Friday, March 26, 2010

Back when we lived in Ouagadougou, we had a television, but never bothered to hook up the antenna. And there was no question of paying good money (or even bad money) for a satellite dish.
The tv was never turned on during the week.
At all.
On the weekends, our kids were allowed to watch just one video cassette per day (with the exception of special permission from their soft-hearted father).
One of the most often viewed and most treasured of these cassettes was « My Little Pony ». It was a French tape, so it was actually « Mon Petit Poney ». In this cartoon, small, chubby, pastel-colored talking horses went about their daily activities. And their daily activities included: being adorable, going on scavenger hunts, being even more cloyingly adorable, babysitting naughty (yet adorable!) toddler ponies, being adorable some more and rescuing a rock-star pony from the clutches of an evil manager. (Note: Rock Star Pony looked and sounded very much like The Artist Formerly Known as Prince and that particular episode was, as you may imagine, peculiarly fascinating)

One thing the ponies were never, ever obliged to do in an episode of the show was flee from people intent on killing them, butchering them and serving them up as Sunday lunch. This might well have been the plot of an installment if the show had been made in France, or Switzerland.

Most of you probably already knew that the French eat horse meat. What you may not have known is that the Swiss do it too.
They’re sneaky that way.
The Swiss may seem charming but you have to watch them closely. Otherwise, the minute you sit down to the table for a nice lunch, they are plonking down a huge roasting pan right in front of you and it’s chock-full of Mr. Ed basted in an herbed wine sauce.

And I know this is absolutely true because that’s exactly what happened to me last Sunday.

We’d gone to the Swiss city of Lausanne to visit some good friends there. We’ve known M and D for many years and were looking forward to a nice meal with them and then a group visit to an old hotel that was auctioning off all it’s furnishings (note: this hotel will figure very prominently in my next post for reasons which will surprise you. )

Anyway, there we were, all sitting around the table. There was JP, the twins, Sev, and our friends’ two lovely teen-aged sons. M was in the kitchen finishing up , while D approached the table with a big cast-iron dutch oven.
He put it down right in front of me and lifted off the lid with a decided flourish.
The large chunk of meat inside had a definite gray tinge to it. I figured that it was the sauce that had given it a funny color.
D want back to the kitchen to get a better knife and those of us left at the table speculated as to what it was.
Beef was the general consensus.
By this time, D was back at the table, hacking away at it with a large knife.
I asked him what the meat was.
« C’est un rôti de petit poulain. » he happily informed me.
« Poulain » is « foal » in English.
We were being served « roast of small foal ».
« You’re kidding, right? » I asked him.
D just looked at me quizzically and went back to putting slices on Sev’s plate.
I turned to JP. « He’s kidding, right? »
JP peered down at the lumps of gray on his own plate.
« No. I don’t think he’s kidding »
« Seriously . What is it? » I insisted, a vaguely worried feeling creeping into my mind.
« Poulain. » he said again, quite surprised I’d asked twice.
« Really? What? Really?........As in « My Little Pony ?» I asked, a bit desperately.
During all this, M had been coming down the long hallway to the dining room. She could see me clearly the whole time and she swears that throughout this exchange my face went from draining paper white to flushing bright red. (Note to self: Don’t plan to earn millions as a professional poker player)

D didn’t quite get what my problem was. In fact, he’d gone specially to the horse-butcher’s shop to buy us this nice treat.
I said that it was just like serving a roasted kitten.
In other words, not so good.

The twins, of course, refused to touch it.
The men of our family, on the other hand, chowed down. Sev even had seconds and thirds. With sauce. Horse blood sauce.

I’m not even that keen on eating cows. I serve beef to our family maybe once a week, max. It’s always organic, relatively happy beef and usually small quantities- little chunks in a sauce over pasta or rice, rather than steaks.

The foal roast was so very, very creepy.

Luckily, M and D are good pals and we all managed to have a good laugh about it in the end
Everyone but the foal, anyway…


Lynda said...

Oh no! "like serving roast kitten".... there goes my appetite. The Germans (in this region) eat horse too: Cologne has french ties - and the specialty of the area is Sauerbraten - horse meat pickled for several days in brine - then roasted with a dark sour gravy. Most people just use beef now days - but there are many pubs that advertise 'Pferd Sauerbraten" around here. ... sorry, just can't get that 'roast kitten' out of my head...

Joy said...

Yikes! I am creeped out just reading this! I can't imagine being served such a "treat". *shudder* It is amazing, and interesting, the cultural differences regarding food around the world.

Beth said...

Just when I was wondering what's worse than being served roasted pony, I was given the answer: Dead kittens pickled in brine.

babzee said...

But in the case of roast kitten you really need to wipe out an entire litter, at least. I'm sure Sev could snarf down a half dozen on his own. Pickled? No, more likely deep fried quickly til they pop. Your chosen countrymen came up with La Petite Oiseau, after all, drowned in Armagnac and slow roasted. Just an appetizer!

Anonymous said...

Haha, that was the first thing I learned in French, "C'est du cheval?" I can't bring myself to eat it either, thats ok though, my husband will eat my share as well if it is ever served to me!!

oreneta said...

I have an oddly ambivalent feeling about a lot of meat eating, that said, I like it....I take it Sev found it tasty. I am pretty sure I was served horse in a French farmhouse YEARS ago, but they didn't tell me and I didn't ask, it was quite good. Whatever it was.

Beth said...

Well, Sev is pretty unflappable. he just shugs and takes it all as it comes...even when it comes in the form of roast horse. He said it was "okay"- not exactly a rave review. He was just hungry that day. Growing boy, and all that...

As for meat-eating in general, it all about where you draw the line. And that line-drawing is so culturally-loaded and subjective that most people can't even have a sensible discussion about it.
I'm SO grateful that all my readers seem to share an anthropological take on things. I guess only smart, cool people read my blog!!

babzee said...

Totally coincidental, if you believe in such things. My husband's onstage directorial debut was last night. We had NOT discussed your story, and I know he hadn't read it. But there, onstage, on a chalkboard representing a diner menu in the comedy "The Philadelphia" he had chalked in "Fried Kittens $2.95". After the show I told him the Poulain story and he vowed to add "Roasted Pony" to tonight's menu!