Reprinted, with permission, from Food & Whine: The Gourmet Magazine for Picky Eaters
by Kendra Schmendra
When our friends Bob and Bob Bobbit returned from a photo safari trip through East Africa, one of the first things they did was to call us up with some urgent news. They had discovered, in a small grocery store in Dar es Salaam in Tanzania, a commercially-produced pepper spread—a “gel,” as Bob called it—that absolutely ruined everything it touched.
“Your readers have to know about this pronto,” Bob said.
“It’s something picky eaters have been living in fear of their entire lives,” added Bob.
We naturally thought they were exaggerating. After all, oftentimes the sheer novelty of surroundings and cultural dislocation we experience while traveling can be enough to convince us, at the time, that this dish or that beverage is remarkable and sublime (or, alternatively, poisonously hideous) when, in fact, it is only in the cooler evaluation made possible by a return to our normal lives, that the truth can emerge as being not quite so extreme. That may have been the longest sentence I have ever written, but its length is all the more proof of its truth.
Still, we at Food & Whine were intrigued. It is one thing to discover an unfamiliar ingredient or condiment that goes particularly badly with a range of dishes. It is quite another to hit upon one that is not only repellent when sampled right off a spoon, but has a downright nauseating influence on literally everything it accompanies.
And so we arranged to obtain our own jar. The product is marketed under the name FINEST COLONIAL CONDIMENT MIXTURE NO. 6. The company web site makes no mention of the fate of mixtures number one through five (let alone what went into them), but that seemed irrelevant. We wanted to encounter this product without prejudice, history, or associations with other, similar preparations, uninfluenced by the reputations of previous versions, however horrible.
We began with the label, which informed us that the product contained “Peppers, spices, other natural things and other things.” That, alone, was enough to command our attention. We have long been familiar with the truly dazzling array of pickles, chutneys, ketchups, pastes, marinades, sauces, and chow-chows from the continent of Africa and the Indian sub-continent. And we have hated every one. But they all had something in common: None of them ever boasted about—or confessed to—including unnatural ingredients.
Colonial Mixture No. 6, however, did just that. And so it was with not a little excitement, combined with more than a dash of mortal terror, that we opened the jar and examined its contents.
What we found, in the dark purple, translucent jelly-like gel, was an all-purpose condiment, marinade, and sauce that brought new meaning to the word “ick.” Starting with its smoky, bright notes of cocoa-rich up-front warmth, we noticed an aromatic complexity of acrobatic complicity that was both thick with rich chili heat and chilly with rich, cheaty thrills—all complemented—or, rather, insulted—by the astringent raisiny fruitiness of its jammy starchiness and its texture of starchy pajamas. Moreover, the tangy vibrancy of its caramelized sweetness created a pungent kick of capsaicin otherworldly earthiness and a deadly, punchy, plummy umami, like when your daddy punches your mommy with a crunchy, palmy salami.
It isn’t often that we emerge from our taste tests in absolute and unqualified unanimity of opinion about a produce or a recipe, and we take care to advise our readers of the entire range of our findings. In this case, however, we are as one: We cannot recommend Finest Colonial Mixture No. 6 highly enough to advise anyone to get within ten miles of it, and urge all our readers to decline to use it on, or with, absolutely anything.