Black Breakfast Spreads Battle It Out in Iquitos Café
Few visitors to Iquitos’ miss a walk along the town’s historic malecon, a walkway which is increasingly known by the endearing epithet ‘Gourmet Alley’. Where else in the world can you order heart-of-palm salad, with freshly caught catfish ceviche, washed down with exotic camu-camu juice or excellent locally brewed Iquitena beer? Recently, however, an unusual taste-test was held in La Noche, a bar-restaurant facing the river, which had little to do with Amazonian cuisine. UK-born ‘Mad Mick’ Collis met Australian-born traveller Glen Short for breakfast, and noted with interest that he spread Vegemite on his buttered toast from a yellow tube, squeezing out something that looked like black toothpaste. Mick, co-incidentally, had just been delivered, via his daughter who visited during the Great Amazon Raft Race, a large jar of Marmite, and produced it from his bag.
“I was raised on Vegemite and it’s black Ambrosia” reminisced Glen.
“Marmite is to a Brit what spinach is to Popeye” countered Mick.
“No, a great Australian invention which is the secret to Aussies’ outstanding successes on the sporting field! Just recently the factory shipped its one billionth jar!” asserted Glen.*
“Oh, just ’ave a look at that…” said Mick, “it put hairs on the chest of many a red-blooded Englishman!”
“Ha! A poor British version of a vitamin-rich Aussie staple!” scoffed Glen.
“What do you mean, ‘Ha!’? Yours is an inferior imitation of the British product!” scorned Mick.
It seemed an impartial opinion could be in order. Just then Bill Harrison, hailing from the USA, wandered in.
“Whats that?” he asked Bill.
“The second best thing since – or rather on – sliced bread, after this!” answered a proud Aussie, offering his almost empty tube of Vegemite. An indignant Mick disputed his comparison, and suggested a blind taste test, to which Bill agreed.
Bill was given a sample with what both factions agreed was the best way to have it: thinly spread on fresh, buttered toast. Many a taste-test has been ruined by spreading the paste too thickly, like peanut butter. When it comes to yeast extracts, a little goes a long way. Glen’s 145g tube had lasted him three months, though he admitted he didn’t eat it everyday, and even hid it when other Aussies were at the table, lest they help themselves to his limited supply.
Both products are made from yeast extract; both have similar yellow and red colours in their labelling; some say the product contained within is also similar in taste (though afficionados would strongly disagree). And both are definitely an acquired taste. Unbeknownst to many, there is a third yeast product, called ‘Cenovis’ which is popular in Switzerland.
Bill gingerly nibbled at the toast samples, seemingly savouring every last crumb. His verdict? While both were similar in fragrance, they had distinctive flavours and even more distinctive textures. Intriguingly, Bill recalls being given something very similar in his rations when he was a US serviceman. And which was better? Ah, here is Bill’s honest and diplomatic reply:
“Both are very, very good. Now, please, can I have some more?”
*A subsequent investigation on wikipedia later revealed that Vegemite was indeed invented by an Australian in the early 1920s, but he was trying to recreate Marmite, whose shipments to Australia had been disrupted in WW1. Furthermore, it has been owned by an American company, Kraft, for more than 70 years.
Guest post by Glen David Short, author, actor, world traveler, and Vegemite afficionado.