Western cultures equate meat with beef, veal, pork, and occasionally lamb. Chinese on the other hand eat whatever protein they can get and that happens to be mostly pork, but also pending on location and religion, mutton, horse and camel.
China, an immense country with a population exceeding 1.3 billion, simply has several regional cuisines. Muslims do not eat pork and Hindus consider beef sacred, other religious sects try whatever is on offer.
Japanese eat mostly fish, and beef, Australians prefer beef to any other meat, as do Argentines.
Canadian beef consumption was more than 60 Kilograms per capita early in the 1970’s, but now it has to 26.3 kilograms for a variety of reasons – price being one, the other is immigration of various peoples who prefer lamb or goat.
Arabs prefer lamb or camel meat. Saudi Arabia is a large consumer, followed by U.A.E (Untried Arab Emirates), Kuwait and Sudan. In central and western China camel meat is consumed.
For Middle Eastern Arabs, camel meat is a delicacy, and the animal provides transportation, milk, wool, hide, meat and to beduins even much sought after shade in deserts.
Archeologists believe camels to have originated in North America 40 million years ago, and over millennia, wondered via Alaska to Asia. Eventually they found their “true” home in the Middle East. On the Sinai Peninsula, frankincense traders domesticated this good-tempered, patient and intelligent animal. It can be 180– to 210 centimeter tall at the hump, and be brown to black in color. The feet are broad, flat with leathery paws, and two toes which make walking on the sand easy.
Camels can go for five to seven days without food and/or water, and still perform well, but they use accumulated fat. They like dates, grass, wheat and oats, but can survive on thorny shrub, dried leaves, bines, seeds even “tents”,
In the Middle East, dromedary (camellus dromedarius) is common; in central Asia the bactrian (two humped) camel with shorter legs is more at home.
Camels can carry up to 450 kilograms, but more comfortably 150 – 200 kilograms, and are productive for six to eight months of the year. For the rest of the year they must rest.
Working camels have an average lifespan of 25 years, whereas wild camels enjoy a longer (40 years) time on this earth.
Camels can drink at one time up to 100 liters of water within 30 minutes. Such consumption would cause any other mammal to die, but the body structure of the desert-ship can absorb it.
The gestation period of females lasts 13 mouths, and the off springs need the attention of their mothers for five years.
The best camel meat comes from young (eight years) males, and tastes much like beef, but drier, as there is no marbling. The meat of older animals is chewy, dry and unpalatable.
Mostly the filet, rump and top butt are consumed. In Middle Eastern countries, people never buy ground meat. They prefer to select the cut and then have it ground.
Camel milk is low fat and lactose, higher in potassium, iron and vitamin C and actually more nutritious than cow’s milk.
Most Arabian camels are raised for milk in herds. Camels (live or butchered) are imported from Australia particularly to Saudi Arabia, U.A.E and Kuwait.
Fresh camel meat tastes better; frozen is tough and dry.
There was no camel in Australia up to 1840. The first dozen of camels were imported from the Canary Islands in the Atlantic Ocean and another two dozen twenty years later. Studs were set up in 1866.
The government decided to import 10–12,000 from Palestine (1860 –1907). By 1920, camels that were primarily used as beasts of burden were released into the wild and multiplied quickly in the Australian outback.
At one time they were a tourist attraction, but by 1980 feral camels had become a nuisance to farmers. Some farmers thought of slaughtering them for meat, and started looking for markets. They would not consider eating camel meat most being descendent of British stock.
Saudi Arabia proved to be a lucrative market for live camels, and now also for their meat. Slaughtering a 400-kilogram camel requires attention to detail. Stressed animals yield dark, strong smelling and unappealing meat.
In China some restaurants close to Mongolia serve overcooked, dry and unpalatable braised camel. Locals eat such dishes because they are inexpensive and affordable.
In Saudi Arabia, camel meat is more expertly prepared and palatable as the animals are young, expertly slaughtered and prepared.