Sunday, August 13, 2017

Vegemite

Buying bread from a man in Brussels
He was six-foot-four and full of muscles
I said, "do you speak-a my language?"
He just smiled and gave me a vegemite sandwich

-"Down Under", Men at Work 1981

Several weeks ago, my friend Kim casually asked, "Has anyone ever tried Vegemite? It sounds like the durian of bread food." I had not tried vegemite, but I have tried durian candy. Almost all I know about vegemite is what's in the song lyrics above: they eat it in Australia, and you might eat it on a sandwich. Since Amazon Prime means that there's no real space of time between "I want this" and "I have this in my hands", I immediately ordered a bottle.

Vegemite

Before I could start eating it, though, Kim posted this:

WAIT JOEL! STOP! MARMITE IS AWFUL!

The dogs liked it.


It was too late, though. I already had the jar, and I was going to try it. All my life I've wondered, "What's a vegemite sandwich? What does it taste like? Should I go all the way to Brussels for one?" and now, at last, I had the chance to have one. I wasn't sure what goes on a vegemite sandwich, though, and the video for the song was unclear, so I googled.

And I found out that outside of Australia, pretty much everyone hates vegemite.

Think about that. The only people willing to eat vegemite are living in a sunbaked hellscape where every animal, even the cute ones, is poisonous. What the hell was in this bottle, which my friend Christopher describes as "spackle"? Apparently it is so potent that I found a number of articles offering to ease me into the eating of vegemite, the culinary equivalent of carefully dipping a toe into the vegemite pool rather than diving in headfirst.

I started my day with vegemite on toast. The first point to remember was not to put the vegemite directly on the toast. Instead, all of the articles agreed that you should first heavily butter the toast:

Vegemite experimentation

Then you should open your vegemite jar, but try not to inhale directly over it because it is the most yeasty smelling thing you have ever smelled. It's also black as night and also somehow shimmery:

Vegemite experimentation

Carefully scoop out no more than a tiny dime sized serving of vegemite:

Vegemite experimentation

and spread it on the toast on top of the butter, as thinly as possible, because that tiny dab has to cover the entire piece of toast since you can't eat more than that tiny dab at a time without vomiting:

Vegemite experimentation

With my toast drowning in butter and lightly smeared with vegemite, I took a bite.

It was not terrible. It's very salty. I used unsalted butter, so the only salt I tasted was from the vegemite, and it's very salty. There's an undertaste that's hard to describe. It's sort of a malted flavor, but also a sort of flavor that my mouth insisted was "meat" even though there's no meat involved and I couldn't narrow it down to a specific kind. It's not bacon, or beef, or chicken, or pork, but each time I bit my mouth thought, "Mmmmm... meaty," and could not be convinced otherwise.

Since breakfast didn't kill me, I decided to continue the vegemite experiment with dinner, and a more ambitious recipe for spaghetti with vegemite. I'm not going to link any of the recipes that I looked up, because almost all of them were the same. You'll need:

spaghetti (I used whole wheat)
1 teaspoon of vegemite
1/4 cup of butter
a lot of parmesan cheese
a cup of the pasta water

After you cook the pasta, scoop out some of the water, then set the pasta aside in the strainer for a minute. Melt the butter:

Vegemite experimentation

then add the vegemite:

Vegemite experimentation

(Please note: it will stick to the measuring spoon. If you push it off the spoon with your finger, DO NOT LICK YOUR FINGER. OH, DEAR SWEET BABY JESUS DO NOT LICK YOUR FINGER. Just wash it off. Do not touch your tongue directly to the vegemite. My stomach clenched so hard trying to vomit that I might have abs now.)

Stir:

Vegemite experimentation

Add the pasta and continue stirring, and thin it a little with some of the pasta water if it seems like all the pasta isn't coated. Add cheese:

Vegemite experimentation

I ate the entire plate.

It's a little salty, and still has that weird meaty but not meat taste, but my tongue also insisted that there was a nutty taste. It's way too much butter to eat this all the time, but I would eat it again.

And now I have to figure out what to do with the rest of the bottle.

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