The Maharashtra government’s decision to ban slaughter of oxen and bulls in the state has thrown up a beefy question: when you bought beef or ordered a dish, what did you actually eat? Bullock or buffalo meat?
Unfortunately, the answer is not very clear.
According to beef dealers, earlier, four times more bull meat was sold than buffalo, whose meat is called carabeef. The general manager at the municipal abattoir at Deonar said the ratio of bull and oxen to water buffalo was 70:30.
Mohammad Qureshi, president, Suburban Beef Dealer Association, also said around 80% of the meat was from bulls and bullocks.
But while restaurants owners disagreed, many admitted to not bothering to find out.
“We used to pick up the meat from a dealer near Crawford Market, he would say ‘bhains ka hai’ (water buffalo meat). We believed what he said,” said a restaurant in Dhobi Talao specialising in Goan food, which served its last beef dish on Saturday.
While most struggle to distinguish between the two meats, some restaurant owners and chefs said water buffalo meat can be identified, but only by experts. “Nobody was cutting bull or oxen, as they have a lifespan of eight to twelve years. My suppliers used to give me water buffalo meat, but we stopped serving even that a month ago,” said Sheikh Shafique Ahmed, owner, Baghdadi restaurant in Colaba.
Even posh restaurants seem to agree. Nitin Kulkarni, executive chef, Indigo restaurant at Apollo Bunder, Colaba, said, “We have always had water buffalo on our menu and we used nothing else.”
“But we can tell the difference by checking the quality of the meat through its colour and texture,” he added.
For those who cook beef at home, buffalo meat has always been an easier option. “I recently bought half-a-kilo of minced carabeef from a shop in Amboli for Rs90. The shop owner always asks whether I want ‘bada’, which is water buffalo. But if I ever wanted to buy bull meat, they would tell me to return the next day,” said Joy Pal, a resident of Andheri.
The confusion continues while trying to determine the number of bovines killed for meat in Mumbai. Pathan KA, deputy general manager, Deonar abattoir, said the number was more than 1,30,000. “We used to get a total of 450 animals daily (not counting holidays) for slaughter, of which roughly 300–320 were bullocks and 70–80 were buffaloes. We are expecting 200–250 buffaloes when the slaughter begins again,” he said.
The Suburban Beef Dealers Association, however, had a different number. It first said nearly 4,50,000 bulls and oxen were slaughtered annually at the Deonar abattoir – the only authorised place to slaughter animals for food — for local consumption. When they were told that the abattoir’s estimates were much lower, it said the figure was for Maharashtra.
With the beef ban now covering bullock, restaurants and beef suppliers are expecting a drastic changes in the meat market. “Even if prices go up for buffalo meat, people will pay if they really want it,” said Kulkarni.
Apart from that, the Deonar abattoir’s daily revenue of about Rs 80,000 to Rs 1 lakh is now expected to fall drastically. The abattoir, now shut because of protests, will start functioning from March 24 onwards.