How to Eat a Camel

One of my students yesterday told me how to eat a camel.

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What you do is this. Select your camel, a young one is best, several months at most. Kill it and butcher it (remember to throw away the neck, an inedible cut). Dig a big hole in the sand, a metre or two deep and one or two across. Light a fire in it, and let the fire die down until it is charcoal. Throw your cuts of meat on top (goat will do if camel is not available). Lay a metal sheet on top of the the smouldering embers, and bury everything for twenty-four, or if you are an epicure, forty-eight hours. Excavate your dinner, and serve. The choicest cut is the hump, which is tender and lean.

My student is from Oman, and I was able to offer him a counter-recipe. A delicacy in Italy (and perhaps elsewhere) is the intestine of a freshly-slaughtered milk-calf or -lamb, called pajata (pronounced pai’ahta). A friend of mine was given some one Easter morning early (a lamb, I think, in this case), still warm from the insides of its erstwhile host. It was tossed on the coals for a couple of minutes and served immediately and unadorned. He said it tasted of nothing so much as grilled cheese.

I would love to offer a British version of this, but can’t think of one. We are anaesthetised to old-fashioned blood-and-guts cooking by now, I think. I remember watching a programme on TV in which preposterous food-person Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall was trying to convince a group of individuals to give up eating cheap battery supermarket chickens. He showed them what could be done with a superior bird, including making stock from the bones for soup or risotto. One of his guinea-pigs came out to speak to the cameras, shaking his head in disbelief. ‘What’s all that about?’ he wondered. ‘Sticking a load of old bones in a pot. It’s like the f**king stone age.’

We are indeed a long way from our roots. Perhaps there is no way back.

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