Chef’s special

Vegetarians are lunatics; I think we can all agree on that. Somehow, the ever-reducing number of guilt-free pleasures available to the western consumer do still include a meat-laden meal, prepared to perfection and presented in such style it makes you glad you were able to dismiss that definition of ‘pearl barley’ you had to look up the other week as the ravings of a madman.

Oh but hang on – you’ve been led astray. Your mind has wandered off to a land of cattle shaped like deliciously tender and well-seasoned steaks, done to within a split-second of perfection with juices emerging lazily to blend with your mashed polenta. You’re picturing succulent pieces of chicken reclining in a polpette di pollo, laced with garlic and flat-leafed parsley and sprinkled with parmesan as though Edesia herself has blessed your majestic banquet. Roman goddess of food. Thank you Jimmy Wales.

That’s not real meat. That’s middle-class meat. Your imagination is filled with images of unreal meals cooked by that fat-tongued clown Jamie Oliver and no-one else ever because what the fuck is he on about, really?

Meat is the rotting flesh of dead animals, industrially reared and slaughtered, hacked up and transported incalculable distances so we can get fat on suffering and murder and call it ‘natural’. Meat is meant to be frightening, and if it doesn’t scare you you probably deserve the same fate as that sheep they made in a lab, named and marvelled at for a few weeks before beginning to look at differently, with eyes saying “That bit’s the shoulder, that bit’s the shank.”

Meat must be feared. That’s where kebabs come in. Don’t look at me like that.

There are people in the world who think kebabs are the sole preserve of the drunkard who’s given up all hope of a future without diabetes. At times it’s hard to fault that line of thought, and yet at 12.35am on a Wednesday, some hours before Wednesday becomes a serious and terrifying reality, there’s nothing more life-affirming than a hairy man regarding you balefully as you step across his threshold slurring “large doner please mate”. Witness him glide across the dubious linoleum towards the object of your terrible desire, sharpening his infernal weaponry and slicing through so many mashed-together ex-creatures in one swipe it’d make that arsehole who arrowed Cecil the Lion quake with fear.

Kebabs are a gift to Britain from a culture that has realised we’re fucked beyond imagination and only food that makes you genuinely ashamed can stave off the doom. But here, too, some will be thinking: “Actually he has a point. I had a lovely schwarma wrapped in a toasted tortilla from the new artisan Turkish on the High Street last week. They infuse it with herbs and they won’t give out the recipe for their garlic sauce, and believe me I’ve asked. It’s that good, I even had it sober once.”

You’re what’s wrong with the world, do you know that? You think Waitrose is fine for day-to-day items, but oh that new patisserie, they make the most wonderful cinnamon tea cakes. You regularly claim you prefer the feel of a ‘real book’ while never buying anything on your Amazon wish list unless it drops under a quid. You probably think Jeremy Clarkson was treated shabbily by the BBC. You’re the reason there’s such a thing as a ‘gastropub’.

What you imagine to be a kebab is nothing of the sort, but just as with dartboards, jukeboxes and faded pub carpets swimming in beer, our heritage is being lost in a blur of upward mobility. Genuine kebab shops of the type the past two generations have worshipped as temples of post-pub salvation are being replaced by places that are safe, non-threatening and, worst of all, clean.

This is summed up by the slow death of the pita bread. There’s a reason I go to Eddie’s by Kings Cross station – they serve me stacks of dirty meat, wrecked salad and ring-stinging chili sauce on Poundland-quality pita bread, and some minutes in the bread’s soaked through with more fat than the beach at Benidorm. This, I must stress, is a marvellous thing.

But we are being invaded by ‘wraps’. It’s impossible to describe the disappointment of a ‘wrap’, with meat that seems pre-chewed, sauce you can’t see and therefore can’t be sure isn’t “chef’s special”, and the culinary equivalent of a sheet of A4 holding it all together. There’s half as much food than in a proper kebab – and worse, the bit missing is the hangover-prevention ingredient that most of us have bought it for in the first place, that glorious pita that will gum you up like putty.

I demand that at least one aspect of my life be allowed to continue unmolested by the drive to make everything family-friendly to maximise revenue. Pubs that I can tolerate are disappearing as irascible landlords are replaced by apron-wielding ‘managers’. I feel increasingly uncertain in newsagents since energy drinks and devices for ‘vaping’ replaced Panini stickers and a proper top shelf. Even easyJet isn’t the comedy bunfight it once was, with reserved seating and fake tan no longer mandatory among staff of both genders. I think they’re allowed to fly to Monaco now and I don’t understand.

We, the standard bearers of a country that would have as much point as Switzerland without our ability to hold our ale, are hungry. Wraps will not do, damn it. Find some other way to describe whatever pitiful muck your people masquerade as kebabs, and a way to serve it that doesn’t involve me wandering into a place with an elephant leg on a sign outside and emerging with tears streaming down my face as a once-great nation allows itself to be emasculated by the rampant hordes of people who know what the holy Christ ‘chia seeds’ are.

Some things in life should be confusing, alarming and not for everyone, like animated porn. Kebabs are not yours, they’re ours. We will have sodden pita bread, and chili sauce of unknown provenance from a silver container, not a bottle. We will continue to say yes to chillies to look like proper kebab eaters then covertly throw them in the street for the rat whose brother we’re probably munching on right now. We embrace botulism like a comfort blanket.

We know our dinner will kill us, and you’d better let it. You wouldn’t like Eddie when he’s angry.

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