Emiratis are addicted to Canada’s premier doughnut chain, Tim Horton’s. So it makes for kharmic culinary balance that Torontonians chomp a North American staple with a crazy MidEast twist: camel burgers. Casbah, a food kiosk in downtown Toronto, serves up camel burgers. “It’s very healthy, and it has no fat,” Casbah owner Dali Chehimi told CBC news.
He sources his camel meat from Whitehouse Meats in St. Lawrence Market, who ship it up from Australia (where camel culling is helping to reduce feral camel populations in the Aussie outback). Whitehouse Meats also offers camel for home consumption. It’s a staple in North Africa, the Middle East and, increasingly, parts of Europe. But in North America, camel meat has a bit of a hump to get over before going mainstream. The butchers also sell emu, musk ox, caribou and ostrich.
Camel’s being spun as a healthier alternative to beef and lamb. It boasts more protein, vitamin C and iron and less cholesterol. As for taste and textural differences, I wrestle back my gag reflex reading a review, “it’s a little chewier” than trad meats.
Exotic meats are the main attraction at another Toronto eatery, WVRST restaurant, which serves up elk, boar and kangaroo.
WVRST’s Katie Reingold says the kangaroo is a big draw. Diners meet up at the restaurant just to try it with friends: sort of nouveau competitive eating. “They have no idea what it tastes like and they’ve never heard of anyone serving kangaroo, but it’s what they want”, she told CBC news. Kangaroo meat has been described as having no similarity to either chicken, beef or pork. So does it taste like fish?
A foodie named Roy Pereira said he frequents WVRST because he loves to explore new foods. “I’ve had ostrich, wild boar, but anything that can be a pet, I draw the line.” So while Pereira won’t eat turtle meat (or, presumably, hamster, goldfish or parakeet), he has sampled deep-fried alligator.
But back to those camel burgers.
Chef Chehimi is from Tunisia. He said introducing camel onto Casbah’s North African menu was a natural, “We eat it there, mostly in stews.” This unusual entre sits comfortably on upscale restaurant menus, it’s just not routine fare for a streetcorner takeaway joint.
Very low fat content means you get your burger medium-rare. Too long on the grill and it dries out, says Chehimi. He slathers on homemade mayo, caramelized onions, and his personal hot sauce: Chehimi’s harissa is a secret medley of chilies, garlic, caraway and spices.
Camel, schmamel, says me: it’s a bit of a cheat, with those mouth-watering condiments. Slap those toppings on an old pair of Chuck Taylors, and I’d still tuck in for lunch.
Sky-high shipping costs and unpredictable delivery schedules translate to fluctuating prices, so the burgers are sold at market price. They ain’t cheap. This week BlogToronto reported them selling for ten bucks a pop.
Green Prophet’s told you about camel coffee drinks and camel candies. Camel meat is growing in popularity in the Middle East and the USA. Let us know if you’ve spotted it on menus near you.
Would you walk a mile for a camel?
Image of camel and kangaroo meats via Whitehouse Meats