To the Most Honourable E.C. Fouke,
It is with both the highest intellectual excitement and deepest of animal relish that we perused your excellent volume, whose descriptions were of such avid sapidity that the pages were dampened with pearls of salivated anticipation of such wild and varied gustation. Truly it is an encyclopedia to rival that of a Noah, provisioning the great Ark of his stomach with every creature that a wise and generous God has singularly charged with delivering from simple digestion to literary preservation on the Ararat of your tome.
We cannot hope to answer your challenge as rivals: a Tarrare or Domery could not best you. Such a peripatetic and promethean palate as yours will surely not rest until it has licked the ambrosia of the gods from their very spoons and supped from the teats of Nature until they are as the fallen tents of a decimated, delectable army, voidsome bladders of utter vacuum, vacant dugs drawn dry as sand from the Charybdis of your appetite.
We, however, in our own humble way, proudly occupy a remote and uniquely privileged station on the exact antipode of the alimentary globe and so should wish to ever so gently submit to your inspection some specimens of some rarity and interest from this part of the world, that no civilized man in Christendom can know.
For such is the charter of the Modest Epicurean Society of Siam, a club formed of expatriates, exiles and native dissolutes, whose lives have been so perverse, dissipated and libertine in the pursuit of the goddess joy, that they can never return to any civilized or lawful land and can only exist here, in the margins of this tolerant and distant kingdom that has no conception of god, sin or soul.
First, we would ask if you have ever tasted of the blackest of honeys, the obsidian taffy of the mountains, which the Tibetans call Mumijo and Li Shesen renders 蜜人. It is wholly animal in origin and so falls under your carnivorous sanguine purview, being composed of what readers of Bon-Bon politely term “le Poulet de Diogène” or the markets of the black islands of Melanesia less politely term puaa oa. This delicacy is far rarer and sweeter: you may know it as mummy confectionary.
Its preparation is much more sophisticated than the mere abuse and butchery of the Vanuatu marketplace. Only the holiest of ascetics and renunciates may choose to so transform themselves -the Burmese choose the abbots of their temples. The subject partakes only of honey for food and drink and bathes only in honey. After about a month, his excreta has become pure honey, his eyes the most lucid amber. Unfortunately, our source does not say what happens to the golden by-products that the holy man produces.
The subject passes on, of course, as even saints may not live by honey alone, just as men may not be saved solely by good works. The body is then placed into a coffin of stone (or in Burma, a jar) filled with the purest honey. After a century or so, the action of the nectar has transformed the mortal burden of the holy man into a confection of the most sublime standard, though the quality of the product is said to vary with the holiness and piety of the embalmed individual. An experiment by one of our own members seems to suggest that common thieves and scoundrels, so treated (over a considerably shorter duration, to be sure, but proportionally smaller and younger) merely produce a foul and unpalatable liquor that is apt to altogether emulate the peccant ways of its source with its loose and Fabian treatment of the property of one's gullet for weeks at a time.
I myself have tasted of the blessed black honey, as part of a treatment for the advancing leprosy (wages of my own prodigal education) that is among my personal reasons for living in this overripe city of dusky angels. It is nothing like the ersatz potted urchin the colonel confected. It is sweeter and finer than the finest เนื้อสวรรค์, with a hint of the savoury, being, I suppose, the gustatory correlative of a mortal man's attempt to become divine. I recommend it highly, despite its impotence in retarding the wasting of flesh, as it is a delightful alternative spreadable for toasted, buttered bread, and, as such, may serve passing well in the regular duty roster of the campaign of any complete breakfast, which, as Lucretius informs us, is the most important meal of the day.
If we cannot tempt you with honey, then perhaps we can tempt you with more savoury fare, in the form of the flesh of the Mi-go, the holy wild men of the mountains, the so-called Yeti.
The men of that remote, high white land refer to the Yeti as angels, citizens of a great and advanced civilization called Ag-Har-Ti, somehow secluded beneath the surface of the earth or hidden behind the appearances of common things. The Chinese, ever more pragmatic in their appetites, have used the hair and bones of the Yeti to treat the most severe melancholia; it is said to be more effective than drowning or unicorn (Narwhale) powders in the treatment of pessimistic afflictions and without the risks of caisson disease posed by more modern therapeutic diving bells.
Here, however, we cannot report any success of our own in obtaining any comestibles, fresh or otherwise, from the white lands. One of our former members returned from a disastrous expedition from such an ascent with only some measly desiccated scraps he assured us were viands harvested from the snow giants: a pitiable trophy from an adventure of which he was the only survivor, and barely that, being considerably maimed and otherwise cropped by the frost, trimming him of such extraneous personable details as a nose, ears and lips.
The herbed meat-pie into which the black and dry flesh was baked, however, could not conceal its basic nature from our palates. He had simply stewed for us his own frost-ruined phalanges with turnips and rosemary, a solecism for which he was roundly excommunicated and barred from our table, and his place setting formally decommissioned.
Various edibles of the class of insecta, are, as you probably well know, easily obtainable as snacks on the streets of กรุงเทพ, though strangely, the considerable genius of the Siamese for gourmandais (in its most emphatic and ecstatic form) is curiously restrained in its treatment of common crickets, which are not as seasoned as one might hope. One is really better off bringing one's own fresh crickets to the theatre and accept the inevitable chirping from the cages in one's coat over the dramatic pauses as a compliment to the drama, and not, as some would have, a palpable subtraction.
The northern lands here were a separate kingdom for centuries and seem built around a separate, sometimes disquieting wisdom and ways, whose origins myth places in the thick of their altogether impassible tropical forests, where men cannot go and sunlight itself never fully penetrates to the forest floor. These forests only give way to unfamiliar mountains split with crevasses whose depths it is forbidden to measure. From these lands there is a more delicate cuisine we are surely tempted to send you, save for the certainty that the delicate spiderweb silk and iridescent moth wing salads do not travel well, for they perish almost instantly. The delicate, remote and alienated temperament that fashions them, seems alien and cool, even to the Siamese, who accept the trade of unearthly, insubstantial silks and crafts from the people of the hills with a learned disinterest as to the unknown process of their manufacture or composition, just as they ask not the origin of the silver crafts and swollen poppies that they bring down from the hills, with dried toad skins and puzzle bracelets of embracing centipedes.
The muddy Mekong, however, is home to a legendary creature that may perhaps intrigue your tastes. It is not clear if the Naga (นาค) is some variety of enormous eel, or merely a lengthy serpent that enjoys swimming a lot. Nonetheless, its mythic fire-breathing qualities perhaps place it in the family of other such inflammable reptiles as dragons and salamanders.
Its flesh is supposedly quite fine and flaky; its blood contains both silver and gold. Its preparation is quite a regal affair, as it has only been prepared by ancient royal decree, which enjoin it to be seated in curries or chopped finely and seasoned and served uncooked in a herbed meat salad, much in the manner of ก้อยกุ้ง.
However, we are finding the article hard to obtain, as the creature only appears for กฐิน (around the first full moon in October) and the Siamese and Lao are quite superstitious as to the creature, ever since the apparent obliteration and disappearance of the ancient kingdom and royal line associated with the aforementioned recipes.
We assume that as a reader of Brilliat-Savarin and a disciple of the great William Buckland, you are more than familiar with the natural puddings ripe in the skulls of various siamangs, orang-utans and other such palatable men of the forest. These are not popular with the Siamese, but obtainable in oriental grocery stores in Chinatown.
So we have saved for you, pour le dernier plat, the sweetest and rarest of flesh -if, as the Buddhist parable has it, danger and the proximity of death is the best sauce. If the Siamese are reverent in their customs of the elusive, but otherwise punctual Naga, they are utterly terrified of the กวาง and will not discuss it, even with intimates. The name is never spoken aloud, as it itself is said to be a terrible curse, and so we have not transliterated it here.
The กวาง is only encountered in the most remote forests and deserted places, though their origin is unknown. กวาง are not known to eat or consume anything: they are only known by their interactions with men, which seem driven by contempt and cruelty. กวาง do not speak, but supposedly understand the language of men.
There are no real legends or stories or information about กวาง other than this, for they are not the subject of legends or stories. They are simply the object of a name that is never spoken nor written, that we have obtained only after some difficulty.
But in name only, as the แกง prepared for us and so hotly anticipated proved to be, after some mastication, simply more digits resourced from our banished colonel, whose surreptitious and repeated provisioning to us of his own flesh seems to indicate some bizarre compulsion on his part to be eaten, perhaps devoured by our organization, with or without our consent or interest. We have made some effort to bar him from any further incognito access our kitchens.
It is of some concern to us, however, that the colonel also has access to your address and through it, your honoured person. We do not know if the colonel's deranged and unnatural plans to importune others with his idiosyncratic personal cuisine will include you as well, but beg you to inspect throughly any communication and refuse any foodstuff postmarked from Siam or the Far East that does not bear a familiar address or our society's own certain seal. Our concern is exaggerated by our acquaintance with the colonel, whose identity you might guess if you cast your thoughts on the lamentable subject of the most dishonoured and despicable criminal men of this century. As such, we admit with no admiration, that he is a man of some contaminated genius and perverse, though resolute, purpose. If his determination is to be devoured, but only by gentlemen of the finest standing and taste, such as yourself, we fear there is no mouth in Christendom safe from his intrusion. We are making efforts to apprehend this loathsome wanton ingredient before he makes any further assays into gastronomic civilization and to destroy the colonel's body before it can poison any others by squatting in a wine cask or invading some fricassée.
Yet, as to our primary game, we are determined to continue to pursue the กวาง on our own, whatever the danger or difficulty of obtaining this rarest fare. One of our members even suggests the creature may be some kind of निर्मित (nirmita) or sprul-pa.
If so, may we be the first men to successfully hunt and consume not merely the fruit of an idea, but the living idea itself.
As men, ruined and exiled to a foreign tropical land, who have but outrun and outstripped shame, we have chosen to become full mercenaries to appetites and as such, fear no god, law, man or creature.
Should we prevail, we should be happy to relate, or even share the spoils with you.
Inclosing, we sincerely hope that our humble epistolary entrées return a fraction of the promised succulence and pleasure that your catalog has provided for us.
We remain, most humbly yours,
Modest Epicurean Society of Siam