Takeaway

I’d like a plate of Adidas

Raul Dias | Updated on October 09, 2020 Published on October 08, 2020

The funny stuff: The Turkish eggplant dish imam bayildi (imam fainted) is said to have got its name after a cleric swooned upon tasting it   -  ISTOCK.COM

Stinking, spotted, sloppy — bizarre food names know no borders or cuisines

* Pish-pash as a dish was first spoken of by English writer Augustus Prinsep in the mid-19th century where he called it “a slop of rice-soup with small pieces of meat in it, much used in the Anglo-Indian nursery”

* Spotted dick is traditional British pudding made with flour, suet (a kind of animal lard), caster sugar, lemon zest and dried currants or raisins

* The translation for Imam bayildi, as seen in the English menu cards in restaurants across Turkey, is “the imam fainted”

Growing up part-Anglo-Indian on my mother’s side, my initiation into the realm of dishes with odd names was complete the moment I, a preternaturally ravenous two-year-old, had my first helping of pish-pash. Simply put, the rather onomatopoeic dish is a rite of passage every Anglo toddler must endure. Made with soft rice and some form of protein (mostly chicken), pish-pash as a dish was first spoken of by English writer Augustus Prinsep in the mid-19th century where he called it “a slop of rice-soup with small pieces of meat in it, much used in the Anglo-Indian nursery”.

Over the years, I would encounter Anglo-Indian culinary ‘jewels’ such as the meat kofta curry doppelgänger called ball curry. Also known as the “spinster’s delight curry”, the Sunday special would always be enjoyed with supporting acts that took the form of yellow rice and the scary-sounding (but comfortingly mild) devil chutney.

Egg banjo, on the other hand, is an Anglo snack that was invented by the military during WWII and sees a sunny-side-up fried egg sandwiched between two slices of bread, all doused in the quintessentially British brown sauce. Though the etymology of ‘banjo’ in its name remains a mystery, the sandwich still lives on here in India in the form of the slightly tweaked (both in name and composition) ‘egg benjo’ — a snack made famous by Indore’s nightly food paradise of Sarafa Bazar. Here, the runny egg is substituted with a more practical folded masala omelette, the sliced bread with a toasted burger bun, and the brown sauce with tomato ketchup.

Blighty bites

As a university student in the UK of the mid-2000s, I navigated my way around various college and dorm cafeterias. That hit in the face with even British dishes with inappropriate names. Spotted dick, for instance.

Now, before images of a virulent, male appendage-related medical condition begin to swirl in your mind, let me assure you of the name’s innocuousness. This traditional British pudding (as desserts are referred to there) is made with flour, suet (a kind of animal lard), caster sugar, lemon zest and dried currants or raisins that make the ‘spotted’ component. The ‘dick’ comes from an old English term for pudding. Served warm with thin custard sauce, this steamed dessert has been a mainstay across Britain for centuries.

I am told that the wildly popular Stinking Bishop cheese from Dymock in Gloucestershire county gets its nausea-evoking name from the juice of the Stinking Bishop pear it is immersed in for its ripening process. Not for its equally putrid odour, which is said to be a cross between that of a wet dog and old socks.

Another such bizarrely named specimen is the rather tasty baked savoury dish called toad-in-the-hole. Eaten as part of a light dinner that the Brits call “tea”, the dish is a bunch of fried pork sausages (or, to use the more colloquial term — bangers) cooked in what is essentially a buttery Yorkshire pudding. But, in the US, the dish refers to an egg cooked in the hole cut out of a slice of white bread.

Servings across the pond

Speaking of the US, the land of the free, too, has a posse of dishes with quirky names. Some, like the molten cheese-exploding burger called ‘juicy Lucy’ and the soppy, meat sauce-laden sandwich named ‘sloppy Joe’, pay homage to messy individuals. Others are in honour of “sleepy critters” like the 1970s’ cocktail party classic of ‘pigs in a blanket’, which sees tiny, cocktail pork sausages wrapped in flaky pastry and then baked.

‘Devils on horseback’ is another iconic ’70s party snack where pitted, dried prunes are wrapped in bacon strips and then baked. Interestingly, this snack has evolved from another strangely named turn-of-the-century one called ‘angels on horseback’, where freshly shucked oysters stood in for prunes.

Deep-fried oysters also find a place for themselves in the New Orleans ‘po’ boy sandwich’, ensconced within the crusty confines of a sliced mini French baguette. A shortened version of the original ‘poor boy sandwich’, the po’ boy was named after the conductors of the local streetcar company, who, in 1929, were given the sandwiches free for their daily lunch by a local restaurant during their four-month-long strike for better wages.

South of the US, in the Caribbean twin island nation of Trinidad and Tobago, a strangely named iteration of the Malabar parotta has been the number one snack for over a century. The ‘buss up shut’, which is the local vernacular for ‘busted up shirt’, is a flaky paratha that is smashed up by hand after being fried on a griddle. This makes the flatbread look like a torn-up shirt, pieces of which are dunked into spicy chickpea and potato curry and eaten with Trini-style mango achaar.

Found in translation

Adidas. Helmet. Walkman. Any guesses as to what this trio could possibly mean in the context of food? Well, they are all nicknames given to street-food snacks I discovered in the Philippines. While Adidas stands for barbequed chicken feet, helmet is the code word for roasted chicken head, and walkman for bite-sized bits of grilled pig ears.

Still in the Philippines, Bicol Express is a spicy stew made with pork, shrimp paste and coconut milk. It is named in honour of the passenger train service that plies between the capital Manila and the Bicol region.

The translation for Imam bayildi, as seen in the English menu cards in restaurants across Turkey, is “the imam fainted”. This Ottoman heirloom dish has whole eggplants stuffed with a mixture of onions, garlic and tomatoes, and simmered in olive oil before being served with rice and yoghurt. It is said to have got its name from an imam who fainted — out of pleasure — after eating the dish.

Or maybe, the imam just got a whiff of the stinking bishop?

Raul Dias is a food and travel writer based in Mumbai

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Published on October 08, 2020
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