Truffle Poisoning

by Robert Benchley

from Benchley -- Or Else! ,

and My Ten Years in a Quandary

One of the easist forms of pretense to break down is the pretense of enthusiasm for exotic foods. Just bring on the exotic foods.

When a man opens his eyes very wide and says, "Boy, what I couldn't do to a rasher of Japanese rollmops right now!" get him a rasher of Japanese rollmops and see what he does to them. The chances are that he can't gag down more than three mouthfuls.

Almost everyone has some little dish that he talks a lot about liking, because it is either hard to get or hard to swallow. But when they are confronted with their dream dish, it very often turns out that nausea flies in the window.

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I used to rave a lot about truffles. (Incidentally, while raving, I mispronounced the word.) Now, all that I actually knew about truffles was that they came as a fixing to several very tasty dishes. I had never really tasted truffle on the hoof, but I had read about them.

Then, one night, I had my bluff called. A friend, with whom I was dining, said: "You ought to be very happy tonight. I see that they have truffles au nature on the menu." I said "Oh, boy!"

There being very few things that I cannot eat with relish, I had every reason to believe that I could carry on with a truffle, even though I had never tasted one.

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And I probably could have made a go of it if I had been in top form that night. But I was more in the mood to be pampered, and a plain truffle, although considered a delicacy, is not exactly succulent. It turned out to be something on the order of edible pumice, or a small, black sponge. It had no sauce. Just the pumice.

But I had to dig in and look as much like an ecstatic epicure as I could, smacking my lips and making French gestures with my free hand, while my companion watched with what I thought to be high glee.

I was cured of my truffle talk, but I still have several dishes that I pretend to crave and which I hope I never have to eat under close scrutiny. One of them is tete de veau, or the head of a calf served with the brains, ears, and eyes.

If you ever hear me raving about the tete de veau, it will pay you to order me one and watch.