Strange Snacks of the World: Please Pass the Gentleman's Relish (Wink, Wink!)

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Gentleman's Relish may provoke giggles, but it's a real product.

Stumbling on a small plastic "tin" of The Gentleman's Relish at Myers of Keswick, you might rub your eyes in disbelief. Is it real or some elaborate limey joke?

Invented in 1828, The Gentleman's Relish is an English condiment intended to be spread on crackers or toast. Its main constituents are ground anchovies (60%), butter, and salt. The product is made in Aylesford, Kent by Patum Peperium, a Latin-sounding name if ever there was one. Indeed, there may be some actual ancient inspiration, since Gentleman's Relish recalls the Roman flavor-all called garum, which was made mainly with fermented fish guts. Refreshingly, the container warns you to "Use Very Sparingly," and when was the last time you saw a product that wanted you to use less?

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Go ahead! Spread some on a cracker. Actually, that's way too much.

The taste turns out to be salty in the extreme, definitely fishy, but with a spicy edge that recalls, er, anise. On a canape at a party, it wouldn't be a bad choice, or spread on bread before applying egg salad.

The name causes one to raise one's eyebrows, of course. But is there really something obscene about it? Generations of Englishmen have apparently thought so, because the name was used for a play about a pornographer, and the smell of the product is vaguely reminiscent of sex.



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