The first place I ever ate field mice was in Albuquerque, N.M., their entire bodies skinned, gutted, splayed out on skewers, and roasted over a charcoal brazier. They were good, if not exactly satisfying. If you're hungry, it takes a lot of field mice to fill you up.
Photo courtesy baconshirts.com
In Denver, my friend Biker Jim makes a very good living selling delicious reindeer sausage to the unsuspecting masses. On most days he has a line snaking out from his cart on 16th Street that any other restaurateur would envy, and on Wednesdays he fucks everything up by pushing tubed meats that are rare even by whacked-out biker/cook standards: rattlesnake, pheasant, wild boar, and the (somewhat) more traditional duck sausages or Portuguese linguica. He also does an elk brat with Sriracha that is one of the best cart dogs I have ever had.
And in Arizona, the people are apparently at least mildly obsessed with eating lion.This all started over the summer when the Mesa, Ariz., restaurant Il Vinaio decided to serve lion burgers in honor of the World Cup (for some reason). Yes, there were protests, but you know what? Those lion burgers sold out. Every single one of them.
And now, Boca Tacos y Tequila--as part of its Exotic Tacos Wednesday program--has decided to serve lion tacos, breaking up the usual board of python, alligator, kangaroo, and turtle. The place is taking pre-orders (because lion meat is expensive--$400 for a pound of lion tenderloin, according to the Arizona Star), and has already gotten a few reservations for Lion Taco Wednesday, even though it isn't until February 16.
All this got me thinking about some other unusual animals out there which either have been historically used as food but fallen out of favor, or never been considered for consumption but should be. These would be my top choices for unusual animals that ought to be eaten more often:
1) Bull testicles. Rocky Mountain oysters get a bad rap as some kind of weird, stuntish, gross-out food, but actually they're pretty good. I've eaten my fair share of balls, and provided they're fresh, fried, and served with a little horseradish, I actually quite like them.
2) Ortolans. The king of foods, the food of kings, ortolans are tiny birds, force-fed figs and millet until they are fat as bastards, then drowned in armagnac, roasted, and served whole as a delicacy to diners who drape their heads in linen napkins to preserve the aroma of the bird and to hide their sin from God. Ortolans are illegal to sell in France and super-illegal to import into the U.S. (the fine is something like $10,000 per bird), but that doesn't stop me from wanting to eat some right now.
3) Guinea pigs. Guinea pigs (or cuy) are a staple of Andean cuisine. The fact that I had one as a pet when I was a kid (named Miss Piggy, of course) did not stop me from trying to eat a bunch of them at a Peruvian restaurant a couple years ago. Customs, unfortunately, did.
4) Kittens. Just the mention of eating cat stew got Italian food writer and TV cook Beppe Bigazzi canned from his gig at La Prova del Cuoco, despite his claims that the dish (which, granted, involved soaking dead kittens for three days in a cold, clear-running stream) was both delicious and regularly eaten by his people in the countryside around Arezzo. In my opinion, the fact that cats are made of meat makes them fair game in my book.
5) Horses. Chevaline is still eaten in France. It is considered rather delicious in Japan. And here in the United States, it's not even illegal to eat Trigger. Yet people don't. Weird. If someone could explain to me the moral, ethical, or nutritional difference between eating horse and eating, say, bison or goat, I'd love to hear it.
6) Yaks. I've eaten yak. It's not very good. But maybe I've just never had it prepared well, so I'm totally willing to try it again.
7) Sharks. Any animal that would happily eat me if given the opportunity qualifies as lunch. I've eaten plenty of shark (mostly in taco form), cooked with shark, and have occasionally gone out of my way just to find more shark to eat. One part of the shark I don't like, though? The fin. I've tried shark-fin soup on a couple of different occasions and just don't get what all the hoopla is about--it tastes like eating stringy bits of plastic in a very rich broth.
8) Unattractive Bits of Goat. "Mark just sinks his hand in to the wrist and slurps from his palm, packing his mouth with fistfuls of banku, and I take my cue from him. My broth--the light soup--is spicy but smooth, the burn mounting then fading away like that of a perfectly made posole or menudo. It's good and undeniably rustic, with a balance and precision of taste that comes only with long practice in the kitchen. The goat skin tastes charred and earthy, the meat is as chewy as boiled chicken, and the fat has a slick musk to it that lingers on my tongue and fingertips for days.
"'Check this out,' Mark says, lifting his dripping hand from the bowl. 'A nipple.'
"He's right: goat-nipple soup. He pops the thing into his mouth with a grin and goes right back to eating."
That's just a few lines from a piece I did years ago about illegal Ghanaian house restaurants. I still remember that goat-nipple soup to this day.
9) Dolphins. We don't eat dolphins because they're supposed to be smart, right? Well, pigs are supposedly pretty smart, too, but it's not like we're freeing them all from the farms and giving them MacArthur genius grants.
10) Eagles. They're just like chickens, only with bigger wings.
11) Dinosaurs. I'm still waiting for all those mad scientists out there to find some dinosaur DNA, clone a T-Rex, then serve it for dinner. Unfortunately, I'm guessing it would probably taste a lot like iguana, and iguana tastes like shit.
12) Penguins. I've never understood why people don't eat penguins. No reason, I've just always found it kind of curious. Maybe it's the little tuxedos they all wear.
13) Humans. On the one hand, we already have clever chefs and college students exploiting the whole "eat local" movement and making waves by making and serving human breast-milk cheese. On the other, I think we can all admit that there are just some people we know who could make a larger contribution to humanity by being turned into Soylent Green.