Friday, December 13, 2013


I’ve been reading an essay by Joseph Mitchell (that’s him above) titled “Obituary for a Gin Mill,” it’s in the collection Up In The Old Hotel.  It’s about Dick’s Bar and Grill, in New York, and is a lament against gentrification.  It first appeared in this issue of the New Yorker in 1939.

I have to say it has the feel of a short story as much as of journalism but I’m not complaining about that.  The premise is that Dick’s was once a fine rough, tough, spit and sawdust establishment, but now Dick has moved into fancy new premises a little way up the street and got ideas above his station. “There is nothing,” Mitchell writes “that will make a gin mill look so cheap and spurious as a modernistic bar and a lot of chairs made of chromium tubing.”  Well that and a menu written in French.  Here’s a short extract.

Even in the old days Dick often put strange things on his mimeographed menu.  He had a friend who worked in a soup cannery up the street and one day the friend gave him a bucket of turtle livers.  Dick put them on the menu.  A customer said, “Well, that’s something I never et.”  He ordered them, and while he ate, Dick watched intently.  When the man put down his fork Dick went over to his table.
         “How were them turtle livers?” he asked.
         The customer deliberated for a moment.
         “Fact of the matter is,” he said, “they were kind of unusual.”
         “Well,” said Dick proudly, “I want you to know you’re the first man in New York to eat turtle livers, so far as I know.”
         The customer shuddered.

Personally I think I should not have shuddered in those circumstances, equally I’m not sure I’d have believed I was the first man in New York ever to eat a turtle liver, but why spoil a good story.  And in any case the point of the anecdote is that when Dick’s gets fancified, the same dish appears on the menu as “Pate de Foie de Tortue Verte.”

If you type “Pate de Foie de Tortue Verte” into Google you get precisely one citation.  It comes, need I say, from the Joseph Mitchell piece.

On the other hand there are plenty of recipes for turtle liver that’s not turned into a pate.  The Peruvians seem especially keen on frying it, and the Japanese favor the hot pot (that's it above).  The North Koreans, it seems, like turtles any old way, though of course a lot of people in North Korea don’t get to eat much of anything.

This from the Korean Central News Agency, February 13th 2010.

Turtle Dishes Begin to Be Served

Pyongyang, February 13 (KCNA) -- Okryu Restaurant in Pyongyang has begun serving dishes made of snapping turtle on the occasion of the birthday of leader Kim Jong Il, February 16.

One can be treated in the restaurant with various kinds of turtle dishes such as turtle soup, raw dishes made of turtle heart, liver or spawn, steamed or fried turtle and turtle porridge.
Liquors of famous brands including Pyongyang Soju brewed at the Taedonggang Foodstuff Factory are adding to the taste of the dishes.
The dishes are associated with leader Kim Jong Il's loving care for improving the people's diet as required by a thriving nation.
He gave meticulous instructions as to turtle breeding and cookery, hoping turtle dishes, good for health, would be served well to the people at restaurants.
Refurbished Okryu Restaurant, famous for Pyongyang cold noodles, took the lead in making preparations to successfully realizing the leader's wish.
Its employees built a habitat in order to raise turtles on a large scale.
They completed a unique cookery for diversified turtle dishes to suit the Korean people's taste through several sampling parties.
Along with turtle food the restaurant also delights customers with caviar and other rare dishes.
It has a plan to include bullfrog, salmon and other high-grade dishes in its menu.

The restaurant, improbably but all too believably, looks like this.

It now has branches in China, Nepal, Thailand and Dubai, which some might think was getting ideas above its station:

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