Bizarre Dish is So Gruesome You Have to Eat it with Napkin on Your Head to ‘Hide Your Sin from God’

The world is full of strange and unusual traditions, and when it comes to dining rituals, there are some practices that are truly bizarre. One such tradition involves placing a napkin over your head while enjoying a particular dish. This practice may seem absurd and even comical, but it has a deeper meaning behind it. In this article, we will explore the origins and significance of this peculiar custom, focusing on a specific dish that requires diners to hide their heads under a napkin – the ortolan bunting.

The Enigmatic Ortolan Bunting

The ortolan bunting, also known simply as ortolan, is a tiny songbird that has become famous for its unique place in culinary history. This delicacy has been enjoyed for centuries in certain parts of the world, particularly in France. However, the process of preparing and consuming this dish is not for the faint-hearted.

The Journey of the Ortolan

The journey of the ortolan begins during their migration to Africa in autumn. These nocturnal creatures are caught in nets and kept in covered cages or boxes for approximately three weeks. This confinement confuses their body clocks and prompts them to eat excessively. The ortolan bunting is force-fed an endless supply of grains and seeds, resulting in the bird nearly tripling its original size.

A Chilling End

After the period of relentless binge-eating, the ortolan bunting meets a chilling end. The birds are drowned and marinated in Armagnac brandy, enhancing the flavor but also ending their lives. Once plucked and prepared, the ortolan is roasted for eight minutes before being served to adventurous food enthusiasts.

A Sinful Delicacy

Now comes the most peculiar part of the ortolan dining experience. Diners are expected to cover their heads with a napkin while consuming the bird. This act is said to be a way of “hiding their sin from God.” But what exactly is the sin they are trying to conceal?

Unraveling the Sinful Secrets

The sin associated with eating the ortolan bunting lies in the gruesome process of its preparation and the controversial nature of consuming a tiny songbird. The combination of force-feeding, drowning, and roasting the bird raises ethical concerns and has led to debates about animal cruelty and conservation.

An Unforgettable Bite

To fully appreciate the ortolan, diners are instructed to devour the entire bird in one bite. This act is said to enhance the flavors, allowing the savory, juicy, and tender qualities of the ortolan to be fully experienced. However, it also means biting into the bird’s tiny bones and, at times, even its beak.

Spitting Out the Unpalatable

As one can imagine, biting into bones and beaks can be quite unsettling. As a result, diners often spit out the indigestible parts of the bird, including the bones and other gnarly bits. This act of spitting out the remnants adds to the justification for hiding one’s head under a napkin.

A Napkin for Concealment

The tradition of covering one’s head with a napkin while consuming the ortolan bunting has multiple explanations. One theory suggests that hiding one’s head allows the diner to fully indulge in the dish’s decadent aromas without worrying about the judgment of others at the table. By shielding their actions, diners can focus on savoring the dish.

A Religious Connection

Another theory links the napkin tradition to a priest who was a friend of the renowned food lover and French politician, Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin. The priest is believed to have introduced the practice as a means of shielding the act of eating the ortolan, a delicacy associated with sin and excess, from the eyes of God.

Controversy and Conservation Efforts

Despite its popularity and historical significance, the ortolan bunting has faced significant controversy. The excessive hunting and consumption of these songbirds led to a significant decline in their population in France. In 1999, the French government banned ortolan hunting, but enforcement of the ban has been challenging.

Protecting the Ortolan

Recognizing the need for stricter conservation efforts, the French government implemented harsher penalties in 2007. Offenders can now face fines of up to £5,000 for hunting and cooking ortolans. Additionally, the European Union has banned the killing and cooking of these birds across its member countries.

Cultural Significance

Despite the legal restrictions, the ortolan bunting continues to hold cultural significance in France. Some argue that the ban on hunting and serving ortolans has only increased their allure, creating an underground culinary scene where the delicacy is still enjoyed by those willing to take the risk.


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