I am not sure what it is about me and prawns. Apart from eating them what have I done to the little pink crustaceans that have merited me being chastised badly at least twice at business lunches and dinners?
Like the time I invited a somewhat eccentric but sensitive older lady to yet another gourmet restaurant in Hong Kong. It was in a major international hotel so I assumed we would be safe from any culinary shocks as this lady was too important and far too straight laced to endure any food carnage.
I will always remember her as she looked and dressed just like Greta Gabo in her latter years as she swept into the cocktail bar like royalty with a friends Pekinese dog in her arms. I rarely pray these days but I asked God to please make sure they did not take the dog away and cook it. I could just imagine it delivered to the table on a large decorated platter boned and skinned.
I could have cooked it myself. The damn thing kept on baring its teeth at me and sniffing my ankles. ‘Bite and you are history’ I thought to myself. Thankfully it did not as my guest then went on at great length explaining how she passionately loathed any cruelty to all creatures however big or small. She explained how she once stood on a spider and cried as she gave it a decent burial afterwards. ‘Barking mad’ I thought as I smiled sweetly. Apparently the dog was there because her friend never took it out of her apartment and she was liberating it for the evening.
Apart from constantly sniffing at me like I was rancid the dog played no real part in the rest of the evening except for the occasional yap and a couple of unpleasant suspicious smells. In fact from the moment we started dinner until nearly the end everything went well. The lady loosened up and the Peke went to sleep next to my ankles. The waiters were attentive and made a great fuss of us which was nice. The maitre d’hôtel even came over and offered us their special signature dish of ‘drunken prawns’ which we accepted.
They arrived with a large bowl which they half filled with rice wine and various pretty leaves, herbs and flowers. They then snuffed out our table candles and turned the lights down. By this stage we were puzzled. Finally the chef arrived with a large handful of live prawns which he dropped in the decorated bowl with a great flourish.
We watched in shock as the prawns swam around ingesting pure alcohol rather than sea water. At the optimum moment when the prawns must have been both drunken and probably dead they set fire to the lot and it flared up like a torch. It was mesmerising to see the prawns seemingly leaping about as the inferno raged.
All the other tables clapped, the flames were extinguished and the now cooked drunken prawns were served. They were delicious and I ate them all but I am not sure this was the reaction my guest was expecting from me. She left very soon after dragging her complaining ‘loan dog’ with her and I never got one iota of her business. Apparently she told someone I was ‘barbarous’.
Another prawn catastrophe happened when I went with a group of people to a seafood restaurant in Ostend in Belgium. I still maintain it was an unhappy coincidence and not my fault but the lady in question does not accept this. I will let you be the judge.
We were given a bowl of prawns and were enjoying shelling and eating them. The place was packed with people doing the same. We were all in high spirits after a particularly rigorous sales campaign and the drink and prawns were going down famously. That was until I cracked a joke just as my colleague Jenny was in the process of swallowing a prawn. She let out a snort and the prawn got totally stuck in the back of her nasal passage.
Now Jenny has/had a very pretty pointed nose covered in freckles and this soon became the centre of attention for the whole restaurant. ‘Snort’ went Jenny again. ‘Breathe in deeply’ some shouted. ‘Blow’ shouted others and very shortly and to yells of encouragement the offending prawn started to peak out of her left nostril. We were all rapt and I broke the silence by picking up a seafood utensil and offering to pick it out. Not a welcome suggestion.
Finally, to cheers and applause from at least 50 people Jenny snorted more and the prawn emerged far enough for her to get her fingers around it. To be fair she showed a lot of dignity as she slowly and daintily drew it out as though it was a perfectly normal thing and placed it on the side of her plate. She maintained she could smell garlic mayonnaise for the following fortnight.
It was clearly not my fault but you try telling Jenny that.