Around the World in 80 Soufflés: Part 4
Aloha, my little sugar dumplings. This week one has donned the designer explorer’s outfit to venture into the hot and humid jungles of Mystery Island. One only hopes that the atmosphere doesn’t provoke one’s hair to curl uncontrollably like a Babaa in the rain; one spent a remarkable amount of time and Superstar Shampoo coaxing it into position before setting off this morning. But one is not here to promote grooming products; one is here to enthrall and enlighten you in the ways of the kitchen. So shall we get on with it?
After last week’s experience in a more modern dining environment, one decided to push the envelop somewhat and look for a similarly unique evening rather than settling for the usual “How are you, madam? What would you like as your starter?” affair. So one was overjoyed upon receiving an invitation from Jhuidah to have lunch at The Cooking Pot; as one understands it, she is looking to raise awareness about the fact that the place still exists and decided to call upon yours truly to help get word out there.
Upon arrival at the Mystery Island harbour, one discovered what was perhaps a contributing factor to The Cooking Pot’s decline in popularity amongst all but the most dedicated natives. Situated on the coast at the furthest point of the island, it isn’t exactly easily accessible. In fact one had to employ the services of one of the Coconut People to ferry one along the beach in one of those charming little rickshaws you see on postcards from the isle. After an arduous journey that lasted the best part of an hour, one’s rear was thoroughly uncomfortable from having to shift around on the itchy coconut fibre-stuffed cushion that served as a seat.
One faired considerably better than the poor chap who had been pulling the carriage, though; one can only assume he had been overdoing it lately as he promptly collapsed upon reaching our destination. There was some talk of him having been foolish for ‘exceeding the maximum load’ on the rickshaw or something of the like; one can only assume that ‘load’ is some sort of technical term for the number of shuttles run in a day, in which case he was indeed rather foolish and it serves him right!
But one digresses. Having arrived at The Cooking Pot, one was as completely underwhelmed with the setting as one was with the choice of location. Essentially, it’s a pot. A large, green, rusty, old pot in the middle of a clearing. Oh, and did one mention that there are skulls strewn around the base of said pot? Oh yes, if ever one has come across a table accessory guaranteed to put one off one’s lunch in record time, then it would have to be the hollowed-out cranium of a previous diner.
Standing in the midst of this barbaric setting was Jhuidah; over-sized mixing spoon in hand and an expression that teetered between uneasy impatience and fear spread across her face. After guiding one to be seated on an arrangement of yet more coconut fibres, she informed one that the entity known as Pango Pango had been somewhat restless lately and so she could be summoned away at any moment to tend to him. As such, she hoped that one would understand if she was a little abrupt in her service and that today one would be eating from a pre-selected menu that had been specially prepared to save time. Fortunately, as one was unaccustomed as to what exactly the Cooking Pot had to offer (and since nobody was forth-coming with anything resembling a menu), one was more than happy to submit to her suggestions.
Once one was seated, Jhuidah hurried off behind a nearby shrub and returned cradling a selection of strange-looking fruits in her arms. She then proceeded to step up onto one of the larger skulls at the base of the pot and drop the fruit in. Next she stirred the contents in such a way as to relay, even to a layman such as oneself, that there was a specificness required by the ritual in order for the pot to do its magic. One watched with eager anticipation, expecting that at any moment something amazing would happen; a puff of putrid-smelling smoke, a flash of blinding light, a sudden and inexplicable swarming of air faeries dancing in formation over the pot. Just something to mark such a momentous occasion.
But nothing. Not even so much as a little clanging sound as the spoon hit the sides. One was almost certain the magic hadn’t worked, until Jhuidah reached into the pot and pulled out a bowl stuffed with colour. She brought the dish over along with a fork; one waited patiently to see if the pot would also spew out a table for one to rest on, but apparently one was meant to balance it on one’s lap. Just as well one didn’t wear the purple velvet evening gown then; otherwise one would have ended up adding a personal touch to the surrounding décor, the floor coverings in particular.
With only a crossed flipper as a resting spot, one delved into the dish. The most striking thing about it was the texture, which managed to be both fleshy and furry at the same time. In terms of taste, it was mildly fruity but with a distinctly sweet tang, presumably from the Red Octopepper one spotted being flung into the pot. Otherwise there was very little remarkable about the Octle Salad (which one only discovered the technical term for when Jhuidah returned to relieve one of one’s crockery) although it did serve its purpose of getting one prepared for the main course.
It seems that whoever decided upon the main course was blissfully unaware of the fact that it was supposed to comply with the strict minimalism and simplicity of the rest of the menu. As it was, it was small wonder the recipe didn’t call for an intricate tribal dance incorporating various members of the local wildlife. Although at least one member of the resident fauna did manage to enlist themselves in the preparation of one’s meal.
A shrill whistle from Jhuidah caused a small Schmoonie to come waddling out of the dense undergrowth, then after the pair had shared an odd exchange of grunts and wild gesticulation it toddled off back into the lush greenery that announced the border of Geraptiku. One was still staring after it, or rather at the little hollow it had left in its wake, when it reappeared with its paws filled with some swollen, red Muntando Fruits. Upon spotting one staring at it, though, it froze rigid mid-step; then there was a quiet popping sound as it quivered slightly and retracted into a ball of fluff. This must have been somewhat of a regular occurrence as Jhuidah let out a slightly exasperated sigh, then hoofed the little mite up and off into the distance with a swift kick and deftly scooped up the scattered fruits with her spoon.
The main course required a positive frenzy of culinary action, with each component seeming to need its own recipe to prepare first; one tried to keep a mental flow chart of what was going on, but failed somewhat. One lost track after the third step, but continued to watch; much in the way commoners attending an opera might have no clue as to the touching story being told, but nonetheless enjoy the ice creams being sold.
Finally one was presented with a plate, heavily laden with a succulent joint of ham skewered with all manner of deeply exotic-looking fruits. Famished from watching the food theatre that had played out, one attacked the offering with zest. Until one got a taste, that is. If one has never had the distinct ‘experience’ of allowing a Muntando Fruit to touch one’s tongue then it is difficult to explain exactly what happened next.
As soon as the sweet surface was introduced to one’s taste buds, one immediately felt every muscle in one’s face retract in a collective gesture of dismay. It wasn’t just sweet; it tasted like somebody had scraped the residue off the machines used to make the Chocolate Factory’s wares and then dipped it in honey and sprinkled icing sugar on it for good measure. One’s teeth were cringing it was so saccharine.
Fortunately, Jhuidah didn’t see my grimacing as she was busying herself with the dessert. A pang of slight nausea suddenly overcame one at this realisation. If this was the savoury dish, what in Neopia was going to be the pudding?!
The resultant desperation to leave reminded one of a luncheon many moons ago when one had the misfortune of being seated beside Senator Palpus. He’s a lovely chap and all, but with him being so frightfully rotund in physique one was rather at a loss as to how best to eat without repeatedly elbowing him in the abdomen. On that occasion one had resorted to one’s wits and made a hasty retreat from the service. And one felt another bout of such wit creeping up again... although that could actually have been the ham threatening to put in an encore performance.
One would rather not elaborate too greatly on the lows one stooped to next, but in short it involved the employment of dramatic techniques in such a way as to convince those around one that they were in immanent danger of witnessing something horrific that would stick around longer than the aftertaste of aforementioned Muntando Fruit.
Needless to say Jhuidah was less than thrilled, so whilst one tried one’s hardest to muster a tinge of green in the cheeks to complete the charade, she hurriedly coaxed one away from the cooking area. Quite how one is meant to ‘step aside for a breath of fresh air’ when one is already outside is somewhat perplexing; but one was deeply grateful to be out of what one supposes could pass for a dining area.
As difficult and undignified as it was to clutch one’s stomach and walk with one’s torso pitched at an incline through thick jungle shrubbery, one felt it necessary to keep up the act until one was well out of Jhuidah’s line of sight. Partly so as not to offend her (as she had otherwise been a rather attentive hostess), but mainly to minimise the threat of her popping up and making the ‘thoughtful gesture’ of packing up the remainder of one’s meal to take home.
One is currently being ferried across the scorching sands of the eastern coast of Mystery Island whilst writing this, and one’s stomach is growling fiercely over the sound of one’s pen scratching the paper. Reviewing the Cooking Pot has proved to be a decidedly difficult task, especially since one didn’t really eat enough to be able to form a valid opinion. As such, one feels one shall have to pass on this occasion as commenting on one’s limited experience would be unfair to poor Jhuidah, who is in all likelihood turning the shade of a Terry Berry whilst reading this.
Hopefully next week’s dining experience will be more satisfying; both to one’s poor, neglected stomach and to your eager little ears. Actually, hoping may not be necessary as one has a reservation at the Gourmet Club next week, so a good meal is almost guaranteed. Be sure to bring your appetites with you, dearies. And until then, adieu!
Miss. Tobik x
Edit: One would like to point out that one’s scoring of the Cooking Pot was in no way influenced by outside factors; particularly none named Pango Pango. One has never met Mr. Pango but one is sure he is a most agreeable fellow and that should our paths ever cross one would delight in his company. Although that being said one is rather busy and so perhaps it would be unwise to try and schedule a meeting at this juncture. One offers one’s sincerest apologies and hopes Mr. Pango didn’t take this review personally.