Webster is quite right, biltong is lean meat, cut into strips and dried by South Africans who then eat it. He neglects to add, however, that biltong = ambrosia. This is a bold claim, but for anyone brought up on the stuff very close to the truth. My sporadic attempts at vegetarianism are always thwarted in the end by biltong; it's just too good to give up.

You're probably wondering how bits of dried, raw meat can possibly merit such praise. You really have to taste it to know, but some points about sourcing and preparation may help:

Commercial biltong (and no self-respecting mall in South Africa is without its biltong kiosk) is mostly beef, which is tolerable if salted and spiced heavily enough, although often too greasy. Ostrich is better; and best of all is venison, usually springbok or kudu. Buck meat is leaner, cleaner, better fed (no hormones or factory-produced feed and suchlike rubbish) and much, much tastier.

The preparation consists at minimum of salting; but it's not really biltong unless there's lots of coriander in the mix as well, and many families have a jealously guarded biltong recipe of their own. Drying is preferably *not* in the sun: the best biltong comes out of garages, encrusted with coriander seeds and still bearing the S-shaped bit of wire on which it was hung from the rafters. How long it's dried for is very much a matter of taste -- some like their biltong wet, others prefer it entirely dessicated.

For eating, biltong is best sliced -- it is possible to tear into the stuff with your teeth, but this method has several disadvantages: it's unsuitable for polite company, the biltong tends to disappear too quickly and you invariably end up with bits of sinew caught between your molars, which are a bugger to get rid of.

Some people pound it to a powder and then pile it on fresh bread spread with lots of butter; on some farms I have visited this counts as a healthy breakfast dish.

Biltong is made from about anything on legs - maybe even out of things that do not have legs.

The biltong shop close to one gate of Pilanesberg National Park had elephant,lion,kudu,beef,springbok,ostrich and some others (that I just can't remember).

After purchasing of everything mentioned above except for lion, a series of (highly scientific) sensoric tests took place with the following results :


 the best. Really, ambrosia.

 Tastes like air-dried chicken. Yuck !

 not as good as beef. Dog ate it.

 Greyish. Stringy. Awful. Dog refused to try.

Bil"tong (?), n. [S. African.]

Lean meat cut into strips and sun-dried.

H. R. Haggard.


© Webster 1913.

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