ancient source. Surely, behind every taboo food lurks the grandaddy of all prohibitions. The unperturbable Jessica Kuper doesn't shirk it, but she coolly admits it was "impracticable to include cannibal recipes, even for desperate occasions". Besides, human flesh is "almost totally lacking in Vitamin B" and there is "no real nutritional value in cannibalism". Eating people is wrong - and it gives you beri- beri.

Kegan Paul International, pounds 29.95

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