What do lodge dining in Yellowstone National Park and at a Big 5 Game reserve near the Indian Ocean have in common?
Not the cute monkeys who hop over to steal your lunch at Pumba Lodge in South Africa, that’s for sure.
It’s the appearance of “game” on the menu, and it’s no more “wild” than the free range chicken at the grocery store. But this is NOT a bad thing. One thing that struck myMEGusta was the notion of how farmed game was so similar in such diverse places, over 10,000 miles, nearly half a globe apart.
This is about bison burgers, which are not made from those beautiful beasts that are ‘home on the range’ in Wyoming, and ‘venison’ which, when ordered in Africa, is really farmed impala.
We won’t get into the virtues of eating Bambi, or not, or the politics of the Old West, when the newcomers nearly decimated the bison to eradicate and control the native people who depended on them.
Did you know that bison burgers are really beefalo? Relatively low in fat and cholesterol, the meat of bison (not buffalo, that’s a misnomer that an early settler used and it stuck) cannot be farmed unless it is interbred with beef cattle.
The reason for this is very practical: Bison are extremely powerful, violent animals with extraordinary abilities to perform feats like jumping over high fences. Charming to view at a distance, these beasts are quite dangerous up close, which those who attempted to domesticate them learned very quickly. Breeding with the more docile cattle, creating beefalo, made farming them possible, and led them to our tables.
Bison burgers, by the way, are one of the real culinary treats to be had in the Western National Park lodges, although they are so lean that they have to be consumed cooked rare, otherwise they are turn into cardboard.
Impala are at the other end of the easy farming spectrum from bison. When you order venison in South Africa (and, I suspect, elsewhere in that continent) you will receive delicious impala. They certainly were not captured in the wild (where they are chased by lions), rather grew up in relative calm (and good feedings), on a farm somewhere. And, the venison you find in the United States, unless you are at the home of a hunter (or friend of a hunter) is also farmed.
Like deer venison, impala is a delicious red meat, but also very lean, and requiring careful cooking so as not to be overdone and dry.
Our friend and colleague, Chef Arno Schmidt, encountered a very different “game” experience on a recent trip to Greenland. The opportunity to taste never came up, but he describes a fish market in Sisimiut, halfway up the West Coat.
A lady “of a certain age” with a walker negotiated with the fishmonger as to exactly which cut of blubbery seal – wild, not farmed – she wanted. Spotting her later at the supermarket purchasing root vegetables, Chef Schmidt didn’t know what dish she was planning, but he posited that a boiled dinner – one of the traditional ways to eat seal meat – was in the offing. Or she could have been planning on crispy seal cracklings, and rendered seal oil for an old fashioned lamp.