Sunday, October 09, 2005

Tastes Like Chicken...er, Not Quite

Sharing the photo in my previous post with you all, along with reading about Spam in Neo's blog, put me in mind of the only unpleasant culinary memory I have of my time spent in France:

I ate horse.

Before anyone goes all PETA on me, let me explain:

My first night in Tours, I was invited to dine at the home of my host family's friends. I had come in on the train from Paris that morning and hadn't taken a nap (trying to get acclimated to the time difference, like a good little international traveler). I didn't realize that this family followed the "tradition" of late-night eating on weekends. Now, dinner time in Europe is generally two hours later than dinner time in North America, but I was already used to that, since my family normally doesn't sit down together until nearly 8pm on a regular basis. We arrived at the house around 8 and I was delighted to see that dinner was sitting on the kitchen table, already prepared.

But we didn't eat at 8...

...we didn't eat at 9...

...we didn't eat at 9:30...

...we finally sat down at the table at 10pm, having sat around shooting the breeze for two hours straight. I was STARVING! I had been trying not to overdo it on the munchies (which were SO good, I was really having a hard time) in anticipation of that delicious-smelling dinner I knew was awaiting us on the kitchen table. I was famished by the time we all sat down.

Needless to say, having not slept all day after a long international flight and a train ride, I was exhausted. Combine that with the fact that among the 10 dinner guests were two 11-year-old boys and a 9-year-old girl, and you can imagine that things were a bit chaotic.

The hostess put the meat course down in front of me, mumbling something as she did. As a rule, I shy away from eating too much meat in Europe--I like my steaks pretty rare, but definitely not "rare" by French standards. I can't eat meat that has a warm outside and a totally raw, cold center...but, I digress. I took a small piece of the meat and heaped up on the mushrooms and other yummy offerings on the table.

End of story? Not quite. Several weeks later, my host father and I got into a discussion about what foods we liked and disliked. I said I wasn't a fan of blood sausage, (except boudin, that's so good, but you have to eat it blindfolded, otherwise you'd throw up right there on your plate) and said I wouldn't eat brains, liver or horse. He looked at me in surprise and said, "But, we ate horse at Michelle's house--don't you remember?"

I was absolutely horrified. I couldn't get the image of Philippe, the horse in Beauty and the Beast, out of my head. Looking back on that meal, I did notice that that "beef" didn't have quite the texture I was used to. I had chocked it up to the preparation being different or something to that effect. I sat there, racking my brain, trying to figure out when exactly Michelle had announced that we were eating horse for dinner, but I had been so exhausted and my brain had been so overstimulated from hearing wall-to-wall French for the first time in my life, that it just got by me.

I suppose eating horse isn't so much different from eating beef; when you think about it, they're both beasts of burden...but for some reason, horses have more of a "personality" in American culture. There aren't any movies (that I know of, at least) about children befriending cattle. Have you ever seen a movie about a cow who overcame the odds in a national race? How about a cow saving someone's life? What about a magical cow who could fly? I've never heard of a half-man, half-cow. We have a separate name for cow when we're eating it--calling it "beef" removes it just enough from the living, breathing animal to make it palatable. We don't have such a moniker for horsemeat.

So, I ate horse. I'm not proud of that fact...although it is a conversation piece when people bring up how other peoples of the world eat dogs or termites.

6 comments:

Neil said...

From your description, I guess eating horse isn't that much more creepy than eating any other animal. Just curious, which type of horses are allowed to be eaten/ or are eaten?

Melanie said...

I have no idea...I never did any research on it. From what I understand, it's mostly older horses who end up in that situation (so no foals, a la veal), and the eating of horse is sort of falling out of fashion in France. Younger people don't want to eat it anymore, and it definitely doesn't occupy the majority of the space at the meat counter.

I shall look into it and see what I can find out!

Neil said...

I figure as someone who loves French culture good and bad, it's something you should know.

BeckEye said...

Will I ever eat horse? Neigh, neigh.

Lauren said...

I love the old horse butchers in France with the faded horse busts over their doors. I think I've had it as well, but I don't really remember... I know I've never had snails, but that is a long story involving my slow bond with a group of snails living with me and my family in a cage.

Sangroncito said...

My San Francisco housemate Jamie who lives for horses would be horrified! But I won't tell......