The Spanish have a saying: “Lo que no mata, engorda.”
Whatever doesn’t kill you makes you fatter.
It’s not Nietzsche, and it doesn’t have anything to do with becoming a stronger person through suffering.
It’s just one among the many Spanish proverbs about hunger (Más listo que el hambre, más largo que un día sin pan, etc) and it goes back to the days when people ate basically anything they could.
Even today, if you get a group of older Spanish people together to complain (at your local health center early in the morning, for example) they’ll inevitably start telling stories about those hungry post-war years when they were happy to eat dry bread for breakfast, an onion for lunch, and nothing for dinner.
Today, things have changed, and people are a lot pickier. But the economy isn’t doing great, inflation is cutting into our disposable income, and reducing costs is a fact of life for almost everyone.
Why not explore alternative meats?
Alternative proteins for the budget-conscious
My boxing teacher introduced me to horse meat almost a decade ago.
I had just given up on vegetarianism and was willing to try anything. Not knowing where to start, I went to my local Moroccan butcher to ask for some horse meat. He pointed me to Carnicería Ortega, just down the street from my house in Vallecas, and known as one of the oldest and best horse butchers in Madrid.
Trying the meat, I was pleasantly surprised. It tastes a lot like beef, and has a bit less fat. Contrary to what many people imagine, it’s not too tough, and it’s not gamy.
That being said, just the words “horse meat” are bound to get a reaction out of almost anyone. I should know. A (really terrible) video entitled How to Make a Hose Steak that I made years ago and posted to YouTube as a joke now has hundreds of comments, most of them obscene, and many of them suggesting that I am some sort of soulless monster who deserves a special place in hell.
Why all the fuss about horse meat?
I’m not sure.
A large hoofed mammal is a large hoofed mammal! We eat cows, why not eat horses? In many countries in Europe, they do.
Julio Ortega, whose father opened the horse butcher’s on Plaza Doctor Lozano in Puente de Vallecas in 1962, says that horse meat is more natural and just as healthy as beef.
The horses go through all the same health controls as cows, but the demand for the meat is lower, so horse farms haven’t yet been industrialized. The meat comes from a farm in Segovia, where they say that the horses are free to walk around and pasture freely.
Avoid prepackaged horse meat
With the recent scandal involving horse meat in pre-packaged foods in Great Britain, horse is in the news. As a bona fide fan, my first reaction was “What’s the big deal? Horse has never killed anybody!”
However, thinking about it a little bit more, I’m reminded of why I don’t buy anything pre-packaged if I can avoid it: you really never know what you’re getting if you buy something industrial.
Most likely, the supply chains are so long that probably nobody knows. And the law says that vendors can label something “beef” even if it has a percentage of other things in it.
If you’re buying pre-packaged meat, then, you have to accept that it could be less than natural. If you go directly to the butcher, you see him cut the meat right in front of you, and you know what you’re getting.
Of course, horses are beautiful, majestic animals.
But so are cows, and we eat them all the time.
Rather than being picky about what species your hamburger is, why not be picky about what other additives it might have, and buy something more natural?
Something cheap, nutritious and delicious that would make those Spanish grandparents proud? Something like horse meat!
Have fun, y’all.
Daniel AKA Mr Chorizo.
P.S. I originally wrote this article in 2013, on Vaya Madrid (a now-defunct lifestyle blog) but I’m republishing it with some changes now, several years later. It seems like Carnicería Ortega isn’t around anymore. And I don’t live close enough to Vallecas to go check. But there are still horse butchers around – I’ve got one a few blocks from home, in Mercado de Santa Caterina, Barcelona. Yum!
P.P.S. Why republish this after all these years? Well, because it looks like we’re going to have another economic crisis out here, and I was just remembering how much of the last crisis I spent eating horse meat. Maybe check out my article about Scenes from the Great Recession while you wait for your local horse butcher to open…
P.P.P.S. If you’re offended by this one, you’d probably also be offended by my article about bullfighting. Or about Spanish stereotypes? Or my tell-all article about my love affair with Spanish cuisine, despite being an ex-vegetarian. Have fun, and hit me up with your comments, right here…