Saturday, March 21, 2015

2015 March 21: Buffalo Curds and Walrus Meat

I've eaten a lot things I never thought I would eat.

In Pond Inlet I ate raw seal, raw frozen char, caribou jerky, narwhal, beluga, polar bear and aged walrus. To make aged walrus, catch your walrus at the floe edge in April. Butcher it and cut it into football sized pieces. Wrap the pieces of meat in the skin and tie it shut with the intestines after squeezing out all the offal. Bury the whole thing under a big pile of rocks so that animals can't get to it. Go back to get it in October. Eat frozen.

I didn't actually want to eat aged walrus, but when you are at a community feast and one of the oldest elders in the community offers you some, it would be very rude to turn it down. Besides, he looked like he was thoroughly enjoying himself, slicing off bite sized pieces as fast as he could and just wolfing them down, smiling and nodding his head and smacking his lips. How bad could it be, right? So, when he looked at me, sliced some off the hunk in front of him, and held it out to me on the tip of his knife, and said in halting English, "You want?", I couldn't say no. After watching me swallow it practically whole, the elder held his side as he laughed so hard that tears flowed freely down his face. With a smile, he leaned towards me and said, "You want more?" "No thanks," I replied, which sent him into further gales of laughter, and which led to him telling everyone that I had tried it, and which then led to everyone else offering me little bits of everything else that was being eaten. Hence, the seal (looks like beef, tastes like fish), char (dip it into soy sauce and it ain't half bad), caribou jerky (pretty good actually), and polar bear (looks like pork, but don't eat the liver). I passed on the seal eyeball and caribou fly larvae, though.

Amber didn't care much for some of the food in Pond, but one thing she loved was char. I could not feed that girl enough of this fish that is similar to salmon in colour and taste. I took her two best friends - Heather and Amina - and her to a feast one evening, and I could not cut up the char fast enough for the three of them! Two other ladies nearby and a man next to me starting tossing the three girls char as well. They could not get enough! Word soon got around just how much she loved char, and rarely more than a few days went by without someone knocking on my door with fresh frozen char for Amber.

Another evening, my parents had come to visit from Newfoundland. When Heather and Amber learned that we were having char for supper, they ran around the house yelling, "Yay! We're having char!" in English and Inuktitut. With supper ready, I called the girls down from the bedrooms, and they eagerly ran to the table, then stopped dead in their tracks. "What's that?" they asked, as they surveyed the gorgeously baked char with lemon and onions. "It's char," I replied. And both girls ran sobbing back to the bedroom because "You ruined it! You cooked it!"

And when Amber and I moved to Ontario, there was a seafood restaurant that she loved to visit because they served char. The first time we went there, they asked how she would like it cooked. "Raw and frozen," she replied. You have never seen such a strange face made by a waiter. "Is she serious?" he asked me in disbelief. "Oh, yes," I said, "She is quite serious." Every worker in the restaurant - and not a few patrons - hovered nearby to watch her eat her raw frozen fish with absolute gusto.

When I went to China with a group of teachers as part of a course at Brock University, we ate as a group. We sat around a large round table, and the hotel restaurant just brought us about twenty or more different dishes every day. Most people tried to figure out just what each dish was before eating it, but after the first few meals, I quickly learned that you don't ask, you just eat. Chicken stomach tastes like oyster mushrooms, but chewier. Duck tongues were pretty good except you have to be careful of the bone. Chicken feet are rather rubbery, but it's the way that you eat them that can be a little off-putting: hold the claw between thumb and first finger, put the foot in your mouth, and use your teeth to strip the bone as you pull it out. I almost ate scorpions, but was put off of the idea by the girl next to me saying, "It's pretty good except the legs are stuck in my teeth."

One day I found a real treat on the table - deep-fried caplin! I took the whole dish and finished them all myself. It was such a treat to get something directly from home.

In St. Pierre I had horse steak. Enough said.

Now that I am vegetarian, I eat lots of things that I never ate before, but none so exotic as my previous meat-filled adventures. Here in Sri Lanka I am trying all sorts of fruit and vegetables that are new to me.

And buffalo curds.

When Elanor and I went on a church ladies trip a few weeks ago, one of the men who came along asked me if I had tried buffalo curds yet. I had not. For more than five minutes he extolled the virtues of buffalo curds and honey, telling me how wonderful it is and how healthy it is.

When I say buffalo I mean water buffalo.

To make buffalo curd, first milk your water buffalo. Then, bring the milk to a boil and simmer for ten minutes. Remove from heat, cover and let cool. When cool, add a little plain pure yogurt, yogurt starter, or a little leftover from a previous batch. Put into clay pots, cover and let sit for ten hours. Eat soon, or refrigerate. To eat, add a little honey or brown sugar or jaggery or palm syrup or molasses.

Buffalo curd is sold in supermarkets and road side stands throughout Sri Lanka. When buying it, buy it early in the day if it is not refrigerated, and make sure it is white, not yellow. Yellow is old; white is fresh. But, if it is not in a clay pot, it is not considered real buffalo curd! 

You can make a reasonable facsimile by using pure unflavoured Greek yogurt, instead. Don't use the North Americanized versions of yogurt, though - most of them have been tainted with gelatin, sugars, flavours and colours. Astro makes a Balkan style yogurt that would also work. It's even better if you drain off any liquid from the top so that the yogurt is a little thicker - buffalo milk has twice the fat content of cow milk. Or, if you are really ambitious, you could substitute sheep milk and make it yourself from scratch!

Like I said, I have eaten many things I never thought I would eat. Homemade water buffalo curds is one of those things that never even crossed my mind!

But, boy, it sure was yummy!