Food Fantasy

by Andrew J. Müller

I had wandered around the little town of Übèrväßchlädé for most of the day. It was only a small town, overlooked by a fairy tale Castle in a slightly inappropriate shade of egg-blue. The few streets filled with timber fronted houses with balconies heaving with flowers could have come directly from a guide book - or more likely from the front of a souvenir tin of something fattening with lots of cream and chocolate in it. It looked like the town’s architects had seen a cuckoo clock and taken that as their template for creating the town’s buildings. The balconies almost audibly groaned with the weight of curlicues, turrets, twists, balustrades, gazebos and other details all smothered further by more flowers than Jersey produces in a year. You got the impression that if you dropped so much as a sweet wrapper you would be flung into the Castle dungeons and left there for ever. Crossing the road anywhere other than at a zebra crossing would most likely invoke a public flogging. And heaven help anyone who didn’t polish their shoes thoroughly every morning.

By the end of the day I was carrying, somewhat precariously, four bags and three boxes of souvenirs, most of which were either wooden and went ‘coo koooo’ every hour or cardboard and filled with enough cholesterol to fell a particularly large and healthy ox. I had even managed to find a badge after three hours of searching. I had searched in vain for a little Nazi figurine that handed over a bag of gold saying mechanically ‘zis iz yors now, do not let ze foreen skum get zere antz on it’. Disappointingly this seemed to be one souvenir of Switzerland I wasn’t going home with.

By four o’clock hunger was kicking in. I had been around the Castle, sat in the park, shopped like Imelda Marcos in Freeman Hardy Willis, and - when desperation had set in - I’d even checked out the town museum (fascinating displays on local farming methods, a small area set aside for some very minor Lord who had come from the town, something about an obscure local writer - the usual fare of small town museums). Ignoring the familiar but unpleasant prospect of MacDonalds I set my mind to finding an eatery.

I found myself, after a while, wandering through the little arcade I had wandered through at least twice before during the day. I had walked right through it and was about to turn around and give up and go to Macs when a smell caught my nose. It was a cooking smell, a smell so sweet it would have brought bees from miles around, a smell that made fresh baked bread seem merely mildly pleasant by comparison1. I filled my lungs and allowed the smell to guide me in the right direction.

I found the place, at the end of one of the rows of souvenir shops. I was sure it hadn’t been there before, I would have seen it - or at the very least smelt it. But there is was ‘Le Crêperie Légendaire’, a smallish establishment, brightly painted and all sparkly2 and gay in the old-fashioned way. The smell was irresistible.

Inside the lights were quite low, but the same sparkliness seemed to permeate everything - without being obvious. There were a couple of empty tables, but I went to the serving bar. It was a bit like a bar in a pub, but instead of bowls of peanuts and dank beer mats there were big salt and pepper grinds, bowls of brown sugar and shiny cutlery strewn along this bar. At the far end of the bar a man was sleeping contentedly amongst the detritus of what must have been a gargantuan feast. Big dollops of cream lay around him and castor sugar in big drifts piled up against his shoulders. Somewhat amusingly he still held a fork clutched in one hand, which had a thick piece of crêpe pinned to the end of it, almost as if he had still wanted to continue eating but sheer fullness had forced his body to shut down.

I extracted a menu from below one of his discarded plates3 and opened it up. My jaw dropped so low it almost landed in a sugar bowl. Under names like ‘L’crêpe majestueux’ and ‘L’crêpe incroyable’ were concoctions like ‘crêpe with cream, walnuts, cream, bananas roasted in honey, cream, ice-cream, chocolate chunks, sugar, cream and cream’ and ‘crêpe with cream, ice-cream, coconut, strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, cream, roasted almonds, cream, sugar, cream and cream’. My mind went ‘whoopeeeeeee!’, my arteries went ‘oh shit’, my taste buds just went ‘YES!’.

When I looked up I almost jumped out of my skin. I was looking into two green eyes, not brilliant green I hasten to add, but that sort of sparkly emerald green that eyes are. They were set in a big, cheerful round face with big red rosy cheeks, framed with blond plaits and sitting atop of a large woman, dressed in traditional Swiss national dress, with much cleavage straining to remove itself from the confines of leather strapping4.

"Good afternoon, monsieur, can I give you anything?" she asked. I must have given her the ‘fish’ look5 because she continued before I answered. "Would you like a drink perhaps, while you decide from the menu?"

"Um,… a cappu…" before I could finish she put a cappuccino on the bar which was wide enough to bathe in, although the foam was thick enough to walk across so to bathe in it you would have had to somehow get through the foam first. She dusted it with half a tree of cocoa and melted back into the shadows behind the bar whilst I made up my mind.

The cappuccino alone could most likely have fed an army, but nevertheless I made up my mind from the menu and decided on ‘L’crêpe souffler-moi’ which was described very simply as ‘crêpe with pretty much everything detailed above’. No sooner had I decided than the barmaid had reappeared with a big bowl full of crêpe mix and a ladle. She began to spoon out the mixture onto the hotplate, without spilling a drop over the side and managing to keep the thing perfectly circular6 without seeming to put any effort into it at all.

She then started to add the ingredients. Strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, hazelnuts, peanuts, pecan nuts, almonds (flaked and whole), pistachios, walnuts, coconut, cherries, black currants, red currants, white currants, pineapple, apple, pear, orange, melon, mango, kiwi fruit, dark chocolate, milk chocolate, white chocolate, brown sugar, white sugar, icing sugar, a dash of whiskey, a dash of rum, a dash of vodka, a dash of brandy, banana raw, banana roasted, banana roasted in honey, honey, gooseberries, loganberries, a sprig of mint …. I began to lose track at this point. Then, incredibly, she managed to fold the thing over this cornucopia. She sat it on a plate and began to spoon on so much cream I began to wonder if I was going to drown in it. Then she added the ice-cream too. Then she sprinkled on some whole hazelnuts, then some chocolate shavings. Then came the chocolate sauce, and the strawberry sauce. Then the whole affair was dusted in half a packet of castor sugar.

Then she handed it to me with a knife, fork and spoon, said ‘Bon appétit’ and vanished.

I began to eat. My taste buds were assailed with a barrage of different tastes. Eventually they began to surrender and my mind went into a kind of rapture. The next half an hour was a bit of a blur, and the next thing I remember was, incredibly, putting down my knife and fork and spoon in the middle of a bloody great big empty plate and dabbing the sugar and cream off my face with a napkin.

Before I even asked for it a thick black espresso appeared in front of me, so strong that it probably discoloured the ceiling. The taste of this smacked my brain back into reality with the force of a freight train with dodgy brakes. Before I knew what was really happening I had been loaded up with my bags and boxes had (apparently) settled up for this unbelievable feast and had been ushered outside. I wandered away not quite knowing where I was going and what I was doing. I drifted over to a bench in the middle of the shopping arcade and sat down.

After a few minutes I came to and decided to go back and look at the incredible crêperie.

And that’s the weirdest thing about it all, because although I searched up and down that shopping arcade for the best part of an hour - I never did find ‘Le Crêperie Légendaire’ again.

1    As we all know, the smell of fresh bread is perhaps the most addictive smell in the Universe - although fresh ground coffee and fresh cooked bacon both come quite close.

2    Don't ask me how - it just was sparkly.

3    Which were, incidentally, huge - like earthenware dustbin lids.

4    Swiss national dress is a fetishist's paradise, involving (usually) much leather, shorts and suede, and for the really kinky climbing boots could do wonderful things too.  It says something about the Swiss as a national really.

5    You know the one, mouth hanging open, struggling for breath . . .

6    Anyone who has ever seen a seasoned crêperier making a crêpe will be familiar with this astonishing ability when if we tried it there would be mixture caked everywhere and the end result would be an amoeboid sort of shape with big holes in it and burnt to buggery underneath.

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