chapter  8
“The Eaters of Everything”: Etiquettes of Empire in Kipling’s Narratives of Imperial Boys
Pages 12

Bard of the British Empire, refuser of both a knighthood and the British Poet Laureateship, “the most complete man of genius” Henry James had ever known, the youngest recipient ever of the Nobel Prize in literature, pariah of syllabus-makers throughout the English-speaking world: of all the things Rudyard Kipling might be called, “gastronome” does not exactly leap to mind. Yet Kipling’s description of an enormous bowl “as big as thy head” and “full of hot rice” skillfully extorted from a muttering old crone who adds “good, steaming vegetable curry, clap[s] a fried cake atop, and a morsel of clarifi ed butter on the cake, [and then] dab[s] a lump of sour tamarind conserve at the side” is worthy of any Zagat-wielding, sous-vide-ing, Sub-Zero-refrigerating “foodie.” Such an enthusiast would doubtless join Kipling’s young hero in “look[ing] at the load lovingly” (Kipling, Kim 62). Nor is this gastronomic rhapsody an aberration within Kipling’s oeuvre, let alone Kim, a novel that abounds with “beautiful meals” (66). In his quest for an identity that reconciles his Indian sensibilities with his British imperial destiny, Kimball O’Hara literally eats his way along the Grand Trunk Road, “a fl ap of soft, greasy Mussalman bread” here, “cakes all warm and well scented with hing [asafoetida], curds and sugar [sic]” there (69, 244).