Friday, January 03, 2014

Monkey Meat

In the Eighties the main post exchange for the whole Pacific side was located at Corozal on Fort Clayton.

(The image above is well before my time, by the way, but the funny thing is that the PX really didn't look that different in 1985, something of a tribute to the way the U.S. Army tried its damndest to remain inside the Leave-It-To-Beaver-Father-Knows-Best world of the late Forties and Fifties to early Sixties that had been its heyday).
Inside it was in every way an unremarkable PX, no different from any Stateside version. Which was the idea, of course. Heaven forfend that the GI families or GIs themselves whould actually have to encounter, you know, foreigners in the foreign country they were stationed in.

Outside, however, was Panama, red in tooth and claw.

And meat.

Specifically, there always seemed to be a street vendor on the approach road with his rolling barbacoa stand and his skewers of what were universally known as monkey meat.

Nobody actually knew - at least, nobody I knew actually knew - what animal this meat originally belonged to although there was lots of pointed and imaginative speculation. The seller, when you asked him, usually claimed it was beef.

All you had to do was taste it to know that whatever the hell it was it surely wasn't beef.

Cat was a popular guess, as was iguana.

One critter that we should have probably suspected but didn't was coatimundi; there were assloads of them around Panama, they are slow and easy to catch and probably produce fairly innocuous meat.

I myself wasn't sure if it wasn't really monkey until I went to the then-Panamanian Army's "jungle school" and had actual monkey and, no, it wasn't monkey.

Whatever it was, though, was spicy and savory and went well with fried plantains and cold beer.

Which, I suppose, is really the moral of this little story if a moral you're looking for.


Brian said...

My dad was in the Canadian Navy during the Korean War. One time his destroyer was being repaired in Hong Kong and the crew lived ashore for a bit. So he amused himself in the usual ways, which included regular visits to a street vendor who sold delicious beef pies. One day he went by the corner where the vendor was and he wasn't there, asked what had happened - "oh, he was picked up for selling dog meat".

FDChief said...

When I was on the Trail I got graduation week on AT (pretty useless "training", but, whatev...). Anyway, the night before graduation all the local kids got to go home on pass and take one of their out-of-state pals with them.

The one little Korean guy took his anglo buddy home where mom and dad and the whole clan threw them a big ol' feed. The next day all the other joes gave the buddy a ginormous kidding about eating dog meat - the whole "Koreans eat dog meat" had been a running gag through the cycle - to the point where I pulled the local kid aside and asked him point blank; did you guys serve kagogi (dog) last night?

He smiled a little and said "But my mom knows that I LIKE kagogi, Drill Sergeant."