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Thursday, September 8, 2011

Eat Piranhas Without Having to Catch Them: Wild Game Dinners at the Big 4

Posted By on Thu, Sep 8, 2011 at 1:45 PM

Brazilian piranha "ribs," voracious teeth not included.
  • Brazilian piranha "ribs," voracious teeth not included.

Private Wild Game Dinners

Where: The Big 4, 1075 California (at Taylor)

When: Now through November

Before settling into my job as a music/food/everything writer this summer at SF Weekly, I did something that every college student dreams of (and salivates about): go on vacation. Mine was to Peru for three weeks, four days of which I spent exploring a portion of the Amazon jungle.

Being the tourists we were, my companion and I got to do the novel, story-worthy types of things that locals do every day -- one of which was to fish for piranhas (actually "pirañas" in Spanish).

The Amazon River and its tributaries are, needless to say, unlike anything you'll find on this continent. There are so many sardines that they not infrequently jump into fishing boats -- which was, incidentally, how I caught my first Amazonian fish.

As someone allergic to fish (all of them), I wasn't the most enthusiastic fisherman at first. But the piranha is a fighter -- it demands discipline and patience in the way that, all things considered, is hugely entertaining when you're on a boat in the middle of the South American jungle.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, piranhas are notoriously difficult to catch. Our guide taught us the locals' tactic -- striking the surface of the water repeatedly with your fishing line and bait to trick the piranhas into thinking that fruit is falling from the trees.

I got the hang of the technique and actually attracted a few piranha bites, but they're tenacious little bastards -- even the one I pulled out of the water managed to wiggle off the hook before my fish-allergy-having, terrified, gringo self could bring it successfully into the boat.

Another group of tourists was luckier -- sort of. Their guide did catch one, but the piranha didn't hesitate to gouge open his finger while he was taking it off the hook. Even so, the group said it was delicious when they ate it for dinner that night.

In short, catching a piranha is a lot tougher than working up the nerve to eat one.

So if the idea of piranha or Himalayan yak or wild boar sounds tasty to you, you may want to make a reservation at The Big 4 Restaurant sometime before November. For almost 20 years, the restaurant has served up exotic game dishes for one week each year; while this year's menu hasn't yet been announced, we're guessing it'll be fairly exotic.

Reservations are for groups of 14 to 20 people, which will be seated privately in the restaurant's Central Pacific Room. Diners will be able to choose three courses from a prepared list.

For all the other juicy (and gamey) details, check out the event's website.

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Dean Schaffer

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