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The Omnivore’s East African Dilemma

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A recent rabbinical revelation, which qualified giraffes as amongst those lucky, split-hoofed and cud-chewing animals deemed kosher, got me thinking about my personal meat consumption. From where I’m currently writing (in the American northeast), if I want to eat locally, I’m pretty much restricted to sheep, cows, pigs, goats, and various poultry (minus one if I’m eating kosher!). It thus seems my giraffe-eating opportunities, rabbi-sanctioned or not, are limited. (Full disclosure: I’ve been a vegetarian since the 8th grade…).

But while giraffe remains novel, I did eat zebra once. Well, not really, but I very seriously considered it. I had it on my fork, raised it to my mouth and everything. Alas, at the last second, I got cold feet and finished my meal with my vegetarianism in tact.

Where, you ask, did I have this unique opportunity to test the (narrow) limits of my gastronomical bravado? Certainly not in Philadelphia. No way. I’m afraid enterprising eaters must travel to Kenya to try such exotic and gamey culinary delights. There you must head to Nairobi to have a lunch or dinner at the world-famous restaurant The Carnivore.

While I can’t promise giraffe, you can certainly enjoy such carnal treats as crocodile and antelope. And for those of you with less adventurous palates, grilled and barbequed beef, pork, and chicken are also available.

My vegetarian experience of The Carnivore was limited to some pastry-like, lasagna-esque dish, which I shamefully ordered as my more courageous colleagues had wildebeest and ostrich shaved onto their already overflowing plates. I’m not kidding. Attentive, waistcoat-clad servers literally shaved the meat from spits using very large carving knives at the table!!! (And for the record, my veggie meal was delicious, if embarrassing to order).

After stuffing themselves with as much meat as they could handle, my co-diners surrendered to their protein-induced food comas by raising a white flag. These flags are conveniently left in the middle of the table and signal to the diligent servers/meat-carvers that their customers have had enough game and are ready to move on to dessert.

Okay, so perhaps you’re not down with eating giraffe. I don’t blame you. I prefer my blue-tongued, acacia-eating ungulates without barbeque sauce, thank you very much. If you’re like me then you might favor heading just outside Nairobi to the Ngong Hills. There you’ll find the former house (now turned museum) of Danish author Karen Blixen. Drawing a blank on this one? Think: Meryl Streep, and more importantly, Robert Redford <sigh>, in Sydney Pollack’s Out of Africa, the movie based on Blixen’s life and work. In addition to re-living favorite moments from the academy award-winning film while touring the house and its bordering grounds, you get to visit the adjacent Giraffe Center. Here you will meet Daisy, the famous Rothschild giraffe, and also have the chance feed the center’s towering twiga, as the animals are called in Kiswahili.

Of course, there’s nothing like seeing animals in the wild. And for that, Kenya’s certainly the right place! After a few nights in Nairobi, head out of the city for a safari (Kiswahili for “journey” or “travel”) in any number of the country’s National Parks and Wildlife Reserves. In the lush landscape of the Masai Mara, you can see the majestic twiga in their natural habitat, not to mention simba (lion), ndovu (elephant), and kiboko (hippo).

The memories alone are enough to whet my appetite and start me dreaming about Landrovers and acacia-dotted landscapes. Sadly, from where I’m presently sitting in Philadelphia, these exciting meals and safaris are nearly half a world away. So despite the rabbis’ green-light on the ingestion of my favorite ruminant, until my next East African adventure I guess I’ll have to satisfy my giraffe-cravings at the local zoo.

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