Anybody keeping half an eye on European media over the last few months cannot help but notice the uproar over traces of horse DNA found in Findus Crispy Pancakes and LidlXtra Value burgers. The issue, it seems, is not about the quality of the meat (I’m a big fan of cheval, they sold it in my old local supermarket back in Europeland, resting between the beef and pork section), but more of an issue of labeling and that old farmers market cliché about knowing where your food comes from.
Anyone who munches on 7p burgers deserves rabies, for it is a crime against taste, if nothing else. God forbid if any students of forensics should ever test the DNA of delicacies like bra het meatballs or schkrork sausages – the contents of these are better off remaining unknown to science.
I’d describe myself as an adventurous eater; an amateur Anthony Bourdain; someone who spent a decade bumming around Europe eating and drinking whatever came my way: lambs bollocks in Bosnia, Hungarian Beuschel (a tasty stew of lungs and heart), goat brains in Morocco along with the usual frog legs and snails. Admittedly this was sometimes as much for the shock value as the taste – another way of showing off, disgusting the easily disgusted and upsetting the easily upset.
Cambodia through western eyes is a haven for the weirdest and most wonderfully nauseating haute cuisine; it’s been on the TV and everything. So upon my arrival I set to work, chowing down on spiders, insects, rodents on sticks, turtles (along with raw eggs), duck fetus (a schoolboy error) and of course the one which offends the most – man’s best friend.
Now the following tail comes with a disclaimer so animal lovers and perhaps bestials beware. However, I assure you that this little anecdote is not only true, but will remain etched into my memory forever (or until the onset of dementia). And I have an eyewitness along with photographic evidence.
The story begins with a girl, a country girl, who, between bouts of wanking off tourists, was for a few months my sweetheart. Now cute wee Chen Chen was a little heartbreaker from way, way out in the rice fields of Siem Reap province. I’d paid a few visits out to her family before, and after a day out in the swamps with no electricity or water but plenty of dengue, I began see the appeal of moving to the town to wank off tourists.
It’s a different world out in the hamlets, away from the hawking tuktuks, limbless beggars, streetkids and the same party mix CD playing loudly up and down Pub Street. I could sit out in the open air, puffing away on the old man’s Fine, whilst he drank my beer and his old lady brought us plates of fried grass. The romantically minded would love the rural charm – a trip back in time where the myna birds chatter, the cattle a-low and the busy cicadas chirp away. The more cynical might note the heat, the lack of basic hygiene, the biting insects and the bouts of tropical disease. I place myself somewhere in the middle.
Last year we decided to celebrate Pchum Benh holiday out there. The day before was spent in Siem Reap town buying Daz white shirts and overpriced, ornately gift wrapped cans of Sprite and Mama noodles. Along the way we acquired a young, heavily tattooed surf bum American who thought most things were either ‘Awesome!’ or ‘Gnarly’. He had a burning desire to experience the ‘real’ Cambodia and thought it was ‘awesome’ when I invited him along as my white wingman.
It was still dark when the three of us departed SR town, no time for breakfast. We arrived at the folk’s wooden hut at sunrise, and were swiftly fussed over and forced into our white clothing – the Khmer version of Sunday best. My sweet talking girly had now morphed into General George S. Patton, barking commands at me and my recently enlisted buddy. The family was rounded up and the convoy of Hondas rumbled off to the nearest pagoda.
The pagoda was packed and two oreigners became centre of attention. Wads of (my) cash were handed over (Buddha approves of gold wrapped noodles, soft drinks and both KHR and $US), some geriatric nuns took a shine to the American. A few prayers and that, then we left.
I was ordered to buy beer by Srey Hitler, so purchased 2 crates of Angkor and some ice. With stomach a-rumbling I asked about food. ‘No problem, my mum, she make’.
Upon our arrival at the farm, the warm Angkor were put with ice and the girls left for the cooking hut to chop onions and fry some grass. It smelt good.
Myself and American dude were left with Pops and two uncles; Uncle Throaty had a tattoo of a cow skull with the word CARBON and also some form of throat cancer because ‘he drink much wine’ and Uncle Untac, so called because he ‘look like Africa man’.
Uncle Untac was tall for a Khmer with black skin and a ripped muscular body from a life of brutish labour beneath a hot sun. We liked him; he smiled a lot as the necessary compliments were made about his baby which he proudly held under one arm. I noticed a scraggly mongrel slinking around the house. ‘I thought they’d eaten all the dogs’ I remarked to the dude, only half joking.
Dude (who thought the morning was thus far ‘awesome’), and I decided there was nought to do but start drinking: 8am warm Angkor – the breakfast of champions. After no more than 2 sips of the amber filth, we were both startled by the loudest yelping ever heard. Our exact thoughts were ‘that dog’s getting a proper beating for something’.
We turned. We saw. We winced. The same emaciated mongrel was now in it’s death throes. Uncle Untaccontinued smashing a bamboo pole over it’s neck, whilst still casually clutching the baby. The blooded corpse twitched as I looked into the expression on the poor animals face. It seemed to simply ask ‘WHY?’.Uncle Untac gave us a big grin and threw down the bamboo. He raised his black hand to his mouth. ‘Nyamnyam’ he said.
I gave a nervous chuckle which turned in a full scale laugh. Dude looked in horror and began laughing too. He may have muttered ‘Gnarly’. 2 tins of Angkor were rapidly drained and a fresh pair cracked.
Lesser folk may have crumbled after such a gruesome encounter, but luckily I am a sick little bastard with a fascination for the more unusual aspects of life. American dude, although visibly shocked kept on laughing, swigging beer and spluttering ‘Fucking dog…. fucking stick…..baby….fuck’. We watched on with trepidation as Uncles Untac and Throaty set to work butchering the ex-hound.
First they built a small fire of leaves and twigs, scorching as much of the mangy fur as possible. Then with water and a scrubbing brush Unky Untac went to work washing away any remaining hairs. The bald (yet still recognizable) mutt was given another scorching. Then photos of a very proud uncle were posed for – the charred creature still undoubtedly doggish in appearance.
The carcass was hacked up by Throaty and Untac, and began to resemble something more meatyish. The BBQ was lit and the fun began. We drank, we smoked, we laughed. And when the feast was prepared we ate. Everything seemed to be consumed, with Uncle Throaty rasping heatedly about his favourite part, which was purple and had tubes coming out. He seemed to enjoy it, really enjoy it.
The taste wasn’t so great and it by far not the best dog I’d eaten (I’m actually quite partial to a bit from the local restaurant). Dude was (as were we all) by now completely sloshed on beer and palm wine and happily chewing with gusto on something which may have been a canine scrotal gland.
I was brought up with manners and taught to exercise a certain etiquette when being shown hospitality. This has always been important rule throughout my life; one must be a good guest as well as a good host.
In no way am I critisising the family, either for their poverty or choice of lunch (even if there were at least a dozen chickens running about). Protein is, after all, protein and every man has to get it.
Fido didn’t die in vain, even a few kittens got to munch on some of his bones (the irony did not pass unoticed). More beer was bought (by me) and we drank into the afternoon.
As a little consolation to the hapless mutt, a drunken me and a drunken uncle Untac had a spot of arm wrestling after lunch, and then a bit of boxing. He let his guard down and I accidently gave him a punch to the nose -, too hard to be playful, not hard enough to be serious. Somewhere, up there in doggy nirvana, a tail wagged in approval.
After a bizarre day of Buddism, boozing, butchery and boxing, and with a blood alcohol level high enough to get me banned from driving for eternity in any sensible country, we wobbled back to the town.
‘Dude’- my young compatriot – remarked, ‘that was frickin’ awesome!’