When I was in school I had a friend whom we lovingly called Rabbit — given her fondness for eating raw carrots for lunch. While she is still partial to enjoying her carrots uncooked, she prefers having the rest of her meal cooked. Which brings me to the question — have you ever wondered why we humans cook our food? Animals seem to get by very well without spending hours slaving over the stove to cook meals. The reason is that the process of cooking softens food, such as cellulose fibre and raw meat which can be chewed easily and digested without spending huge amounts of energy; cooking also kills harmful bacteria and other parasites.
Every once in a while we do eat raw fruits and vegetables for nutrition (and taste!) and that’s a good thing too, but only if they are fresh and have been thoroughly washed. Now to say that we can enjoy meat the same way may seem like a drastic statement. Well, not really. There exist dishes in different cuisines around the world where meat or fish is served raw.
Sashimi and sushi: One of the most well-known dishes eaten raw is sushi. It is thought that sushi is a thin slice of raw fish. That would be sashimi, which is usually eaten with soy sauce and pickled ginger. But if you put this slice of fish (or sea-food) atop sticky rice held together with seaweed, you will have in your hand a sushi.
Steak tartare: This is a meat dish made from finely chopped, minced or ground raw beef served with onions, capers, seasoning like fresh ground pepper and Worcestershire sauce and topped with a raw egg yolk. It is served with tartar sauce (which gives the dish its name). The origin of this dish is not clear — some say it originated in Mongolia. However, steak tartare is quite famous in France, Germany and the US. The Arab countries too have a version of this dish which is called kibbeh nayeh. It is made of ground lamb, bulghar wheat and spices.
Pâté: Pâté is a French word, which basically means a mixture of fat and meat. A delicacy in Europe, Pâté is a spread made from any kind of meat, fish or liver. It usually made of a finely ground meat or fish, fat, vegetables, spices and wine; however variations exist. It is usually eaten on bread for breakfast, as a snack or starter. Just as the steak tartare, the origin of pâté is unknown. However, records show that some versions of the dish were made at the time of the early Egyptians as depicted in hieroglyphics of the time.
Carpaccio: The invention of the Carpaccio lies in the realm of art. It was made first in 1950 in a restaurant called Harry’s Bar in Venice. The chef came up with a dish of finely shaved red beef served with a cream-coloured sauce. It was named Carpaccio by the owner of the bar, Giuseppe Cipriani, because the colours of the dish reminded him of paintings by the celebrated 15th century Venetian painter Vittore Carpaccio.
Ceviche: Ceviche is a very popular South American dish with each country in that continent offering its unique twist. The basic ingredient is raw fish marinated in the juice of an acidic fruit (usually lime), salt, and seasonings. The citric acid in the juice changes the texture of the fish. Ceviche is said to go back to the times of the Incas who preserved their fish with fruit juice, salt and chile peppers. When the Spanish invaded the country (Peru), they introduced the use of limes in the dish. The addition of lime alters the texture of the fish, making it firm and opaque, just as it would become if it were cooked conventionally. However, the acid does not kill bacteria and parasites as well as heat does, so it’s very important to start with the freshest, cleanest fish possible. The dish is usually served either at lunch or brunch.
The food items mentioned above are just a few examples of raw meat/fish eaten around the world. But one thing that is common to all dishes is the care taken to prepare them. By care I mean using only the best quality meat or fish which is fresh and procured from a healthy animal, which was reared in the most hygienic surroundings and that the food served is prepared in hygienic conditions with clean hands and by healthy people. Undercooked or uncooked meat may be contaminated by parasites like E coli or salmonella that can cause food poisoning which at times turn fatal.