by Emily Dresner
This article appeared in the Eversink Daily News, in the lower right-hand corner, Page 6.
The Doomed Food at the All Swans Night Market
Written by: Vivaldo “Viv” Sozio, Food Critic
All Swans Week. Those five days, the Eversink religious make their way to Temple Market and listen to priests drone on about Holy interest rates, the importance of sane investment strategies, and the sin of running deficits. The mandatory daytime fasting is worse than the stuffy lectures on the laws of supply. Tummies growl, golden swan medallions twist between fingers, and memories of creamy dessert delights from the Locket dance in devout heads.
Nothing in Eversink is free, even the gift of hungry misery in memory of want before the glory of Denari’s free enterprise. While the faithful head home to consume dry and culinarily dull eel pie while piously reviewing their financial portfolios, the rest of Eversink makes their way to sundown bacchanalias.
Heading down to the Tangle for the All Swans Night Market is a brutal, high-pressure job for even the most hardened food critic. Gone are the succulent and sublime pasta of Chiavacci’s. Forgotten are Donatello Udinese’s smooth alcoholic beverages mixed to perfection at Harborview Nights. No elegant and softly lit dining over fish and mussels at the Basilica.
For the five high Holy days, the All Swans Night Market offers hardened food from hardened people. Tucked deep in the Tangle between Borgo Ferris Street and Via Siro, the Night Market has pop-up stalls for everyone looking to do a few crimes: gang recruitment, mercenary contracts, illegal gambling, weapons sales, and illicit goods. A sorcerer or two wandering through the crowd and buying this or that wouldn’t surprise me — they’d be lost in the press of human flesh.
What All Swans Night Market offers to those on this side of the law are drinks… and the so-called “doomed food”: a cuisine that lasts only a short time before disappearing, never to be seen again. I would be making my readers remiss if I did not take it upon myself to heroically travel into the dangers of the Tangle and sample its fabled delights.
Bundled into my coat and boots, two sharp daggers at the small of my back, I trudged through the grey drifts of forgotten snow and ice-cold winds off the bay to arrive at the All Swans Night Market. Miles of booths spread out before me. The Night Market was brightly lit with strings of lights running from awning to awning and warmed with braziers strategically set on street corners.
Before I dove in, I prayed aloud: “Oh, Swan Goddess Denari, allow me to pay you to protect me from the grease and the low-quality food stall food and save me from the punishment of the water closet in the morning!” Then, I took a deep breath and plunged in, debasing myself among the throngs of the Sinkish and Outlanders.
Although the avenues between the stalls are wide, people crush together around the most popular stalls and frantically offer sellers coins while dreading the rapidly dwindling stock. Buying stall food is an exercise in timing. Too early in line, you have no place to stand and enjoy. Too late, and one misses the gastronomic experience for another year. And while waving your coin in the air, you must maintain constant vigilance against pickpockets and small-time grifters. Partaking is a tricky and dangerous dance.
While terrified of the assault the stall food would have on my delicate senses, I was… pleasantly delighted by the Doomed Food of the All Swans Night Market. After paying off locals for food rumors, running from thieves across rooftops, and at one point fighting off two ghosts (both angry at earlier written reviews!) I finally dove in and ate.
Deep-Fried Whole Octopus Ink Sac Balls from Exquisite Ocean Bites
The Exquisite Ocean Bites food stall served me three small, deep-fried orbs in a slowly disintegrating paper bag. I was dubious at first. But, as my teeth sunk into the crunchy exterior, my finely trained tastebuds exploded with such delights! The fried external coating was flavored with simple black pepper and a hint of salt. The insides were nuggety and tasted of chicken livers and the sea. The shivering umami of the exploding ink sac rolled off my tongue and down my throat. A rare delight like no other!
As a bonus, the sac-like construction and the strong taste would perfectly deliver the acidic flavors of Eversink’s most popular poisons — or provide an appropriate antidote!
Bacon-Wrapped Fish Sausage Sandwich from Fishilicious
The bacon-wrapped fish sausage was a marvelous, if messy, culinary creation. First, take the common parrotfish and pack its flesh into a flavorful pork casing. Let dry for months. Then, wrap the sausage in bacon, dripping in pork fat and grease. Place the bacon-wrapped fish sausage in a kettle flat cake and covered in dolce blue cheese and pickled onions. Take a deep, heady smell of this creation. And then, bite.
The softness of the flat cake! The pungent fish sausage mixed with the soft spiciness of the blue cheese! The slight sliminess of pork grease! Combined, it was a culinary explosion in every bite! A triumph! Also, one could replace the fish sausage with a tiny stiletto to cover up a murder if necessary.
Deep Fried Pig’s Trotter from Munchin Swine
I stood for an hour in a line that went down the block, but the long wait for the deep-fried pig’s trotter from Munchin Swine was worth every moment. Big enough to use as a club to brain a man, the deep-fried pig’s trotter was a gastronomic explosion. Take a pig trotter and stuff it with ground pork, pork rinds, and spices of all kinds: pepper, cumin, garlic, and a hint of cinnamon. Insert a stick, roll in oil and flour, and deep fry. Eat like an enormous chicken leg with one hand — or one in each hand! Enjoy the light flakiness of the deep-fried shell. Inhale the deep, toe-curling richness of the spiced meat within. The balance of spice and meat! The tanginess of the trotter casing! The lightness of the breading! A pork surprise!
My mind exploded with such delights! Never have I had something so purely delicious!
When I was done eating, I overheard an Outlander standing nearby telling her companions a story about this culinary creation. Deep fried pig’s trotter dish began due to extreme poverty forced on their community by onerous Eversink debt collections. Great food comes from dire circumstances from an oppressor, the Outlander said. I dismissed this as Outlander talk who didn’t appreciate Eversink’s mastery of piquant flavors but thought to mention it here for a moment of mirth for my readers.
Enormous Stuffed Eel from Coastal Catch
Before the end of the festival, I followed up on a rumor: I could find the best food at the Night Market at the Coastal Catch in the furthest, darkest back corner stall. I braved the danger, the thieves, and the conniving plots to find the Coastal Catch… and it did not disappoint. It is, by far, the best food at the Night Market.
The stall serves a platter of an enormous eel stuffed generously with crab, mussels, and shrimp. An eel of such size should be tough to chew, yet it is so delicious it ought to be illegal. In defiance of all gastronomical logic, the eel’s flesh is a soft mouthful exploding with rich eel umami flavor in every bite. Meanwhile, the seafood stuffing is flavored with the rich fruitiness of cherries, apricots, and fragrant spices.
When I queried the proprietor about his sources of ingredients, he assured me the eels came from a secretive selective breeding pool outside Eversink. A limited and selected stock, he said. When I asked why he did not serve this incredible dish in Alderhall’s best-celebrated restaurants, the proprietor claimed the Night Market was a family tradition. Due to the limited stock, they only open and serve at All Swans Night Market once a year. Knowing well the fate of many Ancient Nobility, I did not further pry.
I finished these dishes off with fermented pickle juice lemonade, various meads, and a beer or two. What would this trip be without refreshments? The drinks were conventional; it was the food that stood out at the Night Market. For those adventurous (and well-armed) to make the trip, the All Swans Night Market, held once a year in the Tangle for five days only, is a fulfilling culinary adventure. Four and a half stars.
Next week, join me as I review the new five-star restaurant “Sale e Pepe” in uptown Ironcross from the celebrated chef, Augusto Scarpace. Rumor on the street is the “Fish who makes Dreams” dish is an out-of-your-mind experience not to be missed — and especially by this critic.
Emily Dresner (@multiplexer) is the co-author of Swords of the Serpentine, out now in hardback and PDF. Emily previously wrote the Dungeonomics articles for Critical Hits (Dungeonomics). Before that, she authored work for Guardians of Order, White Wolf and Steve Jackson Games. When not writing games, she’s either playing video games, knitting, or working on the Internet.