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Aug 12, 2009 01:31 PM

Exotic Ruminants, or Am I the Only One with This Problem?

An article popped into my newsfeed today which discussed the plethora of "newly discovered" species in Tibet - quotation marks because none of them were discovered recently enough that this was really news. One of these was the leaf muntjak, the world's smallest species of deer. All day long I've been dreaming of tiny venison steaks.
Any time I encounter a ruminant I have never eaten - or, to a lesser degree, even toed ungulates generally, or even birds, reptiles, or any vertebrate - I just can't get the idea of what it tastes like out of my head. It doesn't matter if it's an endangered species - which, to be clear, I wouldn't actually eat, or at least wouldn't kill. Even an extinct species can sometimes create an obsession, though that's a lot easier to get over.
One notable example is the saola, the smallest of the bovine species, which is potentially one of the most critically endangered mammals on the planet. People tend to look at you funny when you tell them you think it's a damn shame that such a tasty looking animal most likely won't ever make it to your dinner plate.
Anyone else share this obsession?

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  1. LOL. I would have to say no, though. I volunteer at a state park with an elephant seal rookery, and one day a visitor on my tour asked me if I'd ever eaten seal, and I realized I just don't look at them like that. He was wearing full safari gear, and from the gleam in his eyes I was afraid he was going to whip out a knife and butcher one on the spot (I later found out this group was from a day program for the mentally ill, which explained a lot).

    2 Replies
    1. re: Ruth Lafler

      Seal is currently being served at a few restaurants in Montreal, l am planning to try it this week.

      1. re: Ruth Lafler

        Are you calling me mentally ill? Jeez.
        But, seriously, I wouldn't eat elephant seal. Not only would killing one be unethical, but they don't look all that tasty.
        On the other hand, if California had been heavily colonized by either France or China instead of Spain and the United States, I'd bet that elephant seal proboscis would be considered a delicacy.

      2. You're alone on that ice floe - I hope!

        5 Replies
        1. re: greygarious

          I've often wished I had acess to a time machine just so I could find out what an Aurochs (the wild ancestor of our modern moo cow, extinct since 1627) tasted like (It was choice hunting in those areas where it did live (often a royal exclusive) There were even specific weaponry (a kind of supersized boar spear) and breeds of dogs (the Bullenbessler, and oversized kind of mastiff and though to be one of the ancestor breeds of our modern boxer). Alternitvely I always wanted the money to try and set up some sort of tean to try and clone one of these animals, for much the same reason.

          1. re: jumpingmonk

            Breeders have attempted to recreate the characteristics of the aurochs, but, even if you could make a true clone, it wouldn't taste much closer to the true wild cattle than various types of beef that are commercially available. To begin with, modern genetic analysis has shown that domestic cattle are not genetically removed enough from the aurochs to even be considered a subspecies. So, the pure DNA is not the thing. More importantly, an animal which has lived its entire life, from early fetal stages to the point of slaughter, tastes profoundly different than one which has spend any period of its life in captivity.

            1. re: danieljdwyer

              I understand that in parts of the Australian bush there are true feral cattle (desendants of cows that either broke loose or were relased from assorted homesteads over the years) as these really are true honest to goodnes feral cattle (not cows that broke out themselves but decendents of escaped cows that have grown up and lived their whole lives in the wild), I wonder if their taste is closer to true aurochs.
              Not even a subspecies eh, guess the name Bos primogenetus is no longer considered scientifcally valid. Oh well, live and learn.

              1. re: jumpingmonk

                Bos primogenius is still perfectly valid; it's Bos taurus that has fallen out of favor. But, with cladistics essentially replacing Linnaean taxonomy in recent years, the binomial nomenclature doesn't tell the whole story anymore anyway.
                The feral cattle are probably pretty close, as close as you can get, but they still bear the traits selected for in the domestication process. They're probably higher in fat than the aurochs was, and less muscular (as less aggressive bulls would have been selected for breeding early in the domestication process).

                1. re: danieljdwyer

                  okay so to get the full deal you have to find some old Aurochs DNA( auctally find a LOT of it from a LOT of different Aurochss clone the thing(s) breed up a viable pupulation find a big track of vigin forest somewhere either in thier old range or, more likey somewhere analogous to it (there's probably some chunks of forest in the remote corners of Eastern Europe or Russia that would be ideal) leave thme to thier own devices and natures whims for a few generations) then go hunt them. Your right that IS a lot of work for one steak!

        2. I think you would have loved eating in Kenya before the ban on game animals came into play, you still get plenty of ostrich, crockodile and gnu....but some of the rarer gazelles and antelopes are off the menu.
          These included zebra (you still get steaks at places like batteleurs), hippo, thompson gazelle, dik dik (the smallest african antelope) and giraffe

          Just last week there was an article in our local paper on how our local wildlife society saved a mother hippo and pup from being roasted and carved up by starving villagers who were just waiting for a 'feast'. She had gotten mired in one of our rivers that had dried into the equivalent of quicksand

          1 Reply
          1. re: waytob

            I suspect you are correct. I have spent short periods of time in a handful of smaller nations in sub-Saharan Africa on service trips, but never Kenya. I've had zebra, lion, a few kinds of antelope (or at least one kind of antelope and wildebeest, which I think is a type of antelope), and a few other exotic meats on those trips. There were at least two occasions I can remember where I had no idea what the meat I was eating was. We frequently ran into situations where none of us spoke the language of our hosts, and they didn't speak English, so we relied on a third language (often French) that neither our hosts nor anyone in the group spoke fluently. This made for some interesting dinners.

          2. Yes, I'm with you DD. I disturbingly frequently think of the baby reindeer steaks from Finland. In the autumn reindeer meet was cheaper than beef in Scandinavia. I was looking at baby books this morning w/ my pregnant Bolivian daughter and one was about Mama Llama and I blurted out that I missed llama steaks. In New Mexico, elk, mule deer and antelope filled our larder, cappybara in Bolivia too, white tailed deer in Maine, etc, etc, ad naseum. But what intrigues me is that when I saw the Russian wooly mammoth exhibit in Helsinki in the 80's, I was told that when excavated out of the frozen tundra, the excavators, cut off and ate the frozen mammoth steaks! Can this be true? The thought drives me crazy w/ mammoth steak lust! Talk about unique.

            5 Replies
            1. re: Passadumkeg

              Depends on when that particualr mammoth was excavated. They certainly did that quite often in the 19th centruy when frozen mammoths were discovered. With the mammoth thawing, choices were limited. preserving the flesh (in scientifc terms) was beyond current scientifc skills (bones and hide sure but not actual meat) food was usally limited, game was scarce in the permafrost, most of your equipment was proably being carried by sleds powered by dogs who were also in need of food and you had this massive pile of edible meat there ready for the taking, Plus if you did it you could brag about it when you got back. What would you do? BTW I share your lust for the steaks. I'd feel the same about roast Dodo except as I undersand Dodo's tasted terrible (The Original Dutch name for them was "Walgevoegel" which translates as "Nauseating bird". Some of the extinct ducks might have been tasty, British hunters spoke highly of the table quality of the Pink Headed Duck of India, Labradors fetched premium prices in turn of the century east coast markets. The Feudal Japanese loved the chosen-ooshi (Korean crested shelduck) so much they made regular sea voyages to Korea just to hunt it. Passenger Pigeons were eaten quite often (though this may have had more to do with the fact they were so numerous that that they were particualry tasty) Native African hunters considered the Blaaubok prime game, Maori's loved Moa (it was basically the only large meat souce they had, besides each other when they were fighting) and many early European visitors to Hawaii though fried o'o was pure heaven, though the Natives rarely ate them (thier feathers were to valuable form making royal robes and o'o's once caught and plucked of thier read and orange plumes were supossed to be relased to grow new ones. that enough for now

              1. re: Passadumkeg

                I would guess the mammoth steaks suffered from terrible freezer burn.
                This thought just popped into my head because I recall you mentioning you were in Vietnam. There's a line in Full Metal Jacket to the effect of, "I joined the Corp so I could travel to faraway places, meet interesting people, and kill them." I've done international service work, all for NGO's, but we would run into Peace Corps folks a lot. One guy I ran in to a few times in Uganda liked to say, "I joined the Corp so I could travel to faraway places, see interesting wildlife, and eat it." The Peace Corps folks I met were always a bit off, so naturally I got along with them quite well.

                1. re: danieljdwyer

                  Hey, I got drafted and being young naive, I thought that joining the Navy Medical Corps would keep me out of the infantry. Boy, was I stupid!!!
                  Yes, I ate water buffalo in Nam, but will not go into the details. I just know Spam ain't from no ruminant.

                  1. re: Passadumkeg

                    I've had eat all parts of the carabao in remote northern Laos - very good, especially the organs and blood pudding.

              2. I've eaten quite a number of non-endangered animals found in zoos or game parks. Makes me think of what they tasted like and how it was prepared (or how we prepared it). My daughter, Dana Zsofia, has to put up with me adding what some of the animals taste like when we go to our very good local zoo.

                1 Reply
                1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                  I've seen you mention the interesting animals you've gotten to eat. I hope by the time I have a child Dana Zsofia's age I can match your tactic when I take him to the zoo.