Snackin' On Crocodile At The Carnivore
On the road… again!
Afghanistan to Zambia
Chronicles of a Footloose Forester
By Dick Pellek
Snackin’ On Crocodile At The Carnivore
If and when you go on that safari to Africa, rest assured that you will get the chance to see African wildlife up close…real close. You won’t need a camera with a telescopic lens; or a lucky encounter with a rhino that decides to cross the road just over the hill and beyond the bend, as you approach in your Land Rover. No, your encounter with African wildlife will be closer than that. Much closer. All manner of wildlife will be as close as your plate; that is, if you decide to dine at the Carnivore Restaurant outside of Nairobi.
The Carnivore Restaurant is within view of some of the herd animals that make Nairobi National Park their home. If you are lucky, you may be able to spot Grants or Thompson’s gazelles, an ostrich or two; or even a herd of impalas that decided to browse in one of the pastures near the Carnivore Restaurant. There just is no telling in advance what you will see, as various herds move in and out of their feeding grounds during the year. One time, it may seem that the knot of hooved animals is composed primarily of wildebeest, or Cape buffalos, or impalas, or gazelles, or zebras. At other times, the herds seem small and presumably are dispersed somewhere else. Rest assured that most all of them are still within the confines of the park; but for reasons that few people understand, or can explain.
In some cases, it seems that herd size is linked to seasonal migration patterns of herd animals coming together in search of better pasture; or abandoning depleted pastures. Nonetheless, the predictable packs of hunters that prey on them as they migrate are part of the fluidity of the circumstances. Lions, cheetahs, and a few leopards that inhabit Nairobi National Park stalk the herds; and are not far away. But hyenas, baboons, and jackels are also predatory in their style of hunting and scavaging, so cannot be excluded from the list of hunters that travel in pacts.
The foregoing description is merely a prelude to setting the scene for what is going on afield. As you sit down to dine at the Carnivore Restaurant where some, but not all of the aforementioned animals may appear on your plate, you find yourself discussing with your dinner party what might be served that day. As a diner, you get to decide what to order; as much or as little as you want. The Footloose Forester cannot say categorically what is on the menu, because the owners of the Carnivore have normally forgone printing up a menu of the daily specials. The daily specials at the Carnivore are those items that have recently been killed elsewhere but nonetheless are legitimate fare in restaurants where serving game meat has been permitted under license. No restaurant has more to offer a meat- and-potatoes palate than the Carnivore. And they go out of their way to make a show of serving dinner.
After an appetizer of crocodile, barbequed eland makes a fine main course
When you enter the restaurant and before you find seating in one of the sectors that are found east, west, north and south of the main barbeque pit, the hungry diners have to pass that huge circular pit where the evening’s fare is roasting in the coals. The hind quarters of larger animals like eland, Cape buffalo, wildebeest or even zebra; are there for the diner to behold. There seems to be no way to avoid the attraction of game meat being prepared before your eyes. And the skewers are part of the attraction.
Many of the larger animals are skewered on long spears that are common in East Africa. It is likely that the spears are fashioned by various tribes in the region, as each tribe has its own tradition of making spears with its own cultural identity. Some of the smaller animals are skewered with shorter spears; but make no mistake about it, the skewers themselves are part of the show at the Carnivore. Each one of them has been artistically designed and created for a special purpose. It is only a presumption, but the Footloose Forester believes that the purpose of the suite of distinctive artistic skewers is to enhance the ambience of the Carnivore Restaurant.
Once seated, the waiters make rounds for drink orders prior to getting down to business. They soon return with the main attractions: the roasted game meats of the day. On each of the many passes they make, the waiters offer samples of the items that had recently been barbequed and deemed ready for consumption. They come with skewers of their own, and knives to deal with the hot flesh that was just extracted from the barbeque pit. Since the pit itself is several feet in diameter and usually contains several sides of game meat at all times, the process of serving up dinner is unlike anything most of us have ever seen.
Truly adventurous gastronomes come to the Carnivore to assuage their subconscious desires to discover something new. They will not be disappointed if they are also meat-loving adventurers who would not shy away from snackin’ on crocodile while the medium-rare eland is being braised to its perfection. All who agree to indulge, through eye contact with the experienced waiters, who are also efficient servers; get fresh slices of hot gazelle this round, to be followed by zebra; followed by wildebeest, or hartebeest; whichever is ready when the pit master gives the nod. Not even the waiters know what will be offered next, but they will tell you what to expect if you have reservations about the grizzly looks of the pale, fatty crocodile meat. By way of contrast, the dark purple meat of ostrich is sweet and flavorful. You can pass on the crocodile, or even the ostrich, but you won't go away hungry. There are plenty of vegetables for those who have second thoughts about playing the carnivore at the Carnivore.