Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Monkey Glands

Monkey gland steak or steak with monkey gland sauce is a very South African thing. I was quite hesitant to try it out the first time, as the name itself did not appeal to my palate. I could think of many species, from gorillas, baboons to the small thieves in my in-laws’ neighborhood. Human like creatures, it’s like having the missing link on the menu – semi cannibalistic! Then glands. Not the most mouth watering part of any animal. Which glands? Armpits or groins, the menu will never tell you. With all these associations your once ravenous appetite vanishes as soon as you identify the dish on the menu. My wife convinced me to try it out though and that it had nothing to do with any monkey parts. So by now I’ve dug in a few times…

Reading a piece on the origin of the dish almost made me choke. The story starts with a scientist, Dr. Serge Abrahamovitch Vornoff (1866-1951). He caused sensation for his technique of grafting monkey testicle tissue into the testicles of men. Not just any glands in other words, but testicles! I felt seriously sick now, but still bewildered as to how the testicles could end up in a dish and become a hit?! Could "gland" be just a less repulsive cover up for a Viagra dish?

The first transplantation was so successful that Dr. Vornoff could not cope with the demand from the wealthy to arrest their advancing senility and retain former virility. Vornoff was hailed by 700 of the most leading surgeons at a congress in London for his "Revolutionary discovery of reversing the ageing process!" Quite an accomplishment and world news even today!

Vornoff set up his own monkey farm in Italy to get access to sufficient monkey balls. He occupied the entire first floor of an expensive hotel in Paris to serve as living quarters for himself, secretaries, chauffeurs and two mistresses. Vornoff injected himself on a regular basis in the hope of hard proof, fortune and fame. This must have caused swollen testicles, expectations and a pressure that must have been hard to handle! The mistresses must have been just as good for marketing as for blowing off some steam.

Dr. Vornoff was a regular visitor to the Savoy Hotel in London, and it was there that his medical experiments led to the naming of the dish Monkey Glands! It was a steak flamed with brandy in the restaurant. One of the waiters there (Bagatta), later brought the dish to Cape Town where it became popular. It is said that it had to be prepared in the restaurant to prove that there was no actual monkey glands in the dish… or testicles I assume!

Although relieved by the happy ending (of the story), I can’t help but associate this dish with monkey testicles now! Especially a type of blue balled monkeys that are quite common in Southern Africa.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

My daily Apartheid

The company that I work for is not super big, but still multi in many ways! Multiple nationalities, culture, food… and quite a number of Jews also I’ve noticed. I could never pick a Jew from a crowd… fully dressed. Oh well, I see some of them wearing those small round patches on their heads. Other than that, I never really cared to find any distinct Jewish features for any reason. To me they blend in amongst the whites of the rainbow nation.

In the canteen we have different tables with hot food for lunch, really nice food. From day one I have simply picked from any table depending on what appealed to me the most at the time. I thought everybody else did also. One day when I was early there was no spoon to dish up from the tray. Naturally I helped myself and found a spoon so I could dig in. A lady tapped me on the shoulder and told me in an irritated tone that I can’t use metal (dirty I assume) spoons on the kosher table! Before any regulars at the table had a chance basically, Jonny messed up all their food! It was suddenly not so kosher anymore! Aha… so that’s why so many people at work use plastic cutlery when there are still tons of proper knives and forks to take from. Personally I think it must be damn annoying to break four plastic knives for every attempt on a piece of meat. It would ruin my meal totally!

Later I’ve learnt that there is also a halal table. Omnivore as I am, I have visited all tables. Halal too! I can’t say I have noticed any distinct kosher or halal taste. I am still blissfully unaware whether I have upset the halals or how I may have upset them. Any other groups also for that sake. I have now narrowed it down to one table where my barbaric Viking ways are accepted (as far as I’m aware of). If I move too close to either halal or kosher, I can feel the angry looks… so you’ll find me sitting down there in the corner!

In retrospect, the queues to each table have been helpful to identify and map the different groups at work. Fellow barbarians, kosher and halal at least. It’s like a small internal Apartheid going on. A buffet style group areas act! In this lunchtime segregation I am grouped together with Zulu’s and other African tribes represented. I wonder whether this can give me any BEE/Affirmative Action credits?!