IN THE EMERALD INCESSANCE, THAT great sprawling swamp east of epicurean Pormaris, Prosatio Silban was searching for his world’s tastiest meal.
The Emerald Incessance was hundreds of square miles of hummock, tussock and overtowering reeds, inhabited by societal castoffs and furtive oal-herders — not a likely group among whom to find something described with bliss as every man’s favorite dish all in one fried bundle.
“Like my mother’s potato-and-pea stew, only more so,” sighed one wizened indigine.
“The Soup Demons take you!” objected his friend. “Fresh roasted oal, it was, like I hadn’t tasted since my first hunt.”
“Ye’re both wrong,” chimed in a third. “It’s 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 green. He gave more-or-less free rein to his buopoth, Onward, due to the quaint and lumbering beast’s uncanny footing and impeccable nose, and thus came two days later to a tumbledown shack under a large cypress tree. An old woman in 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,” she 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. 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 blue duliac, 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 ingredients: flour, water, a bit of egg, soft cheese, and something he still could not identify — a 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.”