This article originally appeared in the November/December 2016 issue.
“Kurorrraghz voekh ez udheg”
The bulk of the Vargr diet is made up of fresh, raw meat, as is well known, along with their proclivity for fruit. Less well known, however, in the Imperium is a feature of a Vargr meal that has taken on almost ritualistic connotations. In the same manner that a cheese course might bring to an end a meal in human space, with its formal ‘rules’ of what is served and how it is dished up, Vargr may well finish a more resplendent banquet with a merd board – a selection of delicacies served up on a rough wooden platter shared between all guests at the table. ‘Merd’, it should be noted, is an Imperial catch-all term for the many words used in the Extents: kerrgh, knouth, rruedh or rorrraghz (paw food), to mention just a few.
Traditionally, merd is eaten with paws – either picking up a suitably sized piece, or – if much finer in nature – a dipped paw which has been licked will do the trick. Vargr who have had some exposure to Imperials may use cutlery either out of desire to emulate their ‘culture’ or so as not to offend the sensibilities of any Imperials they may be eating with. This is rare, however.
These delicacies vary enormously from place to place in the Extents and no one item could be considered standard. Finely sliced exotic meats are common – sometimes almost rotting is considered a particular delight – but spiced fruits or nuts stuffed in peppers or soaked in alcohol may be served as well. The emphasis is not on quantity but on strange and interesting or unusual tastes and textures. The charisma of a host can even be affected, positively or negatively, depending not only the quality and the variety of what is served, but also the uniqueness or novelty value.
As is often the way with Vargr, fads come and go, flavours and styles fall in and out of fashion, and rarely will two merd boards look the same. Trends will change, but some merd – or the region of the Extents that produces it – will gain a reputation as being particularly fine or desirable and can command higher prices. Connoisseurs may claim to be able to identify a particular world or even region of a world that certain delicacies come from.
Most important is the ritual that goes with such a course. The Vargr who takes the first taste, the way an item is cut or pulled apart, the subtlety with which two items might be combined – all these are vital parts of the tradition of Vargr merd that can trap the unwary. The biggest difficulty is that practices vary nearly as much as the items served and Travellers are advised to take local advice or risk not so much giving offence as being seen as uncouth. Of course, the reverse can be true as well, and a non-Vargr visitor to the Extents who doesn’t put a foot – or a finger – wrong on such an occasion, can expect to gain charisma. The sub-species of Vargr often have their own traditions and even if they include the course, it may be very different again in its content and presentation.
Merd in the Imperium
It is possible to find merd in some parts of the coreward sectors, from the Spinward Marches to Lishun, or even beyond on occasions. However, it tends to be rare and very expensive. Generally, it doesn’t travel well and there’s not a huge demand. If it is available, it will tend to be less exotic varieties from Provence or Windhorn. Some varieties are actually inedible to humans and not to be recommended. Gastronomes however may have certain stuffs shipped in at great expense as something of a novelty, and nobles may serve it to guests as a mark of their wealth. Indeed, there’s been a recent fashion amongst certain nobles of Core to include it as an end course in exquisite banquets. For those on a restricted budget it is possible to create something of the style of Vargr merd using Imperial ingredients, but for those in the know these are never convincing. Merd may be encountered as a menu item, as a luxury good to be shipped, or as a delicacy to be sought out for some wealthy patron.
* “The rorrraghz of the pack marks (or “tattoos”) the pack.” Often used in the sense that a pack can be identified by its choices. (Sometimes translated into Galanglic as “the merd makes the mob”.)