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Shiny Fella: The Story Behind The 1970s Savoury Jelly That Bamboozled The Internet

By Nicky Park

Jenny Duncan has "a thing" for weird foods. She has carved miniature furniture out of spam and runs a Pinterest page called Horrid Food dedicated to quirky looking 'eats'.

So when she opened Dunedin bar and pizza joint Pearl Diver three months ago with her partner Andy, she thought it could be fun to find an oddity to add to the snack menu on food delivery service Uber Eats.

"I was planning to do my Uber Eats menu to put extras on there and change it a bit... I was procrastinating a little bit... showing my friend some images I collect."

On her phone was a saved image of 'Shiny Fella' - a clear jelly sculpture stuffed with luncheon meat, boiled eggs and peas - with two green gherkins for eyes and a wide, round red pepper mouth.

"I think it just popped up, and I thought it looked so silly I just saved it to my phone. It's just a random set of events."

Duncan, a vegetarian, never expected she would have to make the 1970s savoury jelly - in culinary terms, called aspic.

"Me and Andy are just people who started a bar... I can't use TikTok, we don't have time to really assess what's really going on with the Shiny Fella," she said, explaining how the whole silly saga started.

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She said her menu was picked up by a local and shared on a Dunedin Reddit thread mid-May. Around the same time, someone who goes by Jay K-D Knight posted his shock on TikTok (then hit up Pearl Diver for some free pizza in exchange for his accidental promotion).

The Otago Daily Times got in touch about three weeks ago and about how Duncan came across the recipe in an old Edmonds cookbook in an op shop and "wanted to make an aspic menu item because they had a lot of 1970s influence in their decor", so they slotted it in the menu between jalapeno poppers and samosas.

But Duncan said while that story had elements of truth (she does have an old Edmonds cookbook) that was not how this menu item came about. After all, the Pearl Diver was just a bar that served pizza. Instead, the pair had a bit of an "inside joke".

Duncan thought it would all be a bit of fun.

"It was a very casual conversation. I sort of thought... it was a little bit of satire. But when it went into the ODT... so many people were just like, disgusted, and they seriously think we make this."

Shiny Fella's influence even reached across the Tasman. Australian entertainment news website Pedestrian picked it up with a headline reading "TikTok has gone feral over this cursed Uber Eats item", and asked: "Can someone check on our Kiwi friends, because a restaurant on Uber Eats in Aotearoa is selling one of the most horrifying items I've ever seen in my life."

Local radio station The Edge got in touch and decided they were flying down to dine on a Shiny Fella this week, so Duncan had to hustle to make the inaugural wobbly feast.

She sourced the metal lamb mould on Facebook and spent less than $50 on ingredients, including cheap champagne to spike the clear jelly covering. It took about two hours to prep the creation and six hours to set.

Duncan said she had received three real requests for Shiny Fella - one pre-ordered for a birthday but did not come through to the bar in time due to a technical glitch with the Uber Eats app; someone who wanted to 3D scan "him"; and another on Tuesday night, the buyer wanting to get "on the bandwagon" and be the first to try the unique dish.

She was not sure yet if the aspic delight, which has started trending on Google, will remain on offer at Pearl Diver. She will make the call after seeing the results of the first one.

"I am not a marketing genius," she said.

Despite all the carry-on, orders were not going gangbusters and there were no lines out the door at the Pearl Diver.But for a few weeks, Duncan accidentally gave the Shiny Fella a new lease on life.

"I actually did enjoy making him. In a weird way, I think he is kind of beautiful."

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