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Friday, August 7, 2015

Australians urged to develop taste for camel meat

People from the local Somali community flow in and out of the halal butcher's shop, located in Flemington, north-west of Melbourne's CBD.
Upon walking into an aroma of spices and raw meat, visitors are warmly welcomed by owner Abukar Hersi, who proudly boasts about what he describes as Australia's best-kept culinary secret.
"It's one of the best things you can have — it's a very rich meat, high in protein," he said.
"We have some Australians coming in saying 'I'd like to have a try', we've had MasterChef buy from us, so it's getting popular now.
"I think when Australians realise, we will see camel meat in every butcher and supermarket."
Mr Hersi is originally from Somalia, where his father was also a butcher.
There, those who can afford to eat camel meat and drink camel milk do so every day.
"In Somali culture the camel is everything, it's more than gold," he said.
"When you want to get married you have to give the best camels to the family. We're talking about 100 camels.
"If there is fighting or a problem, to make conversation, you give a camel."
At $12.99 per kilo, one whole camel feeds his customer base for a month.
One leg alone can weigh 70kg.
"We get the leg whole, the humps, the heart, we sell the liver, the kidney. We use the whole thing," he said.
"The shoulder is the best part, because the camel uses it less so it is softer."
Mr Hersi has just gone through his busiest period of the year, Ramadan, which is comparable to the Christmas season for most other Australian butchers.
During Islamic holy occasions, he orders an extra four camels to keep up with demand.
They are slaughtered at an abattoir in Alice Springs before being boxed and sold by a wholesaler to domestic and international markets.
More than 1 million wild camels are estimated to be roaming Australia's deserts, covering 3.3 million square kilometres.
News of camel culls in the Australian outback has driven demand from the Middle East and African countries, some of which view camel meat as a delicacy.
"People in the Middle East see Australia killing camels and cannot believe it," Mr Hersi said.
"There is a lot of interest."
Australian foodies have been dabbling in game meats such as crocodile, emu and possum for years.
But despite the huge population of this hardy humped mammal — initially brought to Australia in the 1800s by Afghan cameleers — there is a shortage of domestically-produced camel meat.
The Alice Springs abattoir has only been able to process about 200 camels in the last 12 months.
Meat exporters in the region have been calling on the government to redirect money for culling towards subsidising freight costs.
Rounding up feral camels is costly and challenging.
For the meat to be declared halal, the blood needs to be drained from the animal, which means being processed at an accredited abattoir.
Companies have in recent years been employing people from Indigenous communities to help with mustering.
The animals' wild nature means they produce a different meat to farmed camels in other parts of the world.
"These camels don't drink as much water, nobody is looking after him, and that makes the meat tougher," Mr Hersi said.
According to this second-generation butcher, Australian camel meat is best eaten after being marinated overnight in vinegar, ginger and spices and then slow-cooked.
Top city restaurants have expressed a demand for the game meat and supply cannot keep up with demand from wholesalers.
Mr Hersi is happy to let other Australians in on his secret.
He just hopes it doesn't become so trendy that it causes a hump in the price for his favourite meal.

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