It had taken me all day to find the ingredients. I had trekked across town in the blazing sun, going from shop to shop in search of spice, herb and oil. I was determined to make the latest magnum opus posted by one of those celebrity chefs online. More fool me.
I finally found the crocodile eggs in a shop at the end of a dark alleyway, streaked with liquids of unknown provenance. Carefully I held the soft shells up to the light, checking that the dark shadows still stirred inside. A tiny tail twitched as my fingers pressed against the yielding surface, and I nodded my agreement. Taking a plastic scoop, the shopkeeper dug half a dozen eggs out of a pile of sawdust. I didn’t like the look on his face as he grinned at me, so I gave him my ripped €5 note. I could sense his annoyance as he stuffed the ragged paper into the till.
Then came the oil. No supermarket trip this. I had the chef’s injunction ringing in my ears: “Never cook with an oil that you wouldn’t drink”. After much finger wagging on my smart phone, I eventually found The Elixir Emporium, hidden away behind the old theatre (now the dwelling place of down-and-outs, pigeons and rats).
The lady inside obviously spent the quiet hours smearing herself with the unguents that she stocked. Her skin gleamed with a purplish tint. Her bangles clattered against the bottles as she placed a selection on the counter for my examining eye. Astonishingly, I found it almost at once: Four-legged Bean Oil From The Third Tree In The Far Plantation That Only Flowers In The Year Of The Monsoon. It was the last one in the shop. This time I paid with a €50 note. The shopkeeper left a greasy fingerprint on it as she whipped it out of my fingers. My change felt slippery as the coins tumbled into my trouser pocket.
Only one ingredient remained. Hurrying now, for lunch time was imminent and the local tradespeople would soon shut up shop for the afternoon, I ran to the indoor market. Pushing past tourists taking pictures of seaweed and offal, I made my way to the western corner. To my relief, Albert’s Amphibians was still open.
I took a paper in the form of a wedge and looked at the number. J89. It seemed like a good omen. The queue in front of me shuffled forward, each customer taking aeons over their decision. I could see the white tray of frogs before me, close enough so I could touch them, and I dreaded the thought that they might be snapped up by one of the others.
Finally, my moment came. Albert was an enormously hairy man. It was as if he only wore clothes to keep his fur dry. He leaned one huge arm over the tray, poking the frogs with his fingers. They loped listlessly to left and right.
“They’ve not long to go,” said Albert. He spoke sadly as if he had cared for the little creatures all his life and now it was time for them to make that final leap into the dark. He looked at me like a basset hound as I perused his merchandise. I thought he was going to cry.
I picked out eight frogs, carefully choosing those whose lime-coloured skin retained its natural shine. Showing no shame, I peered at the webbing between their toes to check that it was just the right shade of chestnut brown.
My purchases complete, Albert threw the frogs into a plastic bag and whirled it round three times to close it. Sucking his bottom lip, the shopkeeper pierced the bag three times with a metal skewer, deftly avoiding the animals inside.
I paid with my card. Albert waved it over the card reader like a wizard casting a spell and handed me the receipt. I was more annoyed by the fact that I hadn’t been asked for my PIN number than by the spattering of blood that was left on the paper.
At home that evening, I revelled in my culinary skill. The recipe was pinned with a tag to the wall above my head, and the frogs jigged merrily in their sack as I sang along to the radio. I cracked the crocodile eggs, deftly separating the embryos from the yolk, and cast the shells aside. I smeared the whole with my expensive oil and cursed as a drop fell on my clothes. I had put on a new shirt for the party and now it was stained, possibly forever.
Finally, it was time for the frogs. I tipped them out into the pan. Prodding them with my wooden spoon, I made sure that they kept bouncing about on the surface without lingering too long on the hot metal. I only wanted their skin to crackle. They would be ruined if they died. Their legs scissored as I tossed them out of the pan and into the sky.
My guests were delighted. The frogs were weakened from their ordeal and so unable to do much more than quiver on the plates. Much hilarity was had as the more feisty ones tried to crawl to safety over the side.
The trick to eating them, as the chef had shown on her show, is to pinch the frog behind the neck, like a lioness carrying a cub, and then to drop the little fellow into your mouth. Don’t swallow too soon or you’ll miss the best bit, the death struggles as you gradually grind up their bones.
One or two of the guests were uncomfortable with this operation but I soon calmed their fears.
“Animals don’t suffer pain like we do,” I soothed the wounded parties, “they barely notice a thing.”
A frog twitched as I ground some pepper into its eyes.
(c) Alastair Savage 2015