GTA Tripping: Exotic Meat Roundup
This week, rather than stretching the limits of Toronto's public transit system, I opted instead to stretch the limits of my comfort zone by asking the question, How many different dead animals can one purchase and eat in this city?
Being a first world urbanite I am afforded the opportunity to waffle over my meal choices. Born into an age of PETA, lifestyle choices as statements (or fashion statements) and those funny "EATING ANIMALS" stickers on stop signs, eating meat is something that I've had to come to terms with. After a not-so-storied existential journey that included going veggie for five months in grade seven to impress a girl, I've ended up somewhere around here: cow in cellophane, yes; baby harp seal in paper bag, no. But just the same, navigating the precarious waters of ethics, cute-associated guilt and the eww! factor can be hazardous...
I generally avoid red meat for health reasons, and if given a choice I'll usually go for seafood. When a more exotic meat becomes an option, my intellect and the eww! factor tend to play chicken (tee). I tell myself that on the one hand, someone in this world probably eats this animal/fish/insect and enjoys it. It's not going to kill me. But on the other hand, yeeuughh!
Being an average Canadian, I am used to my edible animals coming in three species only (The Trinity, if you will, of chicken, beef and pork) and appearing to me magically under fluorescent lights, their fruits conveniently separated from their souls. The very first time I was met with another gospel of animal eating was a few years ago in northern Cambodia. After ten hours of being whipped in the sweaty face with burgundy polyester curtains our Laos-bound bus mercifully broke down. In Snoul.
The town wasn't in the business of boneless/skinless chicken breasts presented in maxi-padded cellophane and polyethylene, so I just pointed at a pot of black meaty stuff being served with rice on the side of the road. As I came to the bottom of my basic-but-tasty bowl I found a series of bones. Now, let me say that bones are fine and good, I recognize that a great deal of flavour can be enjoyed if one cooks with them. But these were vertebrae - backbone bits - each about the size of a pencil eraser. Those (potentially, pessimistically probably) rat bones were on my mind for the rest of the trip.
At an eighth grade science fair one of my competing classmates had a project that included mealworms. Little squirmy bastards with yellow-ringed exoskeletons supporting translucent legs in two sets of six. Flexing her worldliness in that way that overachieving middle-schoolers do, she explained that they were not disgusting at all and were in fact an important source of protein "in Africa." I wasn't able to verify her claims on the spot, but I could definitely out-worldliness her. I shot a look that said "doi," and popped one in my mouth. It moved on my tongue even after I chewed it.
These experiences (along with practically having a nervous breakdown last year considering the psychological ramifications of eating dog soup) have taught me that I'm only comfortable with the factory-farmed basics. Or at least they should have taught me that.
In my turbowhim-fuelled (or perhaps Michaëlle Jean-inspired) quest last Saturday, the first and best step turned out to be at Whitehouse Meats in St. Lawrence Market. Under Ontario law, I learned, all meats sold must be farmed, and Whitehouse appears to sell only the best and, for my amusement/discomfort, most interesting. On the butcher's block at Whitehouse I saw kangaroo (topside, tail and burgers), fresh venison, fresh whole rabbits, fois gras, partridge, quail, arctic caribou, "big game" soup stock and... elk salami.
I grabbed a pound of kangaroo topside and hit the road.
The next stop was the T&T Supermarket on Cherry Street. The Chinese famously have a tradition of eating rare and exotic meats. The rule is generally, I've found, that the weirder it sounds to me, the better it is for my "man strength," which I'm all for improving. The frozen soft-shell turtle I found here, the woman at the market explained, was good for my kidneys. Kidneys? If I am going to eat a reptile the least I want out of the deal is invincible boners, so I put it back.
Heading up to Chinatown, I found a few more options for soft-shell turtle in the grocery stores along Spadina (and at a better price than T&T, in case this information is valuable to you and your feeble kidneys). I also visited Sunny Meat Market, which offered a good selection of fresh and frozen poultry and meats as well as "young pigeon" and "old pigeon," both of which looked alright enough.
The last stop was Cajun Corner just south of Eglinton Ave. on Laird Drive. I went on a tip that they carried imported alligator meat from Louisiana, but on my visit they didn't have any. Actually, they were sold out. Sold out of alligator meat. Alligator meat is such a hot item that they were sold out. Alligator meat! (Wait, it's gotta be boners, right? People are buying it for the boners.)
Though I found a good deal of alternative meat (underground, indie fetish meat), the only thing I could bring myself to buy was the kangaroo topside. I figured I had never seen one in real life, and I'd heard they were a dangerous and obnoxious menace to the farmers and to the drivers of Australia. It would be a gesture of solidarity with our criminal commonwealth brothers and sisters. Perhaps they'd do the same for us if they every found our pests in their supermarkets, right?
This faux-ethical patch job turned out to be just what I needed to hang up my hang-ups and enjoy; the kangaroo was delicious.