Peter Cottontail Revisited

By Dave Fox
Sleima, Malta

I didn’t want to eat the rabbit. The last time I ate rabbit, things didn’t go so well.

My previous rabbit gobbling experience had occurred back in an earlier century, in a land called France. Pierre le Cottontail came served in a Dijon mustard sauce, and was tasting delicious until I accidentally chomped down on a very non-delicious kidney.

Kidneys are not really food. They are gag-reflex-stimulators, with a squishy consistency. They like to pause near the back of your tongue as you attempt to swallow them, so that you can still taste them but are unable to spit them out.

At the time, I had thought it strange that my French rabbit would come served with kidneys. You don’t get served kidneys if you order chicken, or fish, or moose. Why did rabbit have to be any different?

Alas, it was. And good for the rabbits, I suppose, who get to exact post-mortem revenge upon anyone who would eat them. I probably deserved it. Pierre had probably been cute and fluffy once upon a time. I was a cruel, cruel bastard for eating him.

So I vowed never to eat rabbit ever again… until I arrived in Malta.

My problem in Malta was that in the harborfront town where I was staying, it was difficult to  find cuisine that was uniquely Maltese. Malta is a former British colony – and one with lots of sunshine. It is clogged with British tourists, some of whose primary travel goal seems to be to recreate their own culture in a more palatable climate. Fish and chips, and “full English breakfasts” are rampant.

I wanted to distance myself from this breed of so-called “holidaymakers.” Eating traditional Maltese rabbit seemed like one way to do so.

I procrastinated for a few days. On a walk one night into the town of St. Julian, I stumbled onto an outdoor festival where one of the street food offerings was a rabbit kebab. That was a tricky call. The sauce might help cover any kidney flavor, on the other hand, half the problem with kidneys is the consistency, and the way the kebabs were wrapped in pita bread, it would be hard to locate any of the said organs until it was too late. To be safe, I settled for chicken.

The next day at lunch, I found a pub with rabbit on the menu… but I just couldn’t do it. I went instead with “Combo Plate Number One,” — two barbecued ribs, two chicken wings, and an egg roll.

Yeah, an egg roll. It hardly seemed Maltese.

At dinner the next night, I finally did ordered the rabbit – but not without hesitation.

“Can you tell me how the rabbit’s prepared?” I asked the waitress.

“It’s stewed in a tomato sauce.”

Sounded as safe as I was going to find. Okay. It was time.

As I waited for my food, Alan spotted me and waved across the room. Alan was a widower I met the day before in my hotel bar. He came from England and spoke with working class slang. He was on holiday in Malta because his daughter had made him come. “She said I needed to get away.”

I wandered over to say hello, but when the waitress appeared with my meal, I retreated to my table.

I eyed the rabbit, steaming among the tomato sauce. Luckily, it didn’t eye me back. I poked at it carefully at first. Then I went for it. It was as delicious and tender as it had been the last time, in France. Rabbit, I remembered, tastes delicious if you can avoid the kidneys. But I was having trouble nonetheless. Visions of Easter bunnies started dancing in my head.

I couldn’t send it back. That would be rude. Besides, they had already cooked it up for me. To not eat it now would be to let the animal die in vain. My short-lived attempt at vegetarianism, maybe 12 years ago, had ended in a nutritional meltdown, and i realized I wasn’t cut out for such a diet. But since then, I’ve made a point not to waste the animals I choose to eat.

Well, except for the kidneys.

Speaking of which, my thoughts of fluffy cuteness were suddenly overcome by a disgusting discovery. It seems the Maltese, like the French, also like to serve their rabbits with kidneys. There one was, sitting on my plate, attempting to veil itself in tomato sauce.

“Oh no you don’t!” I whispered to my food.

At that moment, Alan stood up from the bar and came to see what all the fuss was about. “Are you enjoying your dinner?” he asked.

“Ummm… yes,” I said, and went back to eating more cautiously.

“Mind if I join you?”

“Not at all.”

I kept eating.

“That looks good. What is it.”

“Yeah, it’s pretty good. It’s the rabbit.”

Alan turned pale. My Cockney-speaking, former-construction-worker friend looked like he had just swallowed a kidney.

“Not your thing?” I asked.

“Oh no! I could never eat rabbit! They… they run around!”

As he said “run around,” he wiggled his fingers in a way that reminded me of Wallace from the “Wallace and Gromit” cartoons.

The image in my head morphed – from a cute, fluffy bunny to a claymation creature hopping through claymation fields, being pursued by evil farmers with pitchforks or something.

I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t eat anymore.

“Your finished?” The waitress gave me a scolding look for leaving so much food.

“I’m just not very hungry. I think it’s the heat.”

She took my plate away.

My final night in Malta, I went for dinner with four Maltese-Australians on their first visit to their parents’ native country. They were staying at my hotel.

“We’re all going to eat rabbit tonight,” they said. “It’s a Maltese specialty.”

“Yeah. I had rabbit last night,” I said. “I’m kind of in the mood for a salad.”

Published on Saturday, September 6, 2008

One Response to “Peter Cottontail Revisited”

  1. Jen
    September 11, 2008 at 8:51 AM

    My horrific experience with rabbit was in Orvieto, Italy, last year. Oh sure, it tasted good…roasted in olive oil and rosemary. But then…CRUNCH! It was those miniscule little bones that were impossible to detect in the meat. I was mortified as to how to graciously remove them from my mouth. The napkin was the chosen option, but they dropped out of the napkin so I ended up with little rabbit bones on the floor at my feet. NEVER again!
    P.S. What IS the proper etiquette for removing rabbit bones from one’s mouth in a restaurant? :-0

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