We continue our survey of foods around the world (see “Strudels of the Outer Mongolian Steppes” and “After-Dinner Mints of the Kalahari Bushmen”) with a look at the desserts of the Australian aborigines. Some of our more cynical readers may doubt that the aborigines have any desserts, but I assure you they do, and very fine desserts they are, too. They may not always have time for a seven-course dinner, those aborigines, but they enjoy their desserts as much as the next man. In fact, there’s no surer way to enrage one of these gentle nomads than by hiding his dessert. And what antics! First he’ll tear his hair out, then in a sudden attack of remorse he’ll try to paste it back on with some “bokku” (mud), and then he’ll throw his oatmeal on the ground and cry himself to sleep like a baby. It really is something to see, if you have the heart to carry it off.
It may surprise you to learn that these hardy, vanishing people have their cake and eat it too, though it’s actually more of a simple mud pie filled with nutritious minerals and other small rocks, and often garnished with flying insects, forget-me-nots and what-have-yous. These plain slices of “kreenod” (mud) need not be cooked. They need not be eaten, either.
Another after-dinner delicacy popular with the aborigines is “bokku-ninga,” or muddy dog (literally, “living hairy filth”). The origins of this dish are obscure, and it’s probably just as well. Perhaps it has something to do with the abundance of dogs, and the even greater abundance of mud (“shoobiki”) in the area. The problem is how to bring the two together at a temperature high enough to keep the taste buds from growing suspicious.
To catch the dog, there are several common ploys. One way is simply to stand there and yell “Here, Sport!” or “Come and get it, Duke!” at the top of your lungs. This doesn’t fool any dog worth eating, but for some reason the canines find it an irresistibly funny line, and it never fails to crack them up. The Australian dingo, after all, has a highly developed sense of humor. He will laugh himself sick, thus becoming an easy prey to aborigines and other forms of carnivorous plant life. From there it’s an easy matter to freeze the dog with dry ice, stuff him with confetti and one shredded Sunday edition of the New York Times, and lower him into a vat containing not more than 236 and not less than 235 gallons of hot mud, plus a dash of chives. I can tell you right now, if you don’t have the chives it’s not worth the trouble; although if you do have chives I can’t see why you should bother with the dog or, for that matter, with the mud. Cooked muddy dog, by the way, is a dessert admitting of endless variations, and its taste has been described as being anywhere from “a little bit like shoe leather” to “quite a bit like shoe leather.”
By this time in the festivities most aborigines have either passed out or taken to writhing on the ground. Unless my interpreter is kidding, this ritual means “my compliments to the chef,” “hail to the chief,” or words to that effect. For the few rugged individuals left standing, however, there is one final concoction, the crème de la crème of outback cooking. It is called, aptly enough, “bokkura” (muddy mud), and it differs from “bokku,” or regular mud, both in the spelling and in the fact that no one has eaten it and lived. “Bokkura” is made by placing one “bokku” (literally, “awful muddy thing”) on top of another, and then throwing the whole mess over your shoulder, hoping no one notices.
And so we can see that dessert for the aborigines is very much like dessert for us, and that one man’s meat is another man’s poison (literally, “poison”).