Tuesday, May 29, 2012

I'm so hungry, I could eat a horse

Published in Grok Magazine Issue #3 "Taboo", page 18 

Well… technically speaking, you can.

Mondi di Carne, a butchery owned by Vince Garreffa, is the only one in Australia that’s licensed to sell horse meat for human consumption –  and it’s just down Beaufort Street in Inglewood.

Unsurprisingly, locals didn’t exactly embrace the idea of eating horse when Vince started selling it in 2010. In the first month, he received four thousand angry, raving emails, a couple of death threats, and even had a crazy protestor turn up in front of his store in a horse costume. People who had been regular customers for years spat in his face and told him they’d never buy from him again. His new product made it to local & national news, which attracted scathing comments from pissed-off animal rights activists, vegetarians and horse lovers from around the country.

But Australia isn’t the only nation that considers horse meat taboo. A few years ago, PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) dumped an entire tonne of horse shit on the doorstep of Gordon Ramsay’s restaurant in central London, after an episode of his TV show was aired which endorsed cooking horse meat. In the US, eating horse meat met with a similar abhorrence and is actually illegal in California.

It’s understandable that some western countries take this standpoint. After all, horses are incredibly intelligent, gorgeous animals that have faithfully served us as working beasts, prized sporting animals, beloved family pets and have even fought alongside us in war throughout the centuries. In our culture, they’re in the ‘Friends, Not Food’ category along with dogs, cats and sea monkies. You just wouldn’t eat them.

However, a large portion of the rest of the planet would beg to differ – 4.7 million horsies are slaughtered per year for human consumption. Throughout Asia and Europe, horse is just another type of meat. In fact, in many countries it’s considered as a delicacy due to its richer, sweeter taste compared to other red meats such as beef and lamb. It’s also generally leaner, tenderer, and has a higher protein and iron content too.

In Japan, raw horse sashimi called ‘basashi’ is popular in the prefectures of Kumamoto, Nagano and Ōita, often served at an izakaya. It’s eaten chilled, sliced thinly, dipped in soy sauce and usually garnished with ginger and onions. If you’re a bit of a sweet tooth like me, you can even find horse ice cream if you look hard enough. Alternatively, you can run along down to the grocery store and grab yourself a tin of horse spam. I probably wouldn’t eat that one raw though.

In Mongolia, where temperatures can reach minus 35 degrees celcius, some of the locals prefer horse meat as it’s lower in cholesterol and traditionally believed to help warm the body. Mongolian horse specialties include horse milk wine called ‘airag’ and salted horse sausage called ‘kazy’. Oh, and if you ever visit neighbouring Kazakhstan, stay away from their ‘karta’ sausage – some types have horse ass in them. And I ain’t talkin’ about the rump.

Europeans in particular have developed a liking for horse meat, with fine dining restaurants often offering it on the menu. In Belgium, smoked horse meat is popular for breakfast and a common sandwich meat (imagine having a horse-and-cheese toastie)! In Italy, you can find regional dishes such as salsiccia di equino (horse salami), pesto di cavallo (horse tartare) and pastissada (horse stew). Oh, and if you’re a horse lover and ever go to France, try to stay away from supermarkets – they sell it in the fresh meat section.   

This is why Vince made the decision to start selling horse meat. Before he made it available, those who had migrated to Australia who were brought up eating horse were forced to buy it ‘under the counter’, from pet stores or similarly dodgy circumstances. The meat wasn’t subject to health regulations, the slaughtering wasn’t controlled and was inhumane. Vince has been accused many a time of being a heartless butcher who doesn’t give a damn about the suffering of horse. But in fact, he has taken the time and effort to ensure that his meat is sourced from a clean, safe and ethical supplier that can guarantee that the horses are looked after before and during the slaughter process. As long as the meat is procured in a responsible way, why should it be such a big deal? Dogs, beavers, rats, cows, pigs, donkeys - almost every animal in the world are eaten or have been eaten at some point, except humans. And even then, sometimes humans aren’t so lucky on the occasional life-threatening mountain trek.  

As a person who used to want a pony as a little girl, I will admit the thought of eating a horse grosses me out a little. But as a food lover, I appreciate that everybody has their own personal taste. I love straight espresso coffee with no sugar, which a friend of mine hates, but then again, the boy puts freshly sliced banana on curry. My dad has a serious thing for pumpernickel. I have a friend who eats kiwi fruit skins, and another that eats garlic & chilli sandwiches. My grandma eats pigs intestines, for Christ’s sake. So what?

If Voltaire were a foodie, he’d say:

“I may not agree with what you eat, but I’ll defend to the death your right to eat it.”

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

The power of pancakes

I believe that food has healing powers. 

Figure 1: Homemade buttermilk pancakes with fresh fruit and maple syrup

These pancakes were made for me by one of my friends on Tuesday. And she will probably never know just how much it meant to me. In technical terms, all she did was fry little circles of flour and water and put bits of fruit on them. But the reason I am so crazy, so passionate about food is that it's not just technical. It's got another whole dimension to it that compels me to take pictures of it and show it to anyone who cares. Food tells a story. Food speaks. And these pancakes say one word, and one word only: love

Figure 2: Dolsot Bibimbap from Poppo's in the CBD

Figure 3: Eggs Benedict, potato cake, smoked salmon at Gusto Food 

They say that everyone deals with sadness in their own way, and this is my way. For the last month, instead of working and studying on the weekend, all I've been doing is spending time with friends and eating good food. This post is a thank you to people who have taken me out for coffee, breakfast, brunch, lunch and dinner because they are there for me. For Yueh Lai who came over to cook dinner with me and keep me company. For my mum who has been cooking me bacon and eggs for breakfast on the days I've woken up felt like a complete mess. For Emerald who invited me over to watch 21 Jump Street and fed me Chocolate Honey Nougar Conoisseur ice cream until I thought it would come out of my ears. I could not have made it through the last few weeks without you. 

Figure 4: Belgian waffles with strawberries and vanilla ice cream from Theobroma Chocolate Lounge

For a while I forgot all the things I am passionate about. But now that I am starting to remember myself again, starting to rediscover it all, it's the best feeling in the world. The thing I love about food is that you only have a transient, limited moment in time to enjoy it. If you leave it to sit there, it'll get cold, or go off, or go soggy. You've got to jump on it, grab it and eat it right there and then, or else you'll lose the chance to enjoy a beautiful, delicious thing that's sitting right in front of you.

And I've learnt that life is very much the same.