23 March 2013

Tastes Like Pigeon

One of the side effects of having an unsatisfiable wanderlust is an insurmountable collection of sampled delicacies.

You know . . . foods that are particular to a certain region or people group . . . those special dishes you would probably never try at home . . . and are only trying because someone generously offered them to you and you really don't want to be offensive . . . or because life is an adventure and now you can say you 'did'.

When I was in high school, I thought that kimchi (spicy fermented Korean cabbage)  was the worst thing I ever tasted . . . and it still may be, come to think of it.  But it definitely hasn't been the weirdest.  I've eaten piranha eyeballs, snails, horse, locust, kangaroo, ostrich, cobra and several varieties of 'insides'--sautéed, stewed, roasted, fried, hopefully never raw . . . just to name a few.

Yesterday, I was walking back to work after our lunch break/nap time, when I passed two of the compound guards who were sitting together chatting.  They waved to me, 'Come here!'  I greeted them as I approached wondering what they wanted to chat about . . . and how we were actually going to communicate since both of them only speak Hausa and I'm still at a 2 year-old level.

One reached out his hand and offered me a chunk of roasted meat.

'What's this?' I asked.

'It's your bird' he said.

'MY WHAT?' (cause I still don't know the Hausa word for bird, nor any of the names of the birds.)

'Your ---' he started to flap his hands and chirp . . . cause he's fluent in charades as well.

'MY WHAT?!?!?' I asked again, this time nervous that they had killed ANOTHER one of my baby owls and eaten him for lunch.

'Your ---' and he flapped again.

'MY OWL?!?!?!'  (okay, so really I said 'my baby boy' because since I still can't pronounce 'owl' in Hausa, the guards have graciously improvised by calling them my babies . . . that, and because a girl my age shouldn't have all her eggs wasted.)

'NO!!!  Not your baby boy!  Your other bird.'

I was confused.  There are two remaining baby owls still coming and going from the nest on my porch, but as far as I knew, they were the only wild creatures growing up in my home.

'What bird?'

'The one from your roof.'

'THE BABIES?' I asked again, trying to hold off my sorrow of another poached little owl.

'NO! Déborah, not the owls!  The other ones . . . that sleep up on the roofs!'

'OH!!  THE PIGEONS!!!!!'  (I actually think I called them 'The Owners of My Dislike Who Dance Above the House')

'Yeah!' he said, offering again the roasted meat.

'This is the pigeon?' I asked.

They nodded, too polite to say 'why else would we have taken all this time to try to communicate with you?'

'You cooked it and now you're giving me some?' I asked, hoping that they might renege on their gift.

'Last time, when we ate the owl, you said since he was at your house, if we kill another one, we should bring you a taste.  So, here you go.'  (or, at least that's what I think he said . . . cause again, my Hausa is still LOUSY!)

I understand enough about Nigerien culture to know that it is rude to refuse an offer of food from someone who is in one of your spheres-of-life . . . I didn't have to eat all of it, but I needed to have at least a little.

Being a native NewYorker, I know a lot about pigeons . . . they are dirty . . . they poop all over the sidewalk . . . they drink out of public fountains . . . and they divebomb taxis.  I was taught at a young age that pigeons are the pond scum of birds.  And now I was going to eat one.

I pulled off a little morsel and dropped it down the hatch.

It was dry and a little bit gamey . . . not much flavor . . . but overall, not that bad.  I tried a little more as they cheered me on.

Unsure how to go about not finishing it, I went over to a cluster of other expatriates and offered to share my gastronomic-adventure-in-the-making.  Much to my delight and surprise, most accepted.

So, there you have it, short-story-long . . . I've officially tasted pigeon.


elisabeth barnett said...

When I was at missionary training college in the UK our directory kept fowl, and we could do a practical course with him. When in Nigeria he bred pigeons an referred to the pigeon house as his deep freeze. In our part of France all the big houses had colombier for breeding pigeon. One young pigeon per person. In Uk pigeon pie was common particularly during meat rashning. Once they start breeding ghey are pretty prolific, like rabbits. Elisabeth

Deb. said...

How interesting, Elisabeth, that it was a part of your training! I'm hearing from a lot of people that pigeons are commonly eaten all of the world . . . but I think I'm most surprised to put the UK and France on that list now. So interesting! (hope you are well!)