Charlie Buttrey

September 18, 2023

I play the New York Times word game Spelling Bee every day.  Yesterday, the Bee refused to accept ortolan as a word. Are you familiar with the ortolan?

It turns out that the ortolan is a small European songbird. And some people think it’s delicious.

But to prepare the ortolan, you first must force-feed it millet and other grains to fatten it up. You then drown it in Armagnac brandy.

The worst is yet to come.

Once the bird has been prepared, cooked, and served, diners traditionally hide their faces by draping a napkin or cloth over their face. They then consume the bird whole. In one bite, bones and all. All except for the beak.

The traditional view is that people use the napkin so that they can consume the entire whole bird without making a mess. But there may be another reason: selling ortolan is illegal in the United States and the European Union, including France, where the dish originated. Apparently, the rationale for making it illegal wasn’t that it was so cruel; the dish was becoming so popular that the bird’s population levels dropped precipitously. It is now listed as an endangered species.

I was thinking about following this up with a post about the Icelandic fermented shark dish called hákarl, but you’ll thank me for not doing that.

Ortolan Bunting - eBird

The Cruel Delicacy of Ortolan Bunting | Hannibal food, Weird food, Food

The Illegal French Delicacy: Ortolan | by Austin Miller | Medium

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