In France, Horse Tartare And Carpaccio Are Galloping To A Menu Near You
"My mission is to tell the world that you can sit on your meat and eat it too”
Jean-Guillaume Dufour Restaurateur
Even as the blissfully unaware people of one nation after another have learned much to their disgust that over the past however many years they had been consuming horseburgers, horse lasagna and maybe even Kentucky Fried Horse, in France the local chefs are wondering: what's the big deal?
As BBC reports, "horse has long been enjoyed in some European countries. In Paris, fashionable chefs have actually been putting it back on their menus. So will more diners now be jumping for the horse tartare?" The French reality is that while horsemeat consumption has been declining and accounts for "just" 0.4% of all meat eaten, there are still 750 horse-butchers operating in the country, 17% of the population claim to have eaten horse at some time or another, and about 11,000 farmers continue to raise horses for the meat trade. But that may be about to change: the horsemeat renaissance is coming to a bistro near you.
And here we get a vivid reminder that one man's horsemeat, is another (French)man's delicacy. From BBC:
Coinciding with - and possibly contributing to - this stabilisation of the market is a new gastro-trend among Paris foodies.
A handful of chefs have started putting horse on their menus.
Go to Les Tontons, for example, opposite the former Paris horse
abattoir in the 15th arrondissement, and you can be served a succulent
horse tartare (raw horse with egg and seasoning).
"Of course, it is perfectly apt because the original steak
tartare was horse. The Mongol tribesmen ate their own horses and
tenderised the steak under their saddles," says owner Jean-Guillaume
Actually there is no historical evidence for this, but who wants to spoil a good story?
"My mission is to tell the world that you can sit on your meat and eat it too," he enthuses.
"Yes I know horses are pretty and friendly and so on. But cows would be, too, if we let them."
Other hip restaurants - such as Le Taxi Jaune, Le Verre Vole
and Septime - serve horse carpaccio, horse hamburgers with quail's eggs,
or straightforward horse steaks.
One chef, Bertrand Grebaut, caused a minor sensation at a recent culinary event when he carved and cooked a horse's heart - live on a big screen - in front of an audience of fellow cooks and food-writers.
"There's definitely something going on - a kind of buzz," says Dorian Nieto, food blogger, horse-meat aficionado, and author of La boucherie chevaline etait ouverte le lundi (The horse-butcher was open on Mondays), a celebration of horse-eating.
"A number of restaurateurs have told me they are checking out where to buy top-quality horsemeat. It's all about a return to old values, a kind of nostalgia. And yes it is all rather trendy and Parisian. But there's a frisson, no question about it."
Given how strongly identified France is with the practice of horse-eating, the history of l'hippophagie is actually quite short.
In the Napoleonic Wars (1803-1815) it is said that - by necessity rather than desire - French soldiers developed a certain taste for cheval.
But it was only in 1866 that horse-eating was permitted by law. Thanks to an alliance of nutritionists, social reformers and, funnily enough, animal welfare supporters, the practice was actively promoted.
The 1870-71 siege of Paris by invading Prussians was a turning-point. Many people tasted horse for the first time, as thousands of the animals were slaughtered. It turned out people quite liked it.
In the decades that followed l'hippophagie became increasingly popular, with a peak in 1911. Around this time, horses began to be imported because the French market was unable to supply enough.
Horse consumption was essentially a habit of the urban working and middle classes. Country people and the rich who had closer contact with the animals were more liable to feel qualms.
And overwhelmingly horse-eating was based in two regions - the north and around Paris.
After World War II the decline set in, and it became precipitate from the 1980s. Today, it is noticeable that most clients at boucheries chevalines are in their 60s or older, suggesting that young people find the practice difficult to stomach.
However butchers like Fabien Ouazan, who has a stall on the Cours de Vincennes market in Paris - are convinced the qualities of horsemeat will ensure its survival.
"With horsemeat, you know what you get," he says. "Other animals get fed all kinds of rubbish, but horses eat only oats, barley and hay.
"It shows in the meat. So a lot of people who are concerned about health and the quality of meat, are turning to the horse."
And another "justification":
Another argument for eating horse is suggested by Otis Lebert, chef at Le Taxi Jaune.
"A lot of horse breeds are disappearing. We no longer have any use for draught horses, for example, or the ponies that went down the mines," he says.
"So either we let these breeds die out. Or we preserve them, by eating them."
One wonders if the French will also "preserve" all the mutant wondermeat comprising what is elsewhere known as KFC with the same fervor they have demonstrated for horse. We have a feeling that once the massive recession that is headed France's way finally hits, local chefs will have ample soundbite opportunity and find many more justifications for consuming not only horse, but everything else that one can find in a restaurant in the middle of provincal China, where they too have their "justifications."