A village fete, French summer in the mid-1980’s. It’s baking hot, I’m 9, and I’m starving. Mum is holding my hand and somehow juggling my baby brother on her hip, and we are looking for something – anything to eat.
Unfurling through the crush of sweaty adults and sticky children, the tantalizing smell of charcoal and bbqed meat reaches my tender nostrils. It smells like Australia, like home, and I’m sold.
“Mum” — I say. “Mum, that smells good. I want that”. We press through the crowd and find a small family group gathered around a roasting pit, carving thick slices of charred meat, juicy and brown, and pressing them into warm flat-breads.
Mum looks nervous. These guys are Romani, and through France as well as through the rest of Europe, unfortunately don’t have the best reputation, particularly in a market setting.
“Are you sure?”, she asks me. “Yes”. “Certain?” “Yes”. Mum shrugs and nods towards the matriarch of the group, who hands me a sweaty paper parcel, inside which is nestled the kebab.
Strangely enough, even though I know she is also hungry, she doesn’t buy herself one.
We walk away and find a quiet spot to sit and eat. As I unwrap the roll and take a big bite, something doesn’t seem entirely right. The texture of the meat is odd, and has a strong aroma. I take another bite, chewing thoughtfully.
“What do you think?” asks Mum. I’m a notoriously fussy eater, so this is a question I hear often. I pause, bite, chew and answer. “I dunno, maybe it tastes a bit funny.”
I don’t finish the kebab, discarded no doubt into a pile of empty soda cups and similar greasy paper napkins.
As we bounce along the dusty roads on our drive home, I’m asked again about the kebab. How did it taste? What did I think of it? Did I like it?
“Well,” says Mum, “you ought to know it was horse meat”. She turns around grinning.