Urban crocodile

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HUMANS are arguably the world’s most successful predator, occupying a space atop the food chain. On this pedestal, we have been made free to consume every type of animal there is.

In the wild, of course, it’s a different story. The savannah has the lion, the seas have the shark, and in the swamps and marshlands, the crocodile rules the roost, feasting on their kill.

The innocuously named Urban Café, found in many Wilcon Depot branches around the city, gives you a taste of what it is to be a real apex predator — imagine feasting on the king of the swamps, solidifying your place in nature — and at affordable prices too: a steak costs about P250, though a steak was not available during BusinessWorld’s tasting at the Libis branch, because the crocodiles bred for the purpose had not yielded tails big enough for the steak.

Rest assured that the crocodiles have not been caught in the wild, and have been instead been bred in a farm, thus ensuring their sustainability, and are all compliant with environmental and food regulations. Winnie Arceo, Operations Manager for Urban Café and its sister, Hero Deli (which sells the crocodile meat as sausages and other deli meats) says that the crocodile meats are byproducts of the very lucrative crocodile leather industry.

Okay, so that might raise some eyebrows, but a report from the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) says, “The sustainable use of crocodile skins is highly responsible and one of the greatest conservation success stories on Earth.” The report argues that farming actually helps in conserving species, because the animals are cared for thanks to their economic value in places where they would normally be seen as a danger or a nuisance.

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Anyway, back to the food. BusinessWorld had the Salisbury steak, almost comforting with the gravy laced with black pepper, and had an excellent, silky texture, removing all the toughness associated with the reptile. Meanwhile, the crocodile sisig was very fragrant and had a robust, solid taste — by this I mean that the flavor, akin to pork, perhaps, was assertive, but never overpowering.

Ms. Arceo agrees, saying that in her experience, the meat tastes either like pork or chicken. “It depends on the dish that you’re cooking,” she said. “The beauty of croc meat is, it can easily blend with any dish that you would prepare.”

She also points to the health benefits of crocodile meat: literally as she pointed at the Urban Café signage where bullet points listing the health benefits are printed. “Croc meat is a good source of protein. The fat of crocodiles are rich in Omega 3, 6, and 9, which is good for the heart. Low cholesterol, low calories,” she said. Traditional Chinese medicine also believes that crocodile meat can be used for respiratory ailments and as an aphrodisiac.

Asked about why crocodile meat can still be seen as taboo, Ms. Arceo said, “It’s our culture. In Pampanga, they eat crickets… to them, it’s okay. In more urbanized places, it’s just beef, pork, chicken. I think it’s a lack of knowledge about the quality of meat alternatives.”

Urban Café can be found at the Wilcon branches in Pasong Tamo, Quirino Ave., Antipolo, Commonwealth, Alabang-Zapote Road, Alabang Filinvest, Balintawak, and Libis. — Joseph L. Garcia

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