A Songbird for Supper: Barbaric Practice Or Gastronomic Delight?

Kim Conte

french restaurantThere's something to be said for upholding tradition -- but not when that tradition involves capturing a tiny songbird, drowning it in brandy, roasting it, then consuming it whole, bones and all. And not when that songbird is endangered.

Savoring ortolan (as this protected bird species is called) used to be a widely practiced French food ritual; in fact, the traditional way to eat it is with one's head concealed under a napkin. But now -- given that ortolan numbers have plunged 30 per cent in the past 10 years -- the government has outlawed it. Any restaurant in France caught serving the delicacy face a fine of more than $7,500 and possible jail time for a second offense.

So, is eating ortolan as barbaric and messy as it sounds?

Not at all, swear several French gourmands including one who described it this way:

"By now it had cooled sufficiently to allow me to get the whole thing into my mouth. It was awkward, but not the struggle I had imagined. I was aware of fine bones but resisted the urge to crunch them immediately.

The reason for the napkin is becoming much more clear. Likely, these are the same people who would see nothing wrong with consuming foie gras and veal at every meal.

Still, you've got to feel for those foodies lamenting the loss of a national culinary favorite, including this one who complains, "It is part of our culture which is disappearing."

Lucky for this person -- but unlucky for the ortolan -- the dish is still served in Britain, Spain and Belgium.

Do you think eating ortolan sounds disgusting?


Image via DoctorWho/Flickr

Read More