IN THE MIDDLE OF THE Emerald Incessance, that great sprawling grassland east of epicurean Pormaris, Prosatio Silban was searching for the Exilic Lands’ tastiest meal.
The Incessance was hundreds of square miles of hummock, tussock, occasional trees and overtowering reeds, only inhabited by roving beasts, societal castoffs and furtive oal-hunters — not a likely group among whom to find something described with bliss as every man’s favorite dish, all in one skillet-fried bundle.
“Like my mother’s potato-and-pea fritters, only more so,” sighed one of three wizened indigines of the Cook For Any Price’s hasty acquaintance.
“The Soup Demons take you!” objected his friend. “Roasted oal pancakes, like I hadn’t tasted since my first hunt.”
“Ye’re both wrong,” chimed in the third. “It’s swamp-apple crumble. Hot.”
Prosatio Silban hoped to discern the recipe and perhaps add it to his own great store. So he had hitched up his galleywagon and driven into the Incessance. He gave more-or-less free rein to Onward, his buopoth, due to the quaint and lumbering beast’s uncanny footing and impeccable nose, and thus came two days after speaking to his informants to a tumbledown shack under a large baobab tree. An old woman in a long, tattered grey shift was stirring a pot set on a long brick hearth. Nearby was a rough wooden table lined by half-sawn log benches. The air was redolent of a seductive melange blending savory, sweet, and something he couldn’t name.
Prosatio Silban climbed down from his galleywagon, told Onward what a good buopoth it was, and approached.
“I know what you’ve come for,” the woman said before he could speak. She didn’t smile, but her eyes were kind as she pointed to one of the benches. “Please.”
The cook sat. The woman oiled an iron frying pan, placed in it a thin white disk of dough, and set the pan on the hearth. After some time, she stuck a ladle in the pot she’d been stirring and poured its bubbling contents over the dough, which she closed with a quick flick of a spatula. She poured a clay mug of amber froth, plated her creation, and placed both before Prosatio Silban. “You’ll want to eat this hot,” she said.
Prosatio Silban was fascinated. The World’s Greatest Dish seemed to be little more than a fried wrap filled with some sort of cheese concoction. But what was that indefinable smell? He lifted the wrap to his lips, took a bite, chewed.
It tasted of little more than its apparent ingredients: wheat flour, a hint of egg, some sort of sharp cheese, and something else he could not identify — a flavorful texture which changed from creamy to crunchy as he chewed, its flavor still eluding his curious tongue. Malt? Fish sauce? Sourbean paste? Whatever it was, it was another chef’s secret. He sighed, and raised his eyes to the woman. She smiled a conspirator’s smile.
“All my other customers wanted their favorite dish,” she said. “Only you wanted to know what it was in it.”