Posted on March 16th, 2012
A few years ago, I got to go to Cape Town South Africa to light a theater show. It was friggin great. Once the show was up and running, I had my entire day free to explore. On any one of these days I did everything from walking around the markets, to hiking around Table Mountain, to swimming with penguins on Boulder Beach. Food was only a small problem, as most places were only open for dinner after the show started. HOW WAS I GOING TO GET THE CHANCE TO EAT SOMETHING CRAZY?
I was told to go to a very popular restaurant called “Mama Africa” on my day off where I was told I could sample some local cuisine…and local fauna. It was mainly for tourists, but I spied some locals on a date and at the bar, so I didn’t feel too badly about being there. (Tourist guilt) There was a live band, some dancing and a lot of fun going on…but I couldn’t pay much attention to it because I had just ordered the “Bushmen’s Catch.”
In traditional terms, the “Bushmen’s Catch” is my culinarily conservative mother’s worst nightmare. It was a plate of various carpaccios. The waiter very kindly explained what each one was and pointed to pictures of the animals on the wall.
The first was a Kudu. Kudu is a deer/antelopy creature with big spirally horns which are sometimes used as instrumental horns called Kuduzela (which is the lesser known but more classy version of the notorious vuvuzela.) The horns are also sometimes used as shofars in Judaism for Rosh Hashanah. Anyways. It tasted awesome. It was lightly salted, and was much like venison, which I’ve never had raw, but had dark livery undertones and a lovely texture.
The second was ostrich. I’ve had ostrich burgers and ostrich eggs, but as a general rule I try not to eat any raw poultry, no matter how huge it is. I did so once before, in Japan, and perhaps I’ll have a chance to talk more about that experience later if the Farmer General asks me to write on the subject “The Worst Food Mistake You’ve Ever Made and Immediately After Committing It You Wished You Had Never Been Born.” Maybe next month. Strangely, this carpaccio was the beefiest-tasting thing on the plate. It didn’t taste “gamey.” It reminded me a bit of steak tartare, but with an earthy taste instead of the salty blood taste.
The third, which definitely in my mind still reigns supreme as the strangest thing I’ve eaten, was crocodile.
It was indescribable. I’m going to try though. It was light…and almost colorless? Beige? Taupe? The color of the last car you rented? The flesh made me think a little of pickled herring or kippers, a little striated, a little flaky, and a little oily. It did not taste like chicken. The only way I can describe it is if you’ve had frog legs before, that do sometimes taste like mud chicken, and then take away the mud chicken part. Graciously, it was very salted and I ate it up if only for the reason that I had to keep trying to figure out what it tasted like. The answer is this: reptile. It tasted reptilian, and unfortunately that is the best I can do.
The fourth and last was the springbok. The sprinbok is a gazelle type thing with smaller horns and black and white racing stripes on its flanks. This tasted somewhere in between the kudu and the ostrich–not very livery, but in my mind, closer to venison. They are gorgeous creatures, leaving little doubt as to why they are South Africa’s national animal. That you’re allowed to eat.
This brings me to my last “big game animal” and another national emblem which was eaten on another trip, but in the same hemisphere. My first tour stop with the Pavement reunion was in New Zealand and Australia. When that leg of the tour ended, I stayed on for a few days in Melbourne with my friend Anthony. He was good natured enough to stop the car every time a kangaroo or a wallabee tried to commit suicide into his windshield, and took me to a very touristy Australian Animal Zoo where he patiently allowed me to wonder at the echidnas and creepy donkey-like faces of the kangaroos. During this quiet ponderance, he asked me if I’ve ever eaten any ‘roo. (That’s how they say it there.) I responded that I have never nor had I even known that you can and people do eat ‘roo. I was leaving in two days, so, he promised to throw some ‘roo on the barbie and have some people over. It was St Patrick’s Day, and among the revelry I found myself in Anthony’s backyard having grilled ‘roo dogs and steaks. It was delicious! It was dark, a little bloody, a little beefy, a little gamey, but it was cooked perfectly and wasn’t tough or stringy at all, which is apparently one of the chief complaints about it.
So, that’s all my big game, if you want the story about how my dad shot a 6 point buck with a hunter’s bow (not a compound bow) in the deep woods of Connecticut back in the 60’s, you’ll have to ask him.