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From the Circus to Your Stomach

If you're looking for lion or tiger meat, we know a guy.

by David Murrieta
Apr 5 2012, 12:50pm

Illustration by Sam Taylor

If you want to buy exotic meat in Mexico City (and really, why wouldn’t you?) get yourself to the middle of the San Juan market and find El Gran Cazador (The Great Hunter) butcher shop. Adventurous carnivores make the pilgrimage every day, in search of every meaty bounty provided by God: boar, crocodile, deer, armadillo, buffalo, insects, ostrich, rabbit, goat, and frozen medallions of lion.

According to Fernando, the owner, all the meat (even the insects) he sells are certified and approved by the Mexican equivalent of the FDA. Though a widely held belief persists that people breed lions and tigers to sell their meat illegally on the black market, most of Fernando’s flesh actually comes from felines who die while performing in circuses and state fairs. In addition, some exotic pets grow too big to fit in the backyard and end up on the dinner table.

Fernando told us the story of a circus giraffe that broke its neck traveling on a train and had to be put down. The circus sold the dead animal for $80,000 to the market’s butchers, and Fernando chopped it up and sold tasty giraffe steaks by the pound. On another occasion, a zoo owner showed up with a dead hippo, and the butchers at the San Juan market jumped at the chance to sell meat enthusiasts a once-in-a-lifetime barbecue opportunity.

But the average Joe can’t just walk up at any time of day and grab a lion rump roast. You have to be willing to pay around $40 a pound, and you have to wait on suppliers who show up four times a year at most. But it’s worth it when you get to sink your teeth into a lion, which is way better than the other way around.


As far we know, there is only one guy in Mexico City who can cook your medallions properly: Don Fortino, the chef at Fonda Don Chon—a restaurant specializing in exotic meats, insects, and precolonial food. He’s been in the business for more than 50 years. We visited the man and asked him to share his wisdom. This is the recipe he gave us:

• 1 pound of lion meat
• 1 finely sliced onion
• 2 garlic cloves
• 2 parsley branches
• Salt & pepper

Fry the onion and garlic in olive oil. When they begin to turn yellow, drop the lion medallions in the pan. Add parsley, salt, and pepper. Cook until mildly broiled. Serve with salad and mashed potatoes. Enjoy!

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