Friday, October 2, 2009

IV. Concerning the Table of the Siameses.

That the Siameses eat little, and what their Food is; A Wonder reported of two sorts of Fish; Bad Salt at Siam: The desire of the Siameses for corrupt meats; Whatever smells ill, is not always ill tasted; What a Siamese expends a day in Food; Their Sauces; They Yellow their Children; What Oil they eat; How Relations must be understood with reference to him that writes them; Another Reflection on the same Subject; The Milk at Siam; How the Siameses disguise their Meats; A Chinese Repast; The Siameses do love Flesh little, and have no Butchers Meat; The Poultry; Game; Wild-Fowl; The Peculiarity of the Birds of Siam; What we call Butcher’s Meat, is worth nothing at Siam. The goodness of the Pig; Volatiles do multiply exceedingly at Siam; The Distempers of the Siameses; What is the Plague at Siam.

The Table of the Siameses is not sumptuous: As we eat less in Summer than in Winter, they eat less than we, by reason of the continual Summer in which they live; their common Food is Rice and Fish. The Sea affords them very delicate small Oysters, very excellent small Turtles, Lobsters of all sizes, and admirable Fish, the sorts of which are unknown to us. Their River is also very plentiful of Fish, and principally very good and curious Eels: But they make little esteem of fresh Fish.

Amongst the Fresh-water Fish, they have some little ones of two sorts, which do here deserve to be mention’d. They call them Pla out, and Pla cadi, that is to say the Fish out, and the Fish cadi. To free me from all doubts, some have assur’d me, that after they have salted them together, as the Siameses us’d to do, if they leave them in an earthen Pot in their Pickle where they soon corrupt, by reason they salt ill at Siam, then, that is to say when they are corrupted, and as it were in a very liquid Paste, they do exactly follow the flux and reflux of the Sea, growing higher and lower in the Pitcher as the Sea ebbs or flows. Mr. Vincent gave me a Pot thereof at his arrival in France, and assur’d me that this Experiment was true, and that he had seen it; but I cannot add my Testimony thereunto, by reason I was too late advertised thereof at Siam, to have an occasion for ascertaining it by my own Eyes; and that the Pot which Mr. Vincent gave me, and which I brought to Paris, perform’d this Effect no more: perhaps because the Fish were too much corrupted, or that their virtue of imitating the flux and reflux of the Sea continues only a certain time.

The Siameses find much difficulty to make good Salt, by reason that Meats do hardly take Salt in excessive hot Countries; but they love Fish ill season’d and dry better than fresh, even stinking Fish displeaseth them not no more than rotten Eggs, Locusts, Rats, Lizards, and most Insects: Nature doubtless framing their Appetite to things, the Digestion whereof is more easie to them. And it may be that all these things have not such an ill taste as we imagine. Navarette in Pag. 45. Tom. I of his Historical Discourse of China, relates that he at first exceedingly detested the Brooded Eggs of a Bird which he calls Tabon, but that when he eat thereof, he found them excellent. ‘Tis certain that at Siam new-laid Eggs are very unwholsom; we do here eat Vipers, we draw not certain Birds to eat them; and sometimes Venison a little over-hunted is best relisht.

A Siamese makes a very good Meal with a pound of Rice a day, which amounts not to more than a Farthing; and with a little dry or salt Fish, which costs no more. The Arak or Rice Brandy is not worth above two Sols for that quantity, which amounts to a Parisian Pint; after which it is no wonder if the Siameses are not in any great care about their Subsistence, and if in the Evening there is heard nothing but Singing in their Houses.

Their Sauces are plain, a little Water with some Spices, Garlic, Chibols, or some sweet Herb, as Baulm. They do very much esteem a liquid Sauce like Mustard, which is only Cray Fish corrupted, because they are ill salted; they call it Capi. They gave Mr. Ceberet some Pots thereof, which had no bad Smell.

That which serves them instead of Saffron is a root, which has the Taste and Colour thereof when it is dry and reduc’d to Powder: the Plant thereof is known under the Name of Crocus Indicus. They account it very wholesom for their Children, to yellow the Body and Face therewith. So that in the streets there are only seen Children with tawny Complexion.

They have neither Nuts, nor Olives, nor any eating Oil, save that which they extract from the Fruit of Coco; which, tho always a little bitter, yet is good when it is fresh drawn: but it presently becomes very strong, insomuch that it is not eatable by such as are not accustomed to eat bad Oil. The Taste is always made, and it happened at my return from a very long Voyage, where I met with no extraordinary Oil, that I found the excellent Oil of Paris insipid and tasteless.

Wherefore I cannot forbear making a remark very necessary, truly to understand the Relations of Foreign Countries. ‘Tis that the words, good, excellent, magnificent, great, bad, ugly, simple, and small; equivocal in themselves, must always be understood with reference to the Phatasie of the Author of the Relation, if otherwise he does not particularly explain what he writes. As for example, if a Dutch Factor, or a Portuguese Monk do exaggerate the Magnificence, and good Entertainment of the East; if the least House of the King of China’s Palace appears unto them worthy of a European King, it must be supposed that this is true, in reference to the Court of Portugal. And yet some may doubt hereof, seeing that in truth the Apartments of the Palace of China, are no other than Wood varnished on the inside and outside, which is rather agreeable and neat than magnificent. Thus (because it would not be just to contemn every thing, that resembles not what we do now see in the Court of France, and which was never seen before this great and glorious Reign) I have endeavour’d to express nothing in ambiguous Terms, but to describe exactly what I have seen, thereby to prevent the surprising any person by my particular Fancy, and to the end that every one make as true a Judgment of what I write, as he had performed the Voyage that I have done.

Another defect in Relations is the Translation of Foreign Words. As for instance, amongst the King of China’s Wives, there is only one that hath the Honours and Title of Queen: the rest are under her, although they be all legitimate, that is to say permitted by the Laws of the Country. They are called verbatim the Ladies of the Palace, and at Siam they have the same Name. The Children of these Ladies honour not their natural Mothers, as the Chinese are obliged theirs, but they render this Respect, and give the Name of Mother to the Queen; as if the second Wives bore Children only for the principal Wife. And this is also the Custom at China, in the Houses of private Persons, who have several Wives; to the end that there may be an entire subordination, which maintains Peace there is as much as possible. And that the Children be not permitted to dispute amongst them the merit of their Mothers. We read almost the same thing of Sarah, who gave Hagar her Bond-maid unto Abraham, to have, as she said, some Children by her Slave, being past Child-bearing her self. Some other Wives of the Patriachs practiced the same, and it is evident that being the principal Wives, every one was thought the Mother of all her Husband’s Children. But to return to what I have spoken concerning the danger of being deceived by the Translations of the Foreign words in Relations, who sees not the Equivocation of these words, the Ladies of the Palace, put into the mouth of a Chinese, or Portuguese, or in the mouth of a French-man, who translates a Portuguese Relation of China? The same equivocations are found in the names of Offices? Because that all Courts and all Governments do not resemble. All Functions are not found every where, and the same are not every where attributed to the same Offices, that is to say to Offices of the same name: besides that such a Function will be great and considerable in one Country, which may be inconsiderable in another. As for example, the Spaniards have Marshals, which they at first design’d in imitation of the Marshals of France, and yet an Ambassador would find himself exceedingly mistaken, if being accompanied to the Audience of the King of Spain, by a Marshal of Spain, he should think himself as highly honoured, as if he were accompany’d to the King’s Audience by a Marshal of France. Now the more remote the Courts are, the greater is the defect, when the same Words and the same Idea’s are transferred from the one to the other. At Siam it is a very honourable Employment to empty the King’s Close-stool, which is always emptied in a place appointed, and carefully kept for this purpose; it may be out of some superstitious Fear of the Sorceries which they imagine may be perform’d on the Excrements. At China all the Splendor and Authority is in the Offices which we call the Long Robe: And their Military Officers, at least before the Domination of the Tartars, consisted only of unfortunate Wretches, who were not thought endow’d with Merit sufficient to raise themselves by Learning.

A third defect of Relations is to describe things only in one Particular, if I may so say. The Reader conceives that in every thing else the Nation whereof he is informed resembles his, and that in this only it is either extravagant or admirable. Thus if it be simply said, that the King of Siam puts his Shirt over his Vest, this would appear ridiculous to us; but when the whole is understood, it is found, that, tho’ all Nations act almost on different Principles, the whole amounts almost to the same; and that there is not in any place any thing marvellous or extravagant. But enough is spoken on this Subject, I return to the good Cheer of the Siamese.

They have Milk from the Female Buffalo, which has more Cream, than the Milk of our Cows; but they make not any sort of Cheese, and scarce any Butter. Butter does hardly take any Consistence here by reason of the Heat; and that which is brought from Suratt and Bengale, through Climates so extreamly hot, is very bad, and almost melted in arriving there.

They disguise dry Fish after several manners, without varying the Preparation. For example, they will cut it into thin Slices, twisted like the Virmicelli of the Italians, or the oeufs filez of the Spaniards. The Chineses are so addicted to this way of disguising their Meats, that of a Drake, for Example, they will make a Soldier, of an Ananas a Dragon, and this Dragon shall be painted in several Colours. Heretofore in Europe several Sugar Figures were serv’d up amongst the Fruit, but they eat them not; and the Germans call’d them Schaw-essen, or Food to look upon.

Of more than thirty Dishes, wherewith we were served at Siam after the Fashion of the Chineses, it was not possible for me to eat of one; Altho’ it be naturally easie to me as to any other, to accommodate my self to strange Tastes. At the sight therefore of so strange a Repast, I rested more satisfy’d with what some report of the Chinese, that they taste, without loathing, the Excrements of Men and other Animals, to chuse out the most proper to manure and improve their Lands; and that they commonly eat of all the Viands, which we abhor, as Cats, Dogs, Horses, Asses, Mules, etc.

In which they are very opposite to the Siameses, who do rarely eat of any Flesh, tho’ it be given them. But when they vouchsafe so far as to eat thereof, they rather chuse the Guts, and whatever is most loathsome to us in the Intestines. In their Bazars or Markets they do sell Insects boil’d or roasted, and they have not any other Roast-meat. The King of Siam gave us some Poultry, and other live Animals, for our Servants to kill and dress for our Table. But in general all Food there is rough, Juiceless and Crude; and by degrees the Europeans themselves, which inhabit at Siam, do refrain from eating thereof. The ancient Inhabitants of the Isle of Rhodes, according to Ælian, esteemed not those who preferred Flesh before Fish. The Spaniards and Italians do eat little, and do eat it dry roasted; and we find that the English eat too much, and that they eat it raw: ‘Tis that as the Countries are hotter, Sobriety is more natural.

The Siameses take no care of Poultry. They have two sorts of Hens, some are like to ours, others have the Skin and Comb black, but the Flesh and the Bones white; and when these black Hens are boil’d, it is impossible to distinguish them from the white ones either by the taste or colour; altho’ there are some persons who generally esteem the black best. Ducks are very plentiful and very good, but ‘tis a Food, which, as is said, does easily cloy. The Indian Cocks are brought to us from the West-Indies, and there are none at Siam.

Peacocks and Pigeons are wild there; all Partridges are gray: Hares are very scarce, and no Rabbets to be seen. It may be that the Race could not preserve itself in the Woods, amongst all the carnivorous Animals, wherewith they are stored. There is great plenty of Francolins, and excellent Snipes; here they do eat Turtle-doves, whose Plumage is variegated, Parrots, and divers small Birds, which are good.

But Wild Fowl is secure amongst the Siameses, they love neither to kill them, nor hinder their liberty. They hate the Dogs that will take them; and moreover, the heighth of their Herbage, and the thickness of the Woods do render the Chace difficult; yet the Moors do exceeding divert themselves in the flight of Faulcons, and these Birds do come to them from Persia.

A thing which will appear singular, (altho’ it be common at Brasil, and it may be in other hot Countries) is, that almost all the Birds at Siam are beautiful to behold, and are all unpleasant to hear. There are several sorts, which imitate the Voice; all have some Cry, but no warbling Note. And tho’ in this Country there are some of the Birds which we have here, they are, for Example, neither Nightingales nor Canary-Birds, but Sparrows, Peacocks, Crows, and Vultures. The Sparrows do enter boldly into the Chambers, there to pick up the little Insects, wherewith they swarm. The Crows and Vultures are very plentiful, and very familiar; because no person frights them, and the people feed them out of Charity. They do generally give them the Children, which die before three or four years old.

Goats and Sheep are here very scarce, small, and not over-good; they are to be bought only of the Moors: the King of Siam caused a quantity of them to be nourished for himself. They generally keep the Ox and the Buffalo for Tillage, and fell the Cows, and the whole is very bad to eat.

The Pig is there very small, and so fat, that it is distasteful; yet the flesh thereof is the wholesomest that can be eaten in most of the Countries of the Torrid Zone, and is given to sick persons. The Pigs are excellent also on the Sea, when they eat Bisket; whereas the Sheep do frequently taste of the wooll, by reason they eat it one from another, as Poultry eats their feathers.

As to the price of Meats in the Kingdom of Siam, a Cow is worth above ten Sols in the Provinces; and a Crown, or thereabouts, in the Metropolis: A Sheep four crowns: A Goat two or three Crowns, (tho’ the Moors do sell them very unwillingly, because this is their principal Food:) A Pig is not worth above seven Sols, by reason the Moors eat not thereof; Hens are worth about twenty pence a dozen, and a dozen of Ducks is worth a Crown.

All Volatiles do multiply extreamly at Siam; the heat of the Climate almost hatches the Eggs. Venison also is not wanting, notwithstanding the spoil which the wild Beasts make thereof, if the Siameses were greedy of Dainties: But when they kill Bucks, and other Beasts, it is only to sell the Skins thereof to the Dutch, who make a great Trade thereof to Japan.

Yet to the discredit, in my opinion, of Sobriety, or because that in proportion to the heat of their Stomach, the Siameses are not more sober than us, they live not longer, and their Life is not less attack’d with Diseases than ours. Amongst the most dangerous, the most frequent are Fluxes and Dissenteries, from which the Europeans that arrive at this Country, have more trouble to defend themselves, than the Natives of the Country, by reason they cannot live sober enough. The Siameses are sometimes attackt with burning Fevers, in which the transport to the Brain is easily formed, with defluxions on the Stomach. Moreover, Inflamations are rare, and the ordinary continual Fever kills none, no more than in the other places of the Torrid Zone: Intermittent Fevers are also rare, but violent, tho’ the cold Fit be very short. The external does so exceedingly weaken the Natural Heat, that here are not seen almost any of those Distempers, which our Physitians do call Agues: and this is so throughout India, and also in Persia, where, of an hundred sick persons, Mr. Vincent the provincial Physician, whom I have already mention’d, declar’d that he scarce found one which had the Fever, or any other hot distemper. Coughs, Coqueluches or Quinancies, and all sorts of Defluxions and Rheumatisms are not less frequent at Siam, than in these Countries; and I wonder not thereat, seeing that the weather is inclined to Rain so great a part of the year: but the Gout, Epilepsy, Apoplexy, Pthysick, and all sorts of Cholick, especially the Stone, are very rare.

There are a great many Cankers, Abcesses, and Fistulas. Fresipeli are here so frequent, that among twenty men, nineteen are infected therewith; and some have two thirds of their body cover’d therewith. There is no Scurvy, nor Dropsie, but a great many of those extraordinary distempers, which the people conceive to be caused by Witchcraft. The ill consequences of a debauch are here very frequent, but they know not whether they are ancient or modern in their Country.

In a word, there are some contagious diseases, but the real Plague of this Country is the Small Pox: It oftentimes makes dreadful ravage, and then they interr the bodies without burning them: but because their Piety always makes them desire to render them this last respect, they do afterwards dig them up again: and that which exceedingly surprises me, is, that they dare not do it till three years after, or longer, as they say, that they have experimented, that this Contagion breaks out afresh, if they dig them up sooner.

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