Sunday, September 7, 2014

Exotic/Disgusting Foods and Beverages Forum--Pythons

       Obviously, to get topics for these types of blog posts, I typically deliberately seek them out, combing through the ethnic food aisles in groceries, looking up restaurants that serve exotic foods online, etc.  But sometimes, sheer luck helps me out.  While looking for public tennis courts in Albany, NY recently (futilely on that day, as it turned out), I happened to see, out of the corner of my eye, a restaurant called “Dave’s Exotic Burgers.”  A few were listed on the sign outside—kangaroo, bison, wild boar, and others.
     Well, it should surprise no one that I looked up the place online, and sure enough, it was genuine, and open for business.  The next day I convinced some coworkers to join me, and we checked it out.  I was impressed to see an extremely rare kind of meat on the menu—the python, those large, constricting snakes.  Needless to say, that’s what I ordered.
     Python refers to a snake type, of which there are twelve species, and several subspecies.  The owner didn’t know the exact kind of python I’d eaten, but he did know it came from Vietnam.  Looking it up, assuming he was correct, and that it came from a python indigenous to that country, that narrowed it down to two candidates—the Burmese python or the reticulated python.
     The Burmese python has been in the U.S. news of late, because of events in the state of Florida.  Due to either escapes from zoos or warehouses, careless and jerky owners letting too-big pet pythons go in the wild, and/or the damaging of a python breeding facility by Hurricane Andrew, enough Burmese pythons have made South Florida their home, so many so that they’ve been declared an invasive species.  Over 1300 have been caught so far.  Scientists seem divided on how big a problem this is.  Some contend that the pythons may spread to other hot weather neighboring states, and may seriously disrupt the local animal populations.  Others claim that these Florida pythons will likely die out during the next semi-cold Florida winter, and that feral pigs are a much bigger issue to Florida ecology.  Whatever the case, it still must be pretty alarming to come upon a 12-19 foot snake while hiking through the Everglades.  Especially because juveniles are talented climbers, and all ages swim well.
     The reticulated python is credited as the world’s longest snake.  Not the largest though—the green anaconda tends to be heavier.  The heaviest reliably weighed anaconda was 215 pounds, while the heaviest reticulated python was 165 pounds.  Although, I was sad, in a way, to see that the reticulated python’s lengths have been exaggerated.  The old champ, an individual named “Colossus,” was always billed as being 29 feet long.  However, scientists went back and measured his skeleton, and it turns out he was “only” 22.8 feet long.  Evidently measuring huge snakes while they’re still alive is difficult, as they don’t like being extended completely out, and judging body length on the dead snakes’ skins is problematic because they can be accidently (or intentionally) stretched by as much as 50%.  In fact, if you happen to have a living 30 foot plus snake, presenting it to the Wildlife Conservation Society in the U.S.A. will net you $50,000.  No one has come even close to getting this reward.  Like its Burmese relative, the reticulated python is a skilled swimmer, and can even cross the ocean and colonize islands.
     Also, to debunk another myth, even the largest snakes can’t actually consume an adult human being.  Snakes can temporarily dislocate their jaws and open them absurdly wide, but even so an adult’s shoulder width is too much.  A giant snake could conceivably eat a preteen or child, but I couldn’t find any authenticated examples of this.  Not to say they’re not dangerous—large constrictors have killed people.  (And even comparatively small ones occasionally kill careless pet owners.)  So suffice to say, I wouldn’t let a 20 foot snake babysit your toddler, but tales about folks winding up in a snake’s stomach are almost certainly fictional.
     But back to Dave’s.  While it was billed as being a burger, it didn’t really resemble a typical one.  Instead of the traditional, firm, disc-like shape, it was instead small, maybe one inch by a half inch separate chunks of meat, along with lettuce, tomatoes, and sauce, on the bun halves.  As usual, I made sure to try the actual python flesh alone, and unadorned, to get the more accurate assessment of the meat.  The texture was fairly chewy, but not overly so.  The taste was decent.  Not spectacular, but not unpleasant or bad, either.  In short, it was a positive dining experience, and I would both recommend it, and would try it again.  Perhaps not very often at this particular establishment, as the price was very steep--$25 for the base hamburger, and about $5 more for the special spices and sauce.  The owner did show me the raw python meat, too.  It looked rather unappetizing—a sort of sickly, pale whitish color.  But, as I said, in this case the looks were deceiving.
     Dave’s had many more exotics aside from the python, and the ones I already mentioned.  So I’ll be posting further selections from it in the future.

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