We’re not overly adventurous with food in Australia. Some may argue that the plethora of Thai, Indian, Italian, Moroccan, Chinese or Lebanese restaurants in this country point to a curiosity about food, but really, our tastes in food are pretty pedestrian compared to what other people eat around the world.
The Chinese have a saying that one can “eat anything with its back facing the sky”, which basically means that any animal is fair game except fellow humans! In their minds, and in many other cultures, all meat is meat regardless of how cute and cuddly the animal is, so there is no legitimate reason to exclude snake or turtle from one’s diets in regards to taste or nutrition. They also eat the whole animal, rarely wasting any part of its meat or innards, so you could be served the wonderful delicacies of tripe, pigs’ blood, sheep’s head, or chicken gizzards. It is only in the wasteful, wealthy developed countries (such as Australia, the US and Canada, and Western Europe) that we have such a preference for the premium cuts of chicken breast or a sirloin steak that the other equally edible parts of the animal are ground into pet food or discarded.
In Australia, poultry and beef are the most purchased meats in both the retail and food service industries, followed at a distance by lamb and pork*. Yes, you can be guaranteed that pretty much every Australian will love a chicken pad thai or a spaghetti Bolognese. However, offer the typical Aussie anything out of the ordinary and you will probably receive some reactions of disgust, surprise or plain curiosity, or all of the above.
We eat the animals that we do (such as chicken, beef, or lamb) because they were the ones that were easily domesticated and bred on a mass scale to support a profitable meat industry and offer consumers meat at a reasonably low price. We’re born and raised to think of these meats as “normal” and anything else as completely whacko. Casually mention the idea of eating dog to an Australian and they will be horrified that you would even consider munching on man’s best friend, however we think nothing of chowing down on India’s sacred animal, the cow.
One of the things that I enjoy most while travelling is trying all the foods that are different to the norm back in Australia. I’ve tried fried guinea pig in Peru, dog hot pot in South Korea, frog porridge in Malaysia, puffin, reindeer and whale in Iceland, grilled calf sweetbreads in France and Australia, not to mention the yum cha or dim sum delicacies of tripe and chicken feet. One thing that I regret was being too cowardly to try the fried grasshoppers in Mexico – I had an irrational paranoia that there would be one slightly bigger insect in the batch that wouldn’t be quite cooked through and I’d be the victim of a squirt of guts when I popped it in my mouth!
Obviously, not every animal should be eaten. There are some that can cause death (fugu in Japan), those that are harvested inhumanely (hello shark fin), and there are many animals that are endangered and on the brink of extinction (blue fin tuna!). These animals should be avoided for their sake and yours!
For those that are brave and have a sense of adventure though, stretch your gastronomic wings and venture further past your usual chicken schnitzel or bangers and mash, and try something a little different. Who knows, you might find that you like it!
* Meat and Livestock Australia domestic consumption analysis
** Image courtesy of sudamericarocks