Our gallant little band of pesto-pushers is ever thrusting out into brave new alimentary worlds, and must always bring back some trophy, some evidence of the journey, to the furthest known limits of foodism. Once we had the simple things of life: basil, pine nuts and the like, and thought ourselves adventurous as we served squid to our friends, who were mostly called, in those innocent days, Justin or Amanda. Now we must go farther afield to impress Marius and Fenella when they come to dinner. Dried goat with almonds. Shanghai noodles. Harissa.
In the past, we read about oriental dishes in the food columns of the colour supplements and hoped the goodies were in stock down at the delicatessen. But now we go to Egypt, China, Sri Lanka and the other exotic destinations of the middle-class package tour (go on, admit that's what it is]), and explore the outer reaches of foodie- dom for ourselves.
Seventeenth-century collectors had their cabinets of curiosities for strange objects brought back from voyages of discovery. We have our stripped-pine kitchen cabinets of curiosities, in which repose the dried-up trophies of our travels. There is the shredded saffron we bought in Cairo, now plainly revealed to all but the eye of faith as well-chewed tobacco. That small screw-top jar contains small black seeds we got in Sicily. There is just a faint suspicion that they might be not something to scatter over the top of the ciabatta, but derived from a close cousin of the hemlock plant - we never did quite grasp what the old lady was trying to explain. What is that crusty-looking sauce in a bottle with a fluorescent dragon on it? Some Thai delicacy picked up at the last moment from the chill-cabinet at Bangkok airport. In short, we trawl the globe to fill our kitchen shelves.
And in doing so we present food writers with a problem: to find something new to write about. The answer is that we are poised on the edge of the next leap into exotic foods - those that were previously thought too disgusting for British readers.
After all, eating dog is just another ethnic custom, widespread in the East, and that label 'ethnic' excuses everything, from female circumcision to grub-eating. If pig or hare is acceptable as food, why not dog? There must be plenty of recipes for it; there's a recipe for cooking fox in the Larousse Gastronomique, you could probably adapt that if you couldn't get the authentic Indonesian spices. If much of the world finds it acceptable, why should we balk at a tender young puppy?
We have already been persuaded to make massive changes in our diets to accept European foods. My grandparents regarded olive oil with pure disgust, and the same went for garlic and snails. All three items are as common in Britain now as winkles were then. Any trendy gourmet will openly despise people who don't like the idea of eating frog's legs or cheval steaks. What we eat is largely a matter of conditioning: dormice, locusts, snakes have all offered tasty eating. So why shouldn't we make the next big shift in adjusting to exotic foods - to an oriental diet?
But new arrivals on the food stalls include things we might well feel a bit sensitive about. A deep- water fish, the orange roughy, is now being trawled and sold in France as a substitute for cod or herring. The orange roughy is a real grandaddy of fishes: it has an enormously long life-span, longer than ours, usually living to the age of 100 years.
How do you feel about eating something that was spawned before your great-grandma was born? Something that was swimming about in the waters of the Atlantic when Joseph Conrad sailed the seven seas? I'll bet it won't be long before the orange roughy gets dished up in the smart fish kettles of Britain - foodies have no trouble overcoming sentimentality.
Any day now, someone will break through the doggie taboo and the first mentions of brochettes de . . . or cani sfumati will appear. Why, you're getting quite used to the idea already] Sounds quite acceptable in French or Italian, doesn't it?
Our guests, Vincent and Ruby (those naff Fifties names will be all the rage), will ring the doorbell, pump their intravenous cocktails and be seated at the virtual-reality dining table.
The talk will be of Tony Blair's third term. The fragrant and steaming tureen appears. 'Just a simple little recipe we picked up on our travels this year. Hope you like saddle of terrier with black bean sauce . . .'
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