Appetite for destruction

<strong>The Axis of Evil Cookbook</strong>

Gill Partington <em>Saqi, 240pp, £9.99</em>

“Forget about imminent world war: the burning question is, of course, what does the new biggest threat to the western world like to eat?” It’s that time of year again, when a wave of premature stocking-fillers start to ask us nagging questions like the above.

The association between authoritarian politics and unpalatable grub is a long-standing one. Dominant in Orwell’s imagination as he foresaw the world collapsing into tyranny was the nightmare of the ersatz factories of Nazi Germany, which churned out all manner of pap and labelled it food. The USSR was hardly better, serving up standardised “Soviet cuisine”.

But since the fall of the Berlin Wall, as The Axis of Evil Cookbook demonstrates, the rule no longer holds, and even in the most despotic of regimes you can now get a good feed. Mnazellah, a kind of Iraqi goulash, is as delicious as the more well-known Middle Eastern dishes – tabbouleh, shish kebabs, and kofte – that are firm favourites of demagogues in Iran and Syria. Shakshouka is a tasty, spicy Libyan dish made with eggs.

North Korea, with its dog stew, may be the unhappy exception to the culinary new world order. But even this unappetising dish is partially redeemed when the book suggests Quorn as a meat substitute. Ersatz dog, anyone?

Matthew Taunton is a Leverhulme Fellow in the School of Literature, Drama and Creative Writing at UEA, and is currently working on a book about the cultural resonances of the Russian Revolution in Britain.

This article first appeared in the 01 October 2007 issue of the New Statesman, Spies and their lies