Monday, 16 August 2010

How to Travel in Culinary Style

It is commonplace to lament the passing of the golden age of travel, although it is the very "commonness" of travel itself that has allowed many more of us to experience it. But who can help but yearn for the days of long, luxurious ocean journeys or civilized aeroplane experiences?

Certainly travel has always had its travails but there was a time, for an elite few, when an expedition to the corners of the British Empire included a full compliment of the culinary comforts of home. Because it must be said that for all the positive aspects of travel abroad, eating food a person is unaccustomed to is unfortunately not always one of them. Travel is said to broaden the mind, but too often wreaks havoc with another rather precious organ, the stomach.

The supplier of choice was, of course, Fortnum and Mason of Piccadilly. The history section of the F & M website (F & M as it is now known, following the modern belief in the two letter corporate institution: M & S, H & M) details the extraordinary fact that in the early 1900s it was the only store to have a department dedicated to "Expeditions":
... at a time when huge consignments of home comforts accompanied the English into the heart of Africa and up the Himalayas, right down to such essentials as butter knives and sauce boats. The 1922 Everest expedition, for example, simply couldn't start without 60 tins of quail in foie gras and four dozen bottles of champagne (the appropriately-named Montebello 1915). The 1933 team, including a young Tensing Norgay, was dismayed to find several of the delicacies replaced by stones - presumably by inquisitive customs officers. Only the Stiltons remained - their covers pierced but the fragrant contents, clearly not to the Nepalese nose, left untouched. In warmer climes Howard Carter's Tutankhamun expedition used Fortnum's wine boxes to help catalogue the rare antiquities, including a statue of the boy-king as Aten, the Sun - representing tacit approval from yet another monarch.
How wonderful, how eminently pleasurable. I raise a toast to a well-supplied expedition.

Read more reflections on history, idleness, and the art of living from the Idle Historian in To The Idler The Spoils 

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