Meals from hell

shabnam minwalla | Updated on January 24, 2018 Published on January 02, 2015

Shutterstock/ Ronnarong Thanuthattaphong

Amidst all the creamy mousses, hearty stews and freshly baked bread in literature, are also innumerable platters of the ‘umm, but no thank you’ offerings

Fancy a spot of Klingon Gagh? Well, if you do, you’re braver than me. For although I’m happy to join fictional characters on most food adventures, I draw the line at live worms squirming and slithering around my mouth.

Gagh — for those who are fuzzy about Star Trek facts — is a famously revolting dish made from serpent worms served with a blood sauce. Entire crates of these creatures are shipped across galaxies. For although the gagh tastes foul, foodies adore the peculiar sensation that the dying worms cause in their mouth and stomach.

In case you’re thinking of ordering a fresh consignment from the Klingon Empire, choose carefully. You could, perhaps, opt for Bithool Gagh, which come with scampering feet or Torgud Gagh that tend to wiggle or even Meshta Gagh that jump during their death throes in your stomach.

Or, if you’d prefer something more terrestrial but equally wormy, you can perhaps sample William Burrough’s hallucinatory delicacy from that cult classic Naked Lunch: “In Egypt is a worm that gets into your kidneys and grows to an enormous size. Ultimately the kidney is just a thin shell around the worm. Intrepid gourmets esteem the flesh of The Worm above all other delicacies. It is said to be unspeakably toothsome.”

Too non-veg and graphic for your tastes? Then maybe you want to sample a Snozzcumber instead. This is the 12-foot-long vegetable that the Big Friendly Giant eats all the time in Roald Dahl’s wonderful book. And, just so you know what you’re getting into — this cucumber-like creation is covered with warty growths and has a flavour somewhere between frog skin, cockroaches and rotten fish.

Klingon Gagh and Snozzcumbers are certainly high on my list of disgusting fictional foods. But they are not the only imaginary meals designed to give readers the shudders. For amidst all the creamy mousses, hearty stews and freshly-baked bread in literature, are also innumerable platters of the ‘umm, but no thank you’ stuff.

This is partly to ensure that readers don’t start ripping the pages of their book in fits of food envy. And partly to make sure that fiction does sometimes resemble sorry reality. So readers are often compelled to join characters on the meal from hell. And this column is dedicated to all the grossest, saddest foods out there in the realm of fiction. The dire lunches consumed in institutional canteens smelling of overboiled vegetables. Three-day-old balti chicken for breakfast, because the bread has a pale green fuzz and the milk smells suspiciously sour. The thin gruel that Oliver Twist and the other famished orphans are forced to eat every single day. The “nauseous mess” of burnt porridge that a starving Jane Eyre must consume. The cabbage soup, which is the only thing that the Buckets can afford in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

It is a sad fact of literature that orphans eat awful food till they finally stumble upon love and golden puddings

It is, indeed, a sad fact of literature that orphans eat awful food till they finally stumble upon love and golden puddings. Take for example that first, lumpy meal that Maia eats with the horrible Carters — her new and unloving family — when she finally reaches the Amazon in Journey to the River Sea: “Supper in the dining room, under the whirr of a creaking fan, was not a cheerful meal. They ate tinned beetroot and tinned corned beef, both shipped out from England, followed by a green jelly which had not set and had to be chased over the plate with a spoon.

When the Carters first came from England their servants had cooked the best dishes that were eaten in Brazil: freshly caught fish served in a saffron sauce, sweet peppers stuffed with raisins and rice, roasted sweetcorn and chunky soups.

But not for long.

‘Only British food will be served at my table,’ Mrs Carter had said.

So the servants had given up. They opened the tins that came from England; they poured boiling water onto whatever pudding powder Mrs Carter had put out for them…”

It is, of course, no coincidence that Maia finds adventure, luscious melons and plump pears at the same time. But not before she suffers innumerable cruelties and servings of powdery custard.

For those particularly averse to snot-textured blancmanges, lizard tails and “grey meatballs sitting in a puddle of inert brown gravy”, here are some basic survival strategies:

1) Never sit down to a meal with a Roald Dahl character, unless you don’t mind a bite of Snozzcumber. Or the fact that Mrs Twit is quite capable of substituting spaghetti with worms. Or that the Centipede in James and the Giant Peach may serve up some strange fare:

Like jellied gnats and dandyprats and earwigs cooked in slime,

And mice with rice- they’re really nice

When roasted in their prime.

(But don’t forget to sprinkle them with just a pinch of grime.)

2) The fridges of murder victims are not a good source of sustenance. Somehow these doomed souls seem to live on scrapings of margarine, expired orange juice and beige meats of unknown provenance. And, of course, the occasional bag of cocaine. None of it very good for your health.

3) Eat at police and hospital canteens only if you are fond of the flavour of cardboard. And like your desserts topped with rubbery jello.

4) If you risk a sci-fi meal, beware. There could be the “pinkish-gray stew” with a “sour metallic smell” and “the appearance of vomit” that George Orwell writes about in 1984. Or there could be ‘Soylent Green’ — that most infamous food of the future that is made out of human beings.

Or, of course, there could be live worms with scampering feet and blood sauce.

Snozzcumber Sandwiches ( Adapted from a recipe by Roald Dahl)


* 2 cucumbers

* 1 tin tuna

* 1/2 a small onion, chopped

* 1/4 cup mayonnaise

* 1/2 tsp lime juice

* Salt

* Pepper


1. Peel cucumbers and hollow them out. Place them vertically in a glass so that the juices can drain away.

2. Meanwhile, drain the tuna in a strainer and mix with all the other ingredients (except cucumber).

3. Then stuff this into the hollowed cucumbers. Cut into three or four pieces, sushi-style and serve.

(This is the last article in the monthly series that follows a food trail through fiction.)

( Shabnam Minwalla is a journalist and author of The Six Spellmakers of Dorabji Street.)

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Published on January 02, 2015
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