Something fishy

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The Independent Online

So it's true. The new millennium really does mark the end of civilisation as we know it. No longer will it be possible for the undiscerning rich to swill caviare down with champagne. The activity of Russian mafia smugglers means that, from 31 December, Caspian caviare may be banned.

So it's true. The new millennium really does mark the end of civilisation as we know it. No longer will it be possible for the undiscerning rich to swill caviare down with champagne. The activity of Russian mafia smugglers means that, from 31 December, Caspian caviare may be banned.

In a sense, caviare has always traded on its unattainability. Though not especially tasty - in truth, it is one of the dullest foods imaginable - it is desirable because it is so hard to come by. As the old rhyme notes:

Caviare comes from a virgin sturgeon...

But a virgin sturgeon needs no urgin' -

That's why caviare's a very rare dish.

The concept of exclusivity goes back hundreds of years: Hamlet declared that a play "pleased not the million - it was caviare to the general", the gastronomic equivalent of casting pearls before swine.

Now, the idea of an era of caviare prohibition seems set only to add to the excitement associated with its consumption. Maybe it is part of a cunning bid by the Russian tourist board to persuade people to visit Moscow to buy black-market fruits du mer. "Roll up, roll up! Salty black fish eggs tasting of not very much, banned in the rest of the world!" Nothing, surely, could be more tempting.

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