Mona's Meals | Sunday, 10 May 2009
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A bunny with balls

Most jobs inspire expressions of “If I ever wrote my autobiography…” followed by a hidden exclamation mark, a sigh, and a head full of memories, mostly of crazy, unbelievable things that nobody outside of your immediate workspace would believe. 90 percent of our day consists of stuff you would never put down on a CV.
I’ve just spent an entire week watching Season 5 of The Office, US. Having started in the UK as a squirm-in-your-seat, oh-my-god-that’s-just-like-X (or worse, ‘me’) series, The Office has developed into a laugh-out-loud British-American success story without the canned laughter: if it can happen within a 500 square metre, carpet-tiled, huge photocopier space, then it will. Strange how after a day at the (real) office, there’s nothing quite as chilled-out as watching somebody else suffer and being able to giggle at them non-stop, without them noticing.
As far as work environments go, hotels are up there in the OMG factor. The world and its brother go through the reception and set up camp in the rooms. What follows, well: hotel staff can tell you stories that you never believed were possible. Imogen Edwards-Jones has made it her life’s work to find someone with this story inside them and has dished the dirt on the behind-the-scenes scene of airlines, fashion, beaches (!) and of course, in the brilliant Hotel Babylon, the obvious.
Very probably, the people who have the most bizarre stories to tell in Malta are those who were on duty when a huge bunch of international heads of banana republics descended upon us some years ago. One pile of guests had flown in on a private, gold-plated-interior jet, booked a host of suites, packed them with boxes of bananas and pineapples and spent the entire night sending staff out to buy them Micky D’s: piles and piles of the stuff, which then they did not even touch.
At another hotel, a guest asked for the bath to be filled with milk, then promptly packed up and checked out. In Hotel Babylon, one regular guest left a huge crap on the bed before she departed, every time. Madonna infamously booked two floors in a local five star and never even set foot in the place: it was just a ruse to put off the paparazzi. Intelligently, she rented a villa far away and stayed there.
If you ever have time, spend some of it hanging about a reception desk and I bet that within the first five guests to check-out, one of them will have an almighty argument about the ‘pay-per-view’ list of items on his bill. It’s always the men; women are not stupid enough to argue about stuff like this with the cashier, who is always on the verge of bursting with laughter and derision.
I don’t know what it is about porn and a remote control but men seem to lose their grip on the numbers even when the hotel television is actually telling them that from this moment on, their every second of pleasure is costing them a €10,000 an hour and their dignity. Maybe it is the fact that somebody other than their wife will change the sheets. You’d think they would just stick to the free stuff on the net. Yet this is the effect of hotels: most men just don’t equate the message with paying the bill, even if most of the top thousand websites in the world are porn-related.
The French Poker Expert and the Textiles Pundit do not live in a hotel. They do not work in one either but, since they are travellers, have probably stayed in one at some point. For the time they have been in Malta, they have owned their own lovely house. They have experienced our crazy driving and for the first few months, our even crazier restaurants. Desperate for guidance and sick of paying for rubbish, the FPE turned to Today, years later, we are friends. Now how weird is that. And how even weirder that they had never been to a fenkata.
The Writer and I decided that, since they are a very lovely couple who, although parents of three children, absolutely do not let this get in the way of having a life, so they deserved a good one. Fenkati are amazingly common, as well they should be seeing as we have the highest per capita consumption of rabbit in the world. However, they are not all good.
In fact, most of them have become truly abysmal. We punters can accept the uncomfortable tables and ch airs in refashioned pine. And we actually love the ‘kazin’ environment and can take the horrible wine lists and their gut-stripping ‘home-made’ contents. Yet most of us have no intention of putting up with a lack of friendliness (especially in a place called Friend to Everyone Bar or some such), dirt (some owners seem to think that rabbit = filth = no problem ras) or a clear lack of genuineness.
The Klabb tal-Bocci in Qrendi had been spoken of highly in the kind of circles we inadvertedly move in. In fact, when we went, on a Friday night, most of the patrons were peppering their language with English and Italian and had probably, unlike Duminku Mintoff, never touched a likk in their entire life.
Fenkati are a group thing. Very probably, if a man ever tried to impress his potential paramour by dragging her to a place like this, he would be asking for her to leave him before they even started. The Klabb tal-Bocci may not be posh, but it is certainly extremely clean. Their waitress is nice and patient. Their wine list is a disaster - with clients like this, they could be making heaps of money off the mark-ups.
My most important question came well before we arrived and consisted of a simple sentence: “Do your chips come out of a packet?” “Yes,” the guy on phone answered said, “but it is a very good packet.” “Would you make us real chips?” I asked him. “No problem,” he replied.
So off we all went: The Architect, The Blonde, Gay Best Friend and Corporate Lawyer and of course, the Frenchies. All had already downed a bottle of dolcetto d’alba by the time we arrived. It was quite terrible, although at €11, broke no banks.
For starters, there was a choice of spaghetti or spaghetti. I didn’t know whether to be happy that they had not resorted to crappy chicken nuggets (yes, some fenkati places now do this) or to wonder ‘what on earth?’. It was the bolognese version or the rabbit sauce one. So really, there was no choice at all.
The spaghetti biz-zalza tal-fenek, confusingly, turned out to have not a shred of rabbit meat in it. I’ve seen strange things in my time (usually involving human flesh: I too have worked in hotels) but this must be up there in the top ten. I don’t know what they do: casserole the rabbit in loads of tomato sauce, onions and peas and then use just the tomato sauce, or what? We were all so perplexed about it that the next time we met we spent a full ten minutes discussing it. I am open to illumination by readers but anyway, I thought I’d better warn you, just in case you thought that a ‘rabbit sauce’ would have rabbit in it.
The actual rabbit was fantastic: cut in very good portions, served in their entirety in an earthenware pot (I dug the brains out of the split heads: all four of them), fried in an oil that does not seem to have been hanging around since 1922 and pleasantly whiffing of garlic. The liver was fought over and the ‘balls’ (kidneys) taken over by the GBF. The chips were big, fat and as homely and homemade as we ever had in these places.
I didn’t have any of the horse-meat which we ordered: some people at the table had never tasted it and were curious. “Horse meat in Malta comes from either an old horse or one that died in an accident,” The Writer told me ominously while we were on the way. I did not repeat this to my friends. Unlike TW, I like to see them enjoy their food.
Dessert is peanuts in their shells, helwa tat-tork and an array of fresh fruit, peeled and sliced. It comes at no charge and without question, as is traditional in these places. The total bill, including a couple of nero d’avola bottles at €14.25 and coffee, came to €240.70 and was written in a beautiful handwriting with the € sign cut across twice, as they should be.
The pared-down mode of the Klabb tal-Bocci is not for everyone. If the owners want people to hang about and spend their money on fripperies such as liqueurs and desserts, then they must provide them. Their wine list needs to be fatter and a couple more traditional items would not go amiss on either the starter or the mains list. They are sitting on a gold-mine but have not realised.
Yet if it is a good plate of decent fried rabbit that you want, this is as good a place as any to start. For club sandwiches, pay-per-view and someone to turn-down your sheets in a 90-degree angle at 6.00pm you could always check into a 5-star hotel.

The Mona’s Meals Eat Well Campaign

Summer is approaching and somehow I always feel less like cooking after a hard day’s work than in winter. I have no idea why this is. All I want to do at 8pm is sit down to a glass of red and a cigarette or five.
So fast food suddenly takes on more importance. If we are really and truly desperate, and can eat carbs (considering we both put on weight when we do so, we try to avoid this) even if practically none are to be found inside the house. I call Vecchia Napoli and tell them to prepare a couple of truffle pizzas which I then pick up and reheat at home.
Yet there is absolutely no better no-cook food than some French dried sausage and a selection of scrumptious cheeses. Encouraged by your reaction to his previous imports, Mark at Arkadia has continued to increase the choice available. This week I picked up a very stinky French soft cheese (the whiff was so pungent that The Writer asked me if I had taken off my shoes when I picked him up with the shopping in the boot of the car), a soft goat’s cheese with tiny holes in it and a gorgonzola d.o.c. which they are importing directly from Italy.
At home, I cut triangles out of each, placed them on a plate with some wondrous pesto di pistacchi, crema di peperoncino and strawberry and green peppercorn jam and just ate them, with a tiny fork, sitting on the sofa and chatting away on Facebook.
I thought that it would quell my aching tummy for a few minutes but by the time I was ready, I was not even hungry. I had found the perfect excuse for avoiding making dinner.
Cheese: how could I forget how simple and satisfying it could be?


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