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CHOWING DOWN, DOWN UNDER

I did not waltz with Matilda. I ate her. I admit it. I ate kangaroo. And I feel terrible. I need to get this off my chest - er, stomach. I ate kangaroo. I dipped it in sauce, bit and swallowed.

I ate kangaroo. At the time, I thought no more of it than a tourist thinks of removing his shoes inside a Japanese home. Do as the locals do. But suddenly I am overwhelmed by guilt. At least I think it's guilt. Maybe it's indigestion. Maybe it was the sight of that cartoon kangaroo on the side of a Qantas plane.

You are what you eat. I feel a sudden urge to hop.

"You did what?" an American friend said, when I told her. "How could you? With their cute little pouches? That's disgusting!"

Well. Maybe up there. But down here, kangaroos are not considered cute. They are common. They are annoying. In fact, the word the locals most use to describe them is "pest." (Of course, in America, we say the same thing about termites. We still don't swallow them.) But the kangaroo population is considered such an overflowing problem here, eating one seems patriotic.

"Try it, mate!" everyone here said. "We all do. It's no big deal." (Actually, what they said was "Troy at, mayte! W'll du! S'now baag dyall." I am translating for the Aussie-impaired.)

Anyhow, with so many people insisting that chewing Skippy was no different from dipping fries in ketchup, I said OK.

I went to a high-end Sydney restaurant named Edna's Table, where they specialized in Aussie delicacies. (My philosophy: If you're going to eat something that hops, make sure it's well cooked.)

The chef/owner at Edna's Table, a spry man named Raymond, showed me the raw kangaroo. It looked like flank steak.

"You can grill it," he said, "You can saute it. You can barbeque it."

I resisted the urge to ask if you could keep it in the fridge for a week, then throw in some mayonnaise and make kangaroo salad, which has pretty much been my approach to food since college.

"It's a bit sweeter than steak," he said. He took a sizzling piece off the grill, put it on a plate and handed it over. "G'wan."

Now, perhaps at this point, I should have felt a pang of conscience. Then again, I have been in Korea, where eating a dog is no different from eating a salad. And India, where eating a cow is considered sacrilegious.

"I know some people think we shouldn't eat the animal that's on our national emblem," Raymond admitted, "but the French have a chicken on theirs. It doesn't stop them, does it?"

I nodded. Not because I agreed with him, but because I had no idea what a national emblem was and didn't want to appear stupid. Also, since when does France have a chicken on anything?

Anyhow, there I was, with the sizzling kangaroo meat on my plate, and it was just a small piece, and it was really juicy, and I hadn't had time for lunch, and . . . I put it in my mouth.

Mea Gulpa.

Can I add something here? Later, after the kangaroo, I ate some crocodile. Raymond prepared it in a nice phylo-like wrapping, fried with vegetables in a soy-like sauce. And? And? Hello? I don't hear any of you objecting to that!

That's because eating a crocodile is sort of like pay-back. He'd do the same to you.

And not only did I eat crocodile, but I almost ate something they call a Balmain Bug, which is about 6 inches long and they say is like a crayfish.

My point is, I am a stranger in a strange land. They do not have Cap'n Crunch here. You gotta roll with the punches. You gotta go with the flow. You gotta swallow some pride - and some 'roo.

And just to show it works both ways, the other day I brought some peanut butter and jelly to these short-order cooks I've met.

"Try this," I said, smearing up a sandwich.

"Ooooohhh, noo!" they squealed, pushing their hands out. "That's disgusting!"

Which just goes to prove the old expression. One man's Skippy is another man's appetizer.

Detroit Free Press

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