Meat. Man’s real best friend. Something I’ve likely eaten way too much of after moving to South Africa. I’ve counted and in the last 15 months living in SA, I’ve eaten at least 60 chickens JUST at Nandos. Throw in my bi-weekly visit to steakhouses where I maul throw half kilo steaks, and I’ve done some serious work here. South Africa is the place for meat lovers that want delicious meat at cheap prices (~15$ for a 400g steak). But there’s so much more than just chicken, pork, and beef in this part of the world. Game meats. All those different animals I’ve seen from a safari vehicle can be consumed too, and I’ve done just that, consuming my through as much of Africa’s game as possible.
I’m of the “I’ll try anything once” approach to food. If I don’t like it, I won’t eat it again but how will I ever know without at least giving it a chance? That’s preciously the attitude to have in South Africa as a diet of beef, chicken, and pork, can quickly be supplemented by ostrich, kudu, and springbok! Hell, if someone put a medium rare lion steak in front of me, I wouldn’t think twice about all the times I watched The Lion King as a kid and would chow down immediately.
Most of the game I’ve eaten is not only delicious but incredibly leaner and healthier than beef.
Where to eat game meat?
The locals love their game meat so game meat is easily found at restaurants all around South Africa and in grocery stores. That’s not to say South Africans are out spear hunting their food, game is not eaten every day as people here stick to the usual beef, chicken, pork, lamb. For the more adventurous, there are numerous places in South Africa where one can hunt for game (for a fee), and naturally eat them afterwards.
The Carnivore restaurant in Johannesburg and Nairobi is the best spot to sample as much game as possible. With a Brazilian churrascarria style buffet, one can eat as many Pumbaas as they can handle. I’ve been here three times now and I’ve chowed on Impala, Kudu, Crocodile, Giraffe, Zebra, springbok, and many more. For the more adventurous types, there are many private game reserves where hunting is allowed (and naturally, eating them afterwards).
So without further ado, I present to you all the types of animals I’ve consumed. Don’t worry, there are no endangered animals on this list (that I know of) so I have not tried any rhino meat yet. This will really test my repertoire of synonyms for describing food. For the most part, all wild game meats are lean (much leaner than beef) and while they do have their unique tastes, a lot of it depends on how good the cook is preparing the meat.
For all the vegetarians reading this, you’ve already ready this far so clearly you’re interested in what these meats are all about!
The Game Meats Contenders
Starting with something simple, Ostrich is readily available in Africa, as well as back home in the US. It’s also the leanest alternative to Beef and tastes amazing (with minimal gaminess). I’ve had this meat countless times in SA. It also costs nothing more than a beef steak but you know you’re eating a much healthier meal.
Ostrich is readily available at the restaurants in South Africa but Oudtshoorn is likely where all Ostrich connoisseurs should go as this town has the largest ostrich farms in the world which of course means delicious ostrich steaks all day.
I had not a clue what this animal was but when I went to a Hazel’s restaurant near the Addo Elephant Park that specialized in game meats, and this was a special for the night. It’s a pretty commonly known animal to the South Africans but I had never heard of it before. So I did what any person would do in this situation and proceeded to google image the animal. I looked through some pictures, and told the waiter, “ya what the hell let’s eat it”
After watching the migration in Kenya, it’s clear there there are absolutely no shortages of these animals so eat away I will. The meat is tender and extremely flavorful. It has that faint gamey taste to it, just enough to let me know it was there but not enough to put me off. Prepared right, Wildebeest reminds me of Kudu a bit and it’s no wonder the lions’ favorite time of year is August/September when these guys are in full migration mode with hundreds of thousands of them migrating from the Serengeti to the Masai Mara.
Readily available at most restaurants, this is one of the most popular game meats in the country. This is one of my favorites as it is amazingly tender, juicy, and just the right amount of gameyness. Good biltong can be made out of this meat as well.
Giraffe meat is not commonly found as it is a bit controversial. I wasn’t a huge fan of the meat as it reminded me more of horse meat. It was chewy, and tough but it packed a unique flavor to it. It is more tender than zebra and if I had to pick between the two, it would be giraffe. It was more of a novelty item, check it off the list type of thing and that is exactly what I did.
The “tastes like chicken” saying legitimately applies to crocodile. Croc is a white meat and somewhere in between chicken and pork. There’s not much flavor in croc meat but it goes damn good with peri sauce (what doesn’t?). Also this meat must be eaten fresh otherwise it dries up quickly and loses all its texture and taste. Probably why I’ve never seen any crocodile biltong.
Another antelope that is incredibly tender and juicy. They have it frequently at the Carnivore. I found impala to be more tough than the similar springbok however. Like most of the game meats I’ve had, medium rare is the way to go.
Springbok is the national animal of South Africa, and the mascot for all the national sports teams. It is also an incredibly decadent. It’s easily found throughout the country at restaurants and restaurants. It tastes somewhere between veal and beef but like all the other game meats, is a much leaner alternative to beef.
Oryx, also known as Gemsbok in South Africa is commonly found roaming the dunes and plains of Namibia. On my trip to Namibia, I ate this meat numerous times and it’s one of my favorites. The meat tastes quite similar to beef but obviously leaner and just as juicy and succulent. It has less of a “wild” test to it than say kudu. The best place to eat this I found was in Namibia, where Oryx are more commonly found.
I’m a big fan of anything pork and warthog is like the tastier cousin of pork. The meat is tender and juicy like pork but leaner and with a side of beef kick if that makes any sense. Warthog ribs are to die and they pack more flavor than their docile cousins. Lot of restaurants will list warthog as “pumbaa” which makes you think twice about eating it but hell, they could name it rack of human and I’d still chow it. The best restaurant to eat this is Boma in Victoria Falls, ZImbabwe.
Not a big fan of this one. Zebras are horses and taste like horses; the meat is extremely red, tough, gamey, and chewy making this my least favorite. Nevertheless, it is still cool to say I’ve eaten one of these black/white striped creatures.
Weighing up to 2000 pounds, this is likely the only one of the big 5 that can be eaten easily. Lions and Leopards are predators so those are a bit too exotic for most. Rhinos are extremely endangered. Elephants are abundant and a bull elephant could probably feed an entire village for a year so I’m not sure why elephant isn’t consumed more. Nevertheless, cape buffalo meat is not easily found but it tastes nearly identical to North American bison meat.