James Bond and grub


Ian Fleming said that his "contribution to the art of thriller-writing has been to attempt the total stimulation of the reader all the way through, even to his taste buds".

Bond is famous for his love of food, (and alcoholic drinks of course!) Fleming lavishly describes the food and drink not widely attainable. He wanted to appeal to the readers senses, and described the meals in the novels in great detail, often including his favourite brands. In his recent book, Simon Winder suggested this appealed to British people who were still on food rations in the post-war era: "the fetishisation of food in the period of rationing" Winder said along with lots of sociologically dubious points. Those people feasting on horse and stinging nettles apparently loved to read about Bond tucking into six course dinners. This is probably an exaggeration because even today most people can enjoy Bond's meals, particularly their surroundings. And even his description of tea and cakes in some Sussex cafe makes this writers mouth water -  and I've never had stinging nettles on toast in my life. It doesn't matter who you are or where you come from, everybody is interested in food.

The film Bond, like his literary counterpart, became something of a know-it-all when it came to food although he did tend to be less matter of fact on the subject and more of a show-off. "You must forgive me,' he said. "I take a ridiculous pleasure in what I eat and drink. It comes partly from being a bachelor, but mostly from a habit of taking a lot of trouble over details. It's very pernickety and old-maidish really, but then when I'm working I generally have to eat my meals alone and it makes them more interesting when one takes the trouble."

James Bond has a serious interest in food. He is not a complete food snob. He has acquired tastes and loves to eat. He has an expense account as he travels the world so he can afford to eat very well; he is "an independent character who knows what he wants and gets it". He has learnt to appreciate some of the finer (or more expensive things) in life, such as caviar, especially with with iced vodka.

For the classless oafs like me who wouldn't know, Caviar is the salted eggs that come from three types of sturgeon fish: Beluga, Osetra and Sevruga. Eggs from these three fish can only truly be called caviar. The idea of eating fish eggs is something that will never tempt me but 007 is a big fan.

Beluga Caviar- Produces the largest eggs which are grey and black in color and is buttery tasting. Best accompanied by Brut Champagne.

Osetra Caviar- This caviar is dark brown and golden yellow in colour. It has a nutty flavor and is excellent with canapés and toast.

Sevruga Caviar- Although smaller in size, these eggs are dark grey in colour like Beluga. To serve, use lemon juice to enhance the flavor. 

Caviar comes from the Caspian Sea. Bond knows his caviar. "North of the Caspian!" says George Lazenby in On Her Majesty's Secret Service (the film!) after sampling the Beluga Caviar. One bite and he knows which part of the sea it came from. Although he did scoop an unfeasibly large amount for such a small piece of toast!

James Bond prefers simple local food when abroad. Bond loves scrambled eggs. Fleming loved scrambled eggs and he gave his fictional alter-ego a taste for them. James Bond will eat them day or night. The author gives a recipe for "Scrambled eggs James Bond" in his non-fiction work 'Thrilling Cities'.

The recipe is as follows:

12 fresh eggs
6 oz. butter
chives and/or fresh herbs
salt and pepper

Break eggs into a bowl. Mix with fork and season with salt and pepper. In a small pan melt 4 oz of butter. Pour eggs and cook over very low heat, whisking with a small whisk.

When the eggs are slightly moist and not quite how done, remove pan from heat. Add remaining butter and continue whisking for 30 seconds, adding the herbs. Serve on hot buttered toast in individual copper dishes, with champagne.
Bond's breakfast usually includes a single egg boiled for precisely 3 1/3 minutes. Unlike most of his countrymen he prefers strong coffee to tea although he is fond of marmalade. He buys his Norwegian honey, Cooper's Vintage Oxford marmalade and Tiptree Little Scarlet strawberry jam at Fortnums. In the novel Thunderball Bond's M inspired health-kick (M informs 007 his physical exam reveals a furred tongue, elevated blood pressure and a liver "not palpable," owing to "too much alcohol, fatty foods and white bread.") is eventually abandoned - "I can't do my work on carrot juice" - in favour of a hearty breakfast of eggs and bacon with industrial strength coffee served by his trusty housekeeper May. Philip Marlowe enjoyed eggs and strong coffee after wandering into his apartment at 5 in the morning; it seems that Fleming and Raymond Chandler felt that real men who have just been beaten to a pulp eat eggs and five cups of coffee so strong you can spread it on toast before resuming a case.
Bond's breakfast in Istanbul in From Russia With Love is very different: "The yoghourt, in a blue china bowl, was deep yellow and with the consistency of thick cream. The green figs, ready peeled, were bursting with ripeness, and the Turkish coffee was jet black and with the burned taste that showed it had been freshly ground". Sounds revolting!

In Istanbul Kerim Bay suggests a sardine dish that to Bond "tasted like any other fried sardines", followed by that staple of drunk Britons at pub closing time on a friday night; the Doner Kebab! Described as "very young lamb broiled over charcoal with savoury rice. Lots of onions in it". Luckily Bond didn't drink ten pints of lager and seven bacardi-breezers with vodka and red-bull before his kebab.
In Moonraker Bond takes dinner in London with M at his private club, Blades. Fleming describes his meal with great care in some detail. "I’ve got a mania for really good smoked salmon," said Bond.
Then he pointed down the menu. "Lamb cutlets. The same vegetables as you, as it’s May. Asparagus with Béarnaise sauce sounds wonderful. And perhaps a slice of pineapple."

'Bond helped himself to another slice of smoked salmon from the silver dish beside him. It had the delicate glutinous texture only achieved by Highland curers-very different from the desiccated products of Scandinavia. He rolled a wafer-thin slice of brown bread-and-butter into a cylinder and contemplated it thoughtfully.' For some reason I'm always reminded of Nigel Tufnel in This Is Spinal Tap unsuccessfully attempting to make a sandwich with miniarture bread whenever I read this passage.

Bond uses food to help him think and freshen him up for a big-night or card game. I tend to think that if I ate some of his dinners my main priority would be two anti-acid tablets and a snooze. Bond's own method when he felt out of shape was described in Thunderball: "A month ago there wasn’t a week went by but that on at least one day I couldn’t eat anything for breakfast but a couple of aspirins and a prairie oyster" [a classic curative involving an egg yolk, Worcestershire sauce, Tabasco, vinegar and catsup].

On assignment James Bond will eat French langouste, Italian tagliatelle verdi or American stone crabs and melted butter.

'The meat of the stonecrabs was the tenderest, sweetest shellfish he had ever tasted. It was perfectly set off by the dry toast and the slightly burned taste of the melted butter. The champagne seemed to have the faintest scent of strawberries. It was ice-cold. After each helping of crab the champagne cleaned the palate for the next. They ate steadily with absorbtion and hardly exchanged a word until the dish was cleared.'

Luckily his morning exercise regime and mostly active occupation helps to work off these calories. The best meal of his life comes in Goldfinger when he eats stone crabs with melted butter and champagne. In the book Diamonds Are Forever, Bond tells Tiffany Case that his idea of a girl is one who can make sauce bernaise as well as love. In Diamonds Are Forever 007 visits New York and eats lunch at Sardi's where he has Brizzola. At the 21 Club with Tiffany Case he eats caviar followed by cutlets with asparagus and mousseline sauce. The next night Bond eats alone at Voisin's for "two Vodka Martinis, Oeufs Benedict* and strawberries". In Live And Let Die he visits Harlem with Felix Leiter and eats Little Neck Clams and Fried Chicken Maryland at Ma Frazier's on Seventh Avenue.

Classic Oeufs Benedict Recipe*

Few drops of vanilla
4  Fresh eggs
250 gram Unsalted butter; to clarify
2  Egg yolks
2 tablespoon Water
½ teaspoon Lemon juice
  Salt and freshly ground pepper
2  English muffins; split in halfway
  ; horizontally
4 small Slices cooked ham
2  Black olives; halved and stoned,
  ; or 4 sliced
  ; truffles

Poach the eggs: in a medium pan bring 1l of water to the boil, reduce the heat. The water should barely tremble. Prepare a bowl of iced water. Break the eggs, place individually into a cup or small bowl and carefully slide into the acidulated water. Poach for 2-3 minutes until the white is just firm. Remove the eggs on a slotted spoon and immediately slip them into the iced water. 
To clarify the butter: melt the butter, leave it to stand for a minute, skim the surface then pour off the golden oil into a small pan and keep warm. Discard the milk solids remaining. 
To make the Hollandaise sauce: place the yolks and water in a bowl and whisk together. Now place the bowl over steaming water in a pan on the stove and whisk the yolk mixture to 'the ribbon' or until it leaves a trail when it falls from the whisk. Gradually pour in the warm, clarified butter in a steady fine stream whisking constantly. Whisk in the lemon juice and season to taste. Remove the bowl from the heat. In a pan bring a 12cm depth of water to the boil. 
Toast the muffins, place a round of ham on each and keep warm. Carefully lift the poached eggs out of the cold water, reheat in the boiling water, drain, dry lightly with paper and place on the ham. Coat with the Hollandaise sauce, garnish each with a half olive or piece of truffle and serve immediately. 

There are many variations to eggs benedict but most of them are liable to induce an early heart-attack if you indulge in the dish too often. Fleming's fondness for high-living and rich foods undoubtedly contributed to his death at the age of fifty-six.

Noel Coward considered Fleming's own cooking at his Jamaican residence, Goldeneye, to be inedible so while good food was a big part of his life and his books he was no Anton Mosimann at home. Some have argued that our identities are strongly linked to what we eat. Food and eating occupy a role in a culture that is increasingly fastidious and diverse. You are what you eat goes the old proverb. If this is the case James Bond is a bit of a snob. Or perhaps he just has good taste.

Roger Moore's famous quiche in A View To A Kill  led to him becoming spokesman for the British Quiche Council. I grew up wondering what was in Bond's Café Complet in On Her Majesty's Secret Service. I'm still wondering. I'll be at The Duck Inn eating Spaghetti Bolgonese with a bucketful of garlic if anyone knows.

- Jake Speed

You can find lots of James Bond related recipes in For Your Stomach Only: The Food of Bond.



c 2006 Alternative 007