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Alligator jambalaya used to be a menu staple at the now defunct Cajun Bangkok in Old Town, Alexandria, and a cheese shop nearby sells ostrich steaks. Juicy, gamy buffalo/bison burgers are the specialty at the Cheyenne Diner on 9th Avenue in Manhattan.
In the near future, I might be able to expand my geographical reach without ever leaving home. Internet hunting, using a Webcam and remote-controlled rifle, could soon be a possibility. Providers would simply swoop in once the killing was done, butcher your prize, and FedEx it anywhere in the world on dry ice. The Delaware State Legislature is apoplectic at the thought, though I’m quite charmed by it. Even though no such service currently exists, they’ve passed a bill banning it: “What if someone started one of these sites in the six months that we’re not in session?” State Rep. Melanie George Marshall fretted to The Wall Street Journal on August 10.
The quest for strange foodstuffs is a fun way to make friends. I once wound up in a very serious discussion with a taxi driver about the best place to get goat in D.C. His firm belief was that his wife, who got her raw materials from the Florida Avenue Market in Columbia Heights, made the best goat in town. “You can get a big box of goat there very cheap,” he said. And he was right. Those unwilling to buy goat meat in bulk can find an outstanding curried goat at Montego Bay Café in Adams-Morgan.
My campaign to consume bits of increasingly bizarre animals led me to ExoticMeats.com, where I bought crocodile and fragments of several other strange beasts. My freezer became a veritable menagerie. Despite a somewhat racy-sounding name, the site is wholesome and Texan, and the staff very friendly.
Snapping turtle was available—boneless for $22.50 per pound, semi-boneless for $6 less—but I decided to give it a pass. Rattlesnake beckoned, but I quailed at the last moment. Everyone has her limits. Next time, perhaps.
After placing my order, there was some sort of procurement delay. To make up for the dreadful inconvenience of tardy delivery of bits of dead mammal, the fine people at ExoticMeats.com sent some extra kangaroo with my order.
I decided to pay the windfall forward by having a kangaroo dinner party, a fairly bold decision considering that there was a decent chance the meal would be inedible, either through native nastiness or ineptitude of preparation. To up the ante, I even invited a gen-u-ine Australian to the table.
I stocked up on cheese and crackers, made extra large portions of side dishes, plied my guests with (Australian) wine, and crossed my fingers. And lo and behold, the kangaroo was outstanding. The tender, extremely flavorful, appealingly rosy meat was wolfed down (apologies for mixing species) by one and all.
Discussion at the table revolved around whether a kangaroo was, in fact, a giant rodent and its status as a pest Down Under—all of which were basically efforts to keep ourselves from feeling bad about eating such a charismatic megafauna. (One friend wailed, “You ate Joey?” when she heard about the dinner after the fact.) Perhaps in a nod to this concern, some ranchers have proposed calling kangaroo “australus” when it appears on a plate, in the same way that we call cows “beef” and pigs “pork.”
Not every exotic meal can be as triumphant as the kangaroo dinner party. I hate to say it, but crocodile really does taste like chicken. Maybe chicken with a touch of the spongy fishiness of swordfish. But basically chicken.
Yak steaks formed another component of the ExoticMeats.com shipment, somewhat humorously labeled as New York Strips. In Tibet, the yak is central to life and to cuisine. A popular beverage is yak butter tea, a horrifying salty tea drink with butter made from yak’s milk churned into it. Far more delicious, though, are traditional Tibetan yak meat dumplings called momo.
Nepal also lays claim to these tasty dumplings, and I first tried them at Mt. Everest Restaurant on S Street in Washington. Their warm-spiced filling and slightly fluffy skins have haunted me ever since. Once I had actual yak in hand, another craving hit. It seemed serendipitous, so I made my first-ever foray into dough production in an effort to recreate the magic. Masked by spices and buried in dough, it was hard to discern any real yakiness about the final product, but the dumplings were delicious all the same.
But what about the answer to my original question? Why aren’t there antelope steaks in the supermarket meat case?