I love to travel. Despite struggling mightily with jet lag wherever I go, I love the guidebooks; I love wandering into small shops; I love walking the entire city and strolling through museums, and I love perusing Trip Advisor for the latest news on the restaurant scene. In part, I love traveling because it reminds me of how far my own palate has traveled. More than 18 years of eating only butter, cheese and pasta gradually segued into actively seeking out new things. And South Africa is foodie heaven. It boasts fantastic restaurants, a great wine culture, and to be frank, the dollar buys a lot more Rand than Euro or Sterling. The country’s history and multitude of people – African, British, Dutch, French, Malay, Italian – mean that there is no one “South African cuisine” so much as a mishmosh of incredible flavors…and lots of meat. Because the one thing all of these cuisines seemed to have in common was an appreciation for the braai: a traditional barbecue with lots of steak. Which brings me to this post – an attempt to categorize and describe the new types of meat we tried over the past two weeks. And while we have no pictures of our actual meals, at the risk of truly offending some, I am including some pictures of actual animals in the flesh (yikes, there’s a bad pun). I know – terrible. But also incredible, in that unlike at home, we actually saw these animals as they were supposed to be – wild.
- Springbok: The national animal of South Africa, the springbok is a small type of antelope. As the bartender said to us, it’s sort of like an American eating a bald eagle, except for that the springbok has never been (at least to my knowledge and a quick Wikipedia scan) on the endangered or threatened species list. We ate this at The Black Sheep – and it was possibly the tastiest meal we had the entire trip. Leaner than beef, served medium rare, with a thick pepper crust – the springbok was delicious. A must try.
- Ostrich: There are quite a few ostrich farms in South Africa, to say nothing of the wild ostrich. Although it is bred for its leather and feathers as much as its meat, the ostrich industry never took off the way it was hoped. We tried ostrich in multiple forms: fillet, sausage and biltong. The fillet is incredibly lean and served rare – anything more and it would be too tough. The sausage was heavily flavored with fennel, and the biltong – ie dried jerky – somewhat tough and hard to get a true sense of flavor. A try for the novelty factor.
- Warthog: I felt especially badly eating the warthog, as it’s a quirky, funny animal that’s so ugly it’s cute. A troop of six warthog siblings liked to roam the lodge where we stayed, giving us an up close feel for their skittish and curious personalities. Also, who didn’t love Pumba? Served as a loin (with a delicious tomato chutney sauce), the warthog tastes exactly like pork. Which makes sense, as it’s in the same family. Tasty, but the cute factor would probably deter my future consumption.
- Kudu: A large, almost elk-looking creature with a beautiful striped body. The males’ horns twist every year they’re alive, making it easy to tell how old they are. The meat is very lean and tastes somewhat gamey. The loin I had (on the last day of our trip) was delicious, although again, there is a serious cute factor.
- Kingklip: Not a meat but a fish, and a novelty factor all the same. The kingklip is a white fish that actually resembles an eel, and is very popular in South Africa. Low in fat, with a very delicate (non-fishy) flavor, I had it served the way any fish tastes best: with lemon and butter. YUM.
- Impala: Just kidding. We didn’t eat this, but our guide told us that impala are the “McDonald’s” of the African bush. According to Elliot, this is because “they’re everywhere and everybody eats them.” To make matters worse, they have a little “M” outlines on their behinds.
Suffice to say, we’ll be eating lots of veggies this month…