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Weird Meat For Eats
“It tastes like chicken” is one of the most popular cliché-type phrases used, abused and misused when someone tries to describe a non traditional, unfamiliar piece of meat such as alligator, snake or crocodile to someone who has never tasted it, yet according to several people that I’ve spoken to who have actually tasted reptile meat, these creepy crawlers really do taste like chicken. But how would one describe the taste of Fox, Black Bear and Llama? How “exotic” are you willing to go when it comes to trying different types of meats; Would you order Lion, Porcupine, Bat or Hyena if it was on the menu? A veritable buffet of Moose Jerky, Yak patties, grilled Snake kabobs; Caribou Tenderloin and Kangaroo Steak are just some of the weird foods being featured in restaurants and supermarkets around the world.
A developing culinary movement and palate-changing experience sweeping the meat industry is the marketing of exotic meats. Even if you are already an avid carnivore, you may be surprised when you walk into a local eatery and find animals normally found at the zoo and in the jungle featured on the menu, available for purchase on line or for sale at your neighborhood grocers, gourmet or specialty butcher shops. In the past, most exotic meats were not part of American culture and cuisine but gone are the days when cows, pigs, chickens and turkeys were the only sources for meat.
From appetizers to entrees, exotic meats have become all the rage around the world, not only for their rich flavor but also as healthy alternatives to traditional meats since most exotic meats are lower in fat, cholesterol and calories. According to Christian Griffin, founder, owner and operator of Exotic Meat Sales in San Diego, California, “In a world that is now trying to be more ‘green’ people are turning to a healthier food solution which is why exotic meat sales are continuing to grow exponentially. Exoticmeatsales.com has a variety of customers ranging from health conscious consumers to white tablecloth restaurants offering a twist to the average plate. Restaurants are starting to cook with exotic game as a means to draw-in a more health conscious dieter. As the world tries to become more environmentally friendly people are finding other resources for their dietary needs”.
Buffalo, Elk, Wild Boar and Venison have been available for years and while they are still considered “exotic,” the culinary landscape for exotic meats has changed dramatically. Armadillo meat is popular in certain parts of the U.S. and Mexico and is often used as a substitute for chicken, beef and pork. Yak meat is prevalent in Tibet, Nepal and India and also in the United States and is considered a healthy alternative to red meat. If you’re visiting the Outback; Kangaroo is the meat of choice; revered for its flavor and versatility and considered to be one of the best “heart-healthy” meats on the planet. “With Kangaroo now being farmed worldwide–and shown to be a leaner meat with less fat than beef-and several once-threatened species, like the American bison and crocodile, making a comeback sufficient to find their way to restaurant menus, such meats are getting positive exposure, both in restaurants and in the media”, said Jerry Hopkins, best-selling author of Strange Foods and Extreme Cuisine. “There’s been an increase in interest in exotic foods generally, I think, as international travel has increased, exposing new people to new cuisines. Celebrity chefs who keep trying to top each other and the popularity of such TV shows as Tony Bourdain’s helped too”, said Hopkins.
If you’re interested in “safari”-type meats, you can get quite a variety around Africa, especially at the famous Carnivore Restaurant, known as “Africa’s Greatest Eating Experience”, located in Nairobi, Kenya. Allan Dixon, Group General Manager for Recreation Africa Leisure Industries, has been involved with the Carnivore for the past 15 years and was also the Executive Chef when the restaurant opened in 1993. “Joints of marinated meats are cooked on an open charcoal fire in the middle of the restaurant”, said Dixon. “There is a minimum of 15 different types of meat offered during the meal. The menu is a set menu, however the guests do not help themselves as you would at a normal buffet. Carvers bring the different types of meat and carve directly on your plate; it is an ‘eat as much as you like’ concept and guests have the opportunity of eating and tasting more kinds of exotic meat. We serve the ‘normal’ types of meat, for example, beef, lamb, pork and chicken as well as a minimum of 5 “exotic” meats from Kudu, Zebra, Gemsbok, Impala, Wildebeest, Giraffe, Buffalo, Sable, Warthog, Rhino, Hippo, Elephant and Crocodile, with the most exotic being the Eland (Antelope). Venison is also popular and definitely a much healthier alternative to beef. It has virtually no fat, zero cholesterol, is very rich in vitamins and minerals and is of course free range. Guests are often surprised as to how tasty and tender Venison actually can be and the fact that Venison is much cheaper than beef makes it even more popular. I think diners are becoming more adventurous in their eating habits and Venison provides a wonderful red meat alternative to beef; it adds a new dimension to the menu and is well priced all year round. It is, however, quite a bit cheaper during the “culling/hunting” season. Venison will definitely contribute to better margins and provides an affordable option for guests. The Carnivore receives most of its meat from controlled culling programs, culling of wildlife is unfortunately necessary to ensure the survival of the species. Guests, both local and international, definitely enjoy the ‘curiosity’ factor”.
Kurobuta Pork (Black Hog), bred without hormones or steroids, is valued for its versatility, excellent flavor and marbling. “Kurobuta Pork, said Griffin, is the most highly prized pork in Japan and comes from the ancient breed of pig known as Black Berkshire. Pork meat from the pure oriental strains of Black Berkshire, found in Japan, is regarded as the highest quality pork in the world. Reindeer (or Caribou as it is referred to in North America) is common in Europe and in demand for its consistently tasty and tender meat, its rich flavor and low fat content. Caribou is considered by many to be a superior meat, much like venison and elk. It has a fine texture, is low in fat, high in iron and an excellent source of protein”.
But one mans’ meat is another man’s poison, literally. The Mariana Fruit Bat (a.k.a. the flying fox) in Guam feast on large quantities of the cycad plant that is poisonous to humans so if you have a craving for bat meat, apparently the bats flying around the Indo-Pacific region are safe for human consumption.
And I wouldn’t want to leave rodents off the list, however, Bill Brant of Gourmet Rodent in Florida, who specializes in the sale of rodents for reptiles and birds of prey, said: “Rats and mice are not sold for human consumption in the U.S” but according to Hopkins, rat is enjoyed in other parts of the world. “In much of Latin America, Asia, and in parts of Africa and Oceania, rat remains a common hors d’oeuvres or entrée today. In parts of China, it still is prepared in more than a dozen ways in popular restaurants”.
Consumers today are having a love affair with all foods exotic and the demand for gourmet meats is increasing. In a world filled with excitingly diverse cuisines, the taste buds of today have become more sophisticated and they are shaping the future of the food industry. The exotic meat trend might seem somewhat barbaric, but what is completely outrageous, weird and unethical to some may be a delicacy to others. Extreme eating is in and when it comes to trying new foods, there are those who are more adventurous than others and willing to experiment with unusual textures and tastes. Griffin believes that “taste and nutrition are two huge reasons for people making the switch from your average chicken breast” to “designer meats” or perhaps the craving comes from pure hunger and survival, from culture and upbringing, an opportunity to challenge the senses or simply a belief in the old adage of “when in Rome” which is exactly what my editor said when she tried the Alligator at Cochon Restaurant in New Orleans. Cochon Restaurant is the creation of Chef Donald Link, nominated for Best Chef – Southeast Region by the prestigious James Beard Foundation. “Alligator is indigenous to the south, especially in Louisiana and Florida”, said Link. “We buy ours from several purveyors who get it from local farms and by hunting. Our Fried Alligator with Chili Garlic Aioli is fresh and delicious and a very popular menu item. I think initially our guests order it out of curiosity and it ends up being very well received. More and more we see diners who are interested in trying new things particularly at Cochon, where we offer the adventurous diner so many options”.
Americans have been eating reptiles for years. Snake meat such as Pythons, Cobras and Rattlers are light and tender and often regarded for their medicinal value and aphrodisiac properties, and like the alligator and crocodile, snakes are low in fat and calories and considered the latest thing in the white meat category. “Rattlesnake has been a delicious source of meat in North America for centuries, said Griffin. “This delicate white meat has a wonderful taste, not to mention a hint of attitude”. The green Iguana, also referred to as “bamboo chicken”, is a popular meat in Central and South America, throughout the Caribbean, Paraguay, Mexico and Brazil but the thought of eating the Geico Gecko is just too weird!
But as Jerry Hopkins said, “What is considered repulsive to someone in one part of the world, in another part of the world is simply considered lunch”.
The marketing of exotic meat is big business and this growing craze has developed into a multi-million dollar industry. Even with the cost and the controversial and ethical issues surrounding this part of the industry, the trend is unlikely to diminish any time soon. Today’s consumers have realized that instead of an ordinary meal, they can find a unique dining and palette-pleasing experience by eating exotic. As consumers move toward a healthier lifestyle, as they become more familiar with exotic meats through increased travel, immigrant influence, the cooking and travel shows and celebrity chefs introducing us to a variety of recipes and foods from around the world, together with their own curiosity and food experimenting, exotic meats will continue to transform our culinary landscape from typical, predictable and ordinary to extraordinary. Christian Griffin asks, “Are you game”?
Exoticmeatsales.com, family-owned and operated since 2006, offers retail portioned items at wholesale prices
Bats and beets, silk worms and stewed prunes, scorpions and scampi, flamingo and flan, ostrich and okra – what we eat and what we don’t eat is largely a matter of habit, history and geographical circumstances,” Jerry Hopkins; Strange Foods.
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