Saturday, 7 December 2013

The beauty of crayfish

The beauty of crayfish

Strindberg enjoyed his food and drink, and to him eating his favourite food was a truly sensual experience.I recently came across one of Strindberg’s short pieces about food, which I translated some years ago and I think it is a good example of his passion for certain foods.


‘At half past eight, on the dot, one winter evening, he is standing by the door in the glass porch of the restaurant. While pulling off his gloves with mathematical precision, he peers above his misted up glasses, first to the right, then to the left to see if any of his acquaintances are there. Then he hangs up his overcoat on his hook, the one to the right of the stove. The waiter, Gustav, his former pupil, has brushed the crumbs off his table, stirred the mustard in the jar, raked the salt basin and, unprompted, unfolded the napkin. Then he fetches a bottle of Medhamra, still without having received any order, pours half a pint of Försoningens, hands over the menu for the sake of appearances and utters, more like a formality than a question: ‘Crayfish.’

‘Female crayfish?’ asks the schoolmaster.

‘Big female crayfish,’ answers Gustav and walks over to the kitchen hatch and calls out:’Big female crayfish for the schoolmaster, and a lot of dill!’

Then he gets a tray of butter and cheese, cuts two slices of black bread and puts it on the schoolmaster’s table. The latter has raided the porch for evening papers but has only managed to get hold of Posttidningen. As a substitute he picks up the Dagbladet which he did not have time to read earlier, then he places the Dagbladet on his chair, sits on it, turns the Posttidningen inside out and places it to the left, on top of the bread basket. Then he spreads some geometrical butter figures on the black bread, cuts s rectangle out of the Swiss cheese, fills his akvavit glass to three quarters and holds it up to his mouth; at this stage he pauses as if hesitating before taking his medicine, throws his head back and says:’Huh!’ That is what he has done for twelve years and that is what he will carrying on doing until he dies.

When the crayfish, all six of them, arrive he examines their gender and having found nothing objectionable about them, he begins the pleasurable procedure. The napkin gets tucked under the loose collar, two open sandwiches with cheese are being placed on guard beside the plate and then he pours himself a glass of beer and half a glass of akvavit. After that he picks up the little crayfish knife and starts the slaughter. There is no one else in Sweden who knows how to eat crayfish like him. First he makes a cut around the head of the crayfish and when he has put the hole to his mouth he sucks.

‘That is the best of all,’ he says. Then he loosens the thorax from the lower part, draws his sword, as he calls it, digs his teeth into the carcass and sucks in deeply; whereupon he pulls the little legs as if they were asparagus. Afterwards he eats a sprig of dill, takes a swig of beer and takes a bite out of the sandwich. When he has peeled the claws carefully and sucked the finest legs he consumes the meat and moves on to the tail. After three crayfish he drinks another glass of akvavit and studies the appointments in Posttidningen. That is what he has done for twelve years and that is what he will always keep doing.