When you grow up in the UK, you get used to the fact that meat basically comes from three animals – cows, pigs and sheep – and that is it. Okay, every now and then you get some venison on the menu and there’s always an abundance of chicken and turkey, but Sunday roasts at home always sound like an airline menu – 'Chicken or beef? Chicken or beef?' Coming to Africa, everything is exotic and exciting with Kudu steaks, Springbok pie, Giraffe carpaccio and Warthog ribs spicing up the menu, but I suppose like many people, I never really gave much thought to the actual animals that provide my supper. Not, that is, until I went to Zambia on safari.
It didn’t help that on our very first game drive there was a small child who insisted on calling all the animals by their character names in The Lion King ('Look – Pumbaa!!'). Suddenly my 'Medallions of Warthog in a Brandy and Cream Sauce' had a name and a character, along with friendships and a rather jaunty theme tune. I was quite traumatised, but luckily the little girl didn't realise that I had been eating her friends with relish and a nice Chianti, so happily continued her rendition of 'Hakuna Matata' as we drove along. On returning to the lodge, the realities of eating game were further brought home by the appearance of a bakkie with a large, dead buffalo in the back.
The local chief had shot it, and now the lodge was expected to buy it from him and serve it to their guests. Price and weight agreed, the buffalo disappeared off towards the kitchens where we later heard it took the staff the best part of three days to get it cut up and hanging in manageable chunks in the walk-in fridge. Buffalo then appeared in every dish for the rest of the week and, squeamish though I would have liked to have been – hey, it's lunch we're talking about here, and so I closed my mind to the thought of those large, brown eyes and cute, damp nose and scoffed my Buffalo Steak with the rest.
I must say, it is something that never occurred to me – how you actually butcher an animal that size. All the game at our restaurant comes in neat 200g portions, which lack the romance of a whole buffalo, but it means we can fit them in the fridge. And at least it gives you a pleasing anonymity, which in this day and age of Disneyfication is no bad thing. When you come down to it, one piece of meat does look very much like another, and with that thought in mind, I completely understand the customer who looked at his plate of zebra carpaccio in some disappointment, summoned the waiter over and asked plaintively 'Where are the stripes?'!