The celebration of the Islamic holiday of Eid-ul-Adha is a reminder of whole-animal food preparation, an essential process throughout the developing world that is enjoying a renaissance in modern American dining.
Eid-ul-Adha – or Bakra Eid (Eid of the goat) as we called it – is a day on which Muslims around the world sacrifice cows and goats in remembrance of Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son for God. Growing up in Karachi, I remember trucks stopping door-to-door picking up animal skins, excited chatter about the treats we would soon enjoy, and visiting friends and family to share carefully packaged cuts of meat.
My appreciation and understanding for this tradition took on a new perspective two years ago when my grandmother visited me in Atlanta. My sister and I were discussing this crazy new food movement in the American south that used buzzwords like farm-to-table, organic, and whole-animal cuisine.
Insert grandmother Nani: “Sweetie, is that what they are really doing? Oh well, it’s good that people are now catching on to methods we have used since donkey’s years!”
Me: “Hold on, what do you mean Nani? How can you say that? We don’t eat a whole animal – like ALL of the parts!”
“No, you do, maybe you just didn’t notice. Don’t you remember Eid!?” Suddenly, I began to see my 22 years of Bakra Eid experiences from a new perspective.
Saima Ali was raised in Pakistan, and continues a Bakra Eid tradition with her family in Atlanta. Although she has lived in Atlanta for over thirty years, Ali and her family travel to a family farm Calhoun, Georgia every year to select, slaughter, prepare, and consume a cow. “I want my children to be able to know where their proteins come from, and to respect the animal they sacrifice and eat.”
Alpharetta, Georgia mother of two Mobiha Murad puts particular emphasis on the quality of meat used during the holiday. “The taste of fresh meat prepared for an Eid feast tastes like no other dish through out the year; the meat is fresh, aromatic and has a soft and subtle texture.”
Murad uses the opportunity of the whole animal to prepare classic, labor-intensive south Asian delicacies like kata kat, paya, and varieties of kababs.
Similarly, celebrated Atlanta chef Anne Quatrano has gone “meatcentric” in a special way with her two year old venture, Abattoir. Quatrano’s menu at Abattoir includes dishes made with head cheese (a terrine made from head meat and jellied stock), feet, and innards. “We use locally-raised proteins to produce high quality, affordable food.”
Explaining the origin of the local-animal concept, Quatrano notes, “We had great relationships with local farmers, butchers, and herders (by purchasing produce for her other restaurants Bacchanalia, Star Provisions, and Floataway Café); we knew the way their products are nurtured, cared for, and butchered.”
And the Abattoir experience goes beyond the dining clientele. “Using a whole animal is a spiritual experience for me and the staff here because we respect the animal that has given up its life for us to consume.”
That respect extends to the environment outside the restaurant for Kevin Ouzts, owner of The Spotted Trotter, a chic charcuterie in Kirkwood, an Atlanta neighborhood. Ouzts is a great advocate of thoughtful, environmentally conscious decisions about meat.
“As far is travel and cutting time is concerned, buying the whole animal locally streamlines the process and you then avoid wastage of both energy and non-recyclable materials used in packaging proteins or then preserving it.” Further, Ouzts buys whole animals only from local farms where animals are raised on organic feed.
Although some of Quatrano’s and Ouzts’s menu selections would be literally foreign to Nani, I think she would recognize and appreciate the care, precision, and respect that goes in to the dishes. Brain masala today, tripe ramen tomorrow.
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