Crocodile

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I had eaten crocodile once before at a game meat restaurant in Tokyo, though I doubt that there are any crocodiles actually in the country. At least not that I know of. In Australia there are plenty of these aquatic animals, so it’s no wonder they get eaten every once and a while. I had croc twice during my trip. Once as part of a native Australian food platter, where it was served cold with berries and once at an aboriginal show in Cairns where they served crocodile ribs.

The ribs were really amazing. I don’t think it tastes like chicken, like everyone always claims, but it definitely has a similar color and texture. I would say it tasted more like pork tenderloin than like chicken. Anyway, it tasted good, especially in combination with a delicious sweet and spicy barbeque sauce. The cold cuts with berries was perhaps less exciting, but still pretty tasty. Definitely something I’d like to see more off in the future.

Fear Factor – 1 / Taste Test – 9

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Grilled kangaroo

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You can’t go to Australia and not eat kangaroo. Well, I can’t anyway. I know some people find it strange that kangaroo is eaten, but it is no stranger than eating pigs or cows. You eat what you have available in your country, after all. That doesn’t mean that kangaroo is hugely popular though. Chicken, pork, beef and lamb still reign supreme in Australia, but it is readily available and served in many restaurants.

I had eaten a kangaroo tataki before on a trip to Tokyo, but I didn’t hesitate to try it again when it was on the menu of the Queensland Art Gallery café in Brisbane. As part of a limited edition menu pieces of grilled kangaroo were served on a flatbread with some native ingredients such as saltbush, which I will write about another time. The meat was served medium and reminded me of beef. If I had no idea what it was, I would definitely have guessed beef. That’s not at all a bad thing. After all I do like a nice piece of beef. It was cooked with care and worked well with the other ingredients to make a nice, albeit light, lunch.

Fear Factor – 0 / Taste Test – 8

Stewed emu

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On my recent trip to Australia I wanted to experience all the different aspects of Australian culture as I could. One of the most important sides to the local culture is undeniably the aboriginal influence. I tried to seek out native Australians and their culture wherever I could. One of the more interesting places is at Tjapukai near Cairns where aboriginals show your their costumes, dance, didgeridoo and fire-making skills.

Upon arrival we were served an array of canapes, one of which was braised emu. An emu is a bird that’s very similar to an ostrich, but perhaps a little smaller, and native to Australia. Like its big brother, emu is more comparable to meat than to poultry, and you can serve it as you would a steak. In this case however the meat was stewed down and very tender. It was served with a slightly sweet native plum sauce that was a great match for the somewhat gamey meat.

Fear Factor – 1 / Taste Test – 8

Braised wallaby tail

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When people think of Australia often the first thing they think about is the native animals such as kangaroos and koalas. Some people find it strange that Australians would eat kangaroo because they are so cute, but as always “you eat what you have” and for Australia that includes animals such as kangaroo, wallaby and emu. Having said that you might find it difficult to find any of these animals on a restaurant menu as most people have converted to the usual suspects of beef, pork, lamb and chicken. There are even less restaurants that put their entire focus on native.

One of the forerunners of cooking with native ingredients is Kylie Kwong whose award winning restaurant Billy Kwong is closing in a few months. I’ve known Kylie for years now through her appearances on Masterchef Australia and was eager to taste her fusion of Chinese cuisine and native Australian ingredients and booked seat at the bar. They were running a couple of specials that night of which I ordered the braised wallaby tail in a red pepper sauce.

Wallaby is a species of marsupials that look very similar to kangaroos. They are often seen as small versions of them. They use their massive tails just as much as they use their feet, which is why they are of a subspecies called macro pod. The best cuts of meat often come from parts of animals that have been used regularly which is definitely the case for the wallaby tail. It was braised for 8 hours and was presented on the bone much like an oxtail. To me it even tasted like beef with just a hint of sweetness. The meat was extremely succulent and I had no problem getting it off the bone using only chopsticks. It’s a shame the restaurant is closing but also exciting to see what the future holds for Kylie.

Fear Factor – 1 / Taste Test – 9

Zure zult (Sour brawn)

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Although in modern times people are shying away from off cuts and organ meats, head cheese is eaten in one form or another in pretty much every part of the globe. In most places it consists of small pieces of meat from the head of a pig enrobed in a jelly made from the bones and cartilage. Zure zult (sour brawn), however, is completely mixed to make one uniform texture. Unlike regular head cheese it also has the addition of vinegar, hence the name.

I had never eaten it as a kid as by that time most people had stopped eating it, and also I was quite the picky eater. Now I find it important to get to know my culture better and to try out as many different things as I can. I bought a pack of sliced head cheese and tried some on its own. It had a very soft texture, almost that of butter. The flavor was quite nice, nor organ-y at all. It just tasted like meat, with a hint of acidity. It really was just like a nice pate. From the rest of the head cheese I made some croquettes to go with my locally inspired dinner and my parents both loved it.

Fear Factor – 4 / Taste Test – 8

Smoked puffin

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A puffin is a seabird that lives in the northern hemisphere. There are actually three different kinds, one of which can be found on Iceland. Due to its colorful beak and relative likeness to penguins people often label this bird as “cute”. On Iceland, however, people have had no qualms about hunting this animal for its meat and eggs, as there were no mammals around in the old times. These days the consumption of puffin has gone down, because Iceland is now home to sheep and other cattle.

On my food tour of Reykjavik we were served an appetizer of smoked puffin in a local restaurant. The meat was red, almost like beef, and was served quite rare. It was plated with a sweet berry sauce which turned out to be the perfect accompaniment. The meat was really tender, and tasted amazing. It was a little more like duck, especially with that sauce. It ended up being one of the best things I’ve eaten in Iceland.

Fear Factor – 1 / Taste Test – 9

Sheep’s head jelly

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My recent travels brought me to Iceland, where I spent a couple of days exploring the beauty of this land. I stayed in Reykjavik and made day trips from there. Obviously most of the meals I had were indeed in Reykjavik. One of the best locations was at Café Loki, with a view of the gorgeous Halgrimmskirkja church. It was here that I ordered the local delicacy of sheep’s head jelly.

I wasn’t quite sure what to expect, but the first thing that popped in my mind as it arrived was “head cheese”. It was indeed just that, a block of jelly with lots of little pieces of meat taken from a boiled sheep’s head. In this case the jelly was sliced and served on flatbread with some mashed turnips. I thought I could handle that.I was wrong.

Well, I was half right. I could handle it when eaten together with the bread and mash, but on its own it wasn’t all that appetizing. Actually the jelly-like texture, the sometimes chewy pieces of skin and the at times barnyardy flavor were kind of off-putting. I managed to eat it all, only because of the accompaniments.

Fear Factor – 4 / Taste Test – 3

Reindeer chips

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I fly back to Holland once a year, in summer, to see my friends and family. This time I had a stopover in Helsinki, Finland, just like last year. That brought with it the opportunity to try out some reindeer or elk products I might not yet have tasted. New on the shelves this year was a bag of so-called reindeer chips.

Now I know I have written about chips a lot on this here blog, but those have always been potato chips. In this case the chips were entirely made of reindeer meat. It had been sliced razor thin and left to dry. The consistency really was like a chip, crispy and crunchy at every bite, and not chewy like jerky.

Taste-wise it had that similar sourness that I found in the reindeer meat I tried at the airport last year. At the time I thought that was due to the curing, but now I’m not so sure. Perhaps reindeer just tastes a bit acidic. At any rate, it made for a nice crunch and a quick snack before boarding my flight to Amsterdam.

Fear Factor – 0 / Taste Test – 7

Grilled pork neck

 

FullSizeRenderOn the hunt for Thai food I found a restaurant called Err in the historic center of Bangkok. This Bib Gourmand bestowed restaurant was started by the same team behind big brother Bo.Lan. This is also where I had that whole crispy chicken skin. Of course that’s no all I had, I also ordered a portion of grilled pork neck.

I had had horse mane and chicken neck before, but never pork neck and I imagined it would be very fatty. It was fatty, but only a little. The meat wasn’t streaked with fat like bacon, but had a consistency halfway between meat and fat. It was served with a spicy tamarind sauce with made for a great tangy dip.

Fear Factor – 3 / Taste Test – 7

Spam sushi

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Nobody likes Spam. Well, that’s not entirely true. Hawaiians and Koreans love the stuff. It was brought to Korea by American soldiers, and has left its ugly scar ever since. It wasn’t a great shock then to find a spam gimbap, Korean sushi, at the airport.

The rice roll was filled with vegetables, crab stick and the aforementioned spam. With every bite you would get a different flavor. Like Russian roulette you would risk biting into the spam. Funnily enough when I did reach the spam, I didn’t actually mind. The flavor seemed to be washed out by the other ingredients, or perhaps these Koreans are just on to something.

Fear Factor – 2 / Taste Test – 7