Earlier this year, Britain was in a food crisis: horsemeat was found in burgers and kebabs. England had gone to the dogs! Well, criticism of people and their morals was falling on our ears like cats and dogs. Comedians, who thought their careers were over, looked through all of their old material about horses and horsing around, and all of the sick jokes about eating cats in certain restaurants. But, the British are so civilized, my dear. How could they? It’s exotic, dear. Chic meat. The French have been loving horse meat for years and everyone knows that French cooking is the best. Case closed.
The Japanese eat raw fish, and sushi restaurants have taken over the world without having the name McDonald’s associated with it. Steak tartare is RAW meat (beef or HORSE), and is also sought after like gold dust by the world ‘cultured’ diners.
Jamaica often comes up on the radar when people think of exotic foods. “We so loved your escoveitch fish,” “Bammy should be on sale everywhere,” “Oxtail and butter beans, where have you been all my life?”
It’s a land where people still eat whole fish: we don’t do fillet. Jamaicans eat most animals from nose to tail. A typical meat shop will have on offer: pig tails, pig feet, cow heel, oxtail, cowskin, chicken head, tripe, liver, kidneys, goat head, fish head, and more. Our favourite dishes are renowned for having everything in them. Mannish water tastes great, despite what’s in it.Rat soup was supposed to be good for curing whooping cough, and a good number of Jamaicans have had to drink that and are still living to tell the tail. Curried iguana is reported to be a delicacy in Trinidad. Armadillo is also known as ‘Texas turkey’, and is favoured in some other southern US states, especially by Cajuns. Agouti (aka guinea pig) was a go on the menu in Guyana. Dominica has its annual rabbit festival, where you can cuddle bunnies, but you can also have them curried, fricassee, jerked, stewed and a whole variety of ways. So, why are we croaking about people thinking that eating crocodiles and mongoose may not be so bad? In a country where people hold their heads thinking of the horror of people having to buy bread by the slice, these things may indeed be nice. By the way, bread by the slice used to be the norm until people got so rich that they could buy whole loaves and waste much of it. But, let’s be grateful for bread pudding.
I’m not going to fall into the trap that says some things are off the menu because they look cute. Every lamb looks delightful, but once that cuddly little fur ball has been roasted and had a dollop of mint sauce touched on the side, it’s not cuddly any more. WIll we cry “Foul” over birds like quails or Cornish hens. When a Chinese banquet is festooned with roast and barbequed pigeons are we going to say to the great host with the most money “I’ll pass, thanks,”? Chow down!
I can find information that tells me that crocodile meat has major health benefits, for the heart, lungs, and other vital organs. I also know that those who like organic food would be thrilled because it can be good for some other organs 🙂 Jamaicans are keen on anything that will big them up, especially in some areas where small is not considered beautiful. So, many of us will say “Bring on the crocodile!”
Now, I know that some Jamaicans may not be all ready to latch onto their African heritage, but hear me out. One of the most famous eating places in the world is a restaurant in Nairobi, named ‘Carnivore’. It specialises in game meat, all-you-can-eat, grilled and roasted: giraffe, wildebeest, ostrich and crocodile, most of which is reared on a nearby reserve. Real ‘farm-to-table’ stuff. People flock there from all over the world. It’s a roaring success. It once made the world’s top 50 restaurants. Jamaican artistes, such as Shaggy and Sean Paul have performed there. Maybe, what we should focus on is exploiting the desire for the exotic and getting ourselves on the map as somewhere that can offer these delicacies with rum, jerk sauce, some skimpily-dressed damsels, and herbs 🙂 and seasoning that will make your eyes and mouth water. If you are a vegetarian, I will accept that you have issues with crocodiles and mongoose. But, then meat and fish are not on your plate, anyway. Anyone else, who’s a carnivore, should just accept that the fad, but, possibly, more than that, for things like not-before-eaten reptiles, is a matter of taste and opportunity.
I’d rather think that we have a way to harness such tastes–accepting that we may have to rear the stock rather than plundering them from the wild. I recall, from a few years ago, when Barbados was going through a plague of giant snails and locals sneered at the notion of having such things on their plates. My friends in west Africa, who already loved these gastropods, wondered how they could get to Barbados to start shipping the gastronomic delights of snails east across the Atlantic. In Florida, where the snails have also begun their invasion, eating them has also come up as an option.
Yes, there are health risks, but give me a break, there are health risks with everything: salmonella, foot and mouth disease, worms, germs, insecticides… We take care. Wash in bleach and move on! Not that simple? Then wash in tap water and all will be well.
Non-traditional exports may well be what saves Jamaica from going down the proverbial toilet and it’s too much to just huff and puff about how terrible it is to go after a different kind of food. Think carefully and look at how the options can be made to work in our favor. If we really don’t want to eat it ourselves, dress it up well and put our flag on it. It’s a dog eat dog world out there, we’re told, and Jamaicans have too often not had a dog in the right fights. Eat or be eaten!