It’s Might, Delicious And Nutritious

The Monkey King Dances is a collection of columns written for two New Zealand newspapers – which don’t archive online – between August 2007 & July 2008. Columns are reprinted as originally published barring any serious grammatical errors. Pictures and links added for fun.

Chronicle sub-editor JEFF WINKLER from Arkansas, bravely tackles that tasty treat Marmite – the mother’s milk of our mighty nation.

Some people remember minute details of their marriage day. Others can recall every face at the party where Helen Clark inhaled the contents of a helium-filled balloon and ran around singing, “Advance Australia Fair”. I remember my maiden experience with marmite.

It was my first day in India. I was in Varanasi, and within a two hours of arriving, I’d run into a gaggle of English lassies. Being the Limeys they were, they insisted on having afternoon tea; and being on the roughing-it, Uni-holiday they were on, they had smuggled several cases of the gooish, comfort-food from home.

The experience is memorable not necessarily because of the locale, the girls or the marmite’s distinctive taste, but because I spent that entire week in the shower erupting from both ends, simultaneously.

It could have been the fish I ate, which had been caught in the holy, and corpse-ridden, Ganges. Either way, for the duration of my journey, my constitution was (how should I put it?) poorly written, and I blamed the first alien thing I’d swallowed. So for years now, I’ve been avoiding marmite like a Ganges catfish.

I’ve heard the taste buds’ “memory” changes every few years. Since I could no longer even remember Marmite’s consistency, the time seemed right to try it again. I was assured NZ marmite was, and I quote, “completely different” than its English cousin. So on the good faith of friends and colleagues, I went to the fanciest restaurant in town. If I were going to do this, I was going to do it right.

FIRST IMPRESSIONS

The appetizer:  Marmite

Some people remember minute details of their marriage day. Others can recall every face at the party where Helen Clark inhaled the contents of a helium-filled balloon and ran around singing, “Advance Australia Fair”. I remember my maiden experience with marmite.

It was my first day in India. I was in Varanasi, and within a two hours of arriving, I’d run into a gaggle of English lassies.  Being the Limeys they were, they insisted on having afternoon tea; and being on the roughing-it, Uni-holiday they were on, they had smuggled several cases of the gooish, comfort-food from home.

The experience is memorable not necessarily because of the locale, the girls or the marmite’s distinctive taste, but because I spent that entire week in the shower erupting from both ends, simultaneously. It could have been the fish I ate, which had been caught in the holy, and corpse-ridden, Ganges. Either way, for the duration of my journey, my constitution was (how should I put it?) poorly written, and I blamed the first alien thing I’d swallowed. So for years now, I’ve been avoiding marmite like a Ganges catfish.

I’ve heard the taste buds’ “memory” changes every few years. Since I could no longer even remember Marmite’s consistency, the time seemed right to try it again. I was assured NZ marmite was, and I quote, “completely different” than its English cousin. So on the good faith of friends and colleagues, I went to the fanciest restaurant in town. If I were going to do this, I was going to do it right.

Being a sub-editor, I have all the world’s news at my fingertips and was immediately reminded of a recent news item about a young Germany couple whose first intimate excursion was attempted with similar gusto. They ended the candle-lit night running naked out of a burning house.

I hoped my experience wouldn’t be similar …

I BITE MARMITE

My companion and I sat in the inviting atmosphere, ordered the house Cabernet Sauvignon and talked about the only appropriate subject in such an environment – art and its meaning. I was intoxicated with my companion, the atmosphere and the wine. But before the waitress could escape with our order, I remembered one of the reasons for coming.

I asked for marmite and toast, feeling an odd silence growing between me and the server. She didn’t blink an eye, though (she stared incredulously). In five minutes, we had a pile of gourmet toast (evenly tattooed with thick, grill lines), a few packets of butter and similarly wrapped marmite. The marmite packets contained no more than three teaspoons at most and I cautiously spread a fourth of the packet’s contents on to a piece of toast.

“Oh,” my companion said. “You put too much.”

Too Much?!? I had put the gook on what could more aptly be described as butter spread with toast. What kind of intense fugu-like delicacy is this? Would I gag? Or would I be prepared the next time the waiter gave his spiel:

“Today, sir, our special is the mansion-raised lamb that spent all its waking hours being rubbed with walnut oils before its four-hour honey bath. At night it was given a warm room, a four-pound duvet and a bottle of milk. As it slept, we played Braham’s Fourth Concerto. And it was fed on succulent, infant human flesh.”

Would I convulse?

Or be ready with an answer for the poorly paid server: “No, thanks. Just give me a container of marmite and keep the toast coming.”

The marmite was salty, as if someone thought it a good idea to put soy sauce into jelly form. I remember thinking, “this is why you don’t let stoners become conceptual epicureans.”

The texture was unsettling as well. It felt unnaturally grainy like a freshly picked salad that hasn’t been properly washed. All-in-all an underwhelming experience.

Peanut butter provides a sort of grainy consistency, which creates in its consumer an extreme lust for milk. Milk counters PB and provides a feeling of complete balance. With the marmite, however, I wanted to drown it with the closest thing possible and went for the Cabernet. Bad move.

At the dinner table, my companion had mentioned her preference for Vege-mite. “It’s not as sweet,” she explained later. To me, this sounded like a threat rather than a consolidation. Of course, like every loyal Kiwi, she had a jar of both at home in her cabinet and I stuck my nose in all things “mite” to try and understand.

Anyone who’s dealt extensively with baked goodies knows yeast functions in much the same way as my first night in India. I’ve worked in kitchens where the statement/question, “Hey, smell this,” is not uncommon. One time, it was a trick – a small jar of yeast. I spent the next ten minutes gagging. I thought of this after I examined the two different bottles my companion placed before me.

Several months back, there was a rash of salmonella-infected PB in The States. I began a forced fasting because the main ingredient for my daily meal suddenly vanished from the store shelves. If the same sort of plague hits NZ, rest assured, I have a contingency plan.

I’ll head down to the store and buy some fish.

– Wanganui Chronicle, Sept. 1, 2007

UPDATE: Marmite really IS a dangerous substance.

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