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TAMBUL, Sudan (Reuters Life!) - Bloodied chunks of raw liver from a freshly slaughtered camel may not be the idea of an appetizing breakfast for most, but for some in northern Sudan there is no better way to start the day.
In Tambul, a village of low mud and stone houses off a dirt track lined only with the occasional donkey carcass, the camel market is where raw liver aficionados gather for their weekly fix of the local delicacy.
At the crack of dawn on Saturday, Mubarak Mohammed Ahmed, 57, stood waiting by the main highway from Khartoum, hoping to hitch a ride to the market for a liver breakfast. Like many others in the area, he swears the dish offers an array of health benefits -- though some of the claims may be debatable at best.
"If I eat liver, I can stay out in the sun for a long time without feeling tired," said Ahmed, which would be nothing short of a miracle under the merciless Sudanese sun.
"It gives me a lot of energy and it improves my mood."
At her small tea shack with green walls and a few plastic chairs, Mariam Bakhit gives a large hunk of camel liver a quick rinse before mixing it with a dash of lemon, peanut sauce and diced onions in a bowl with her fingers.
"It's best if you don't wash the liver, but if you must, you should do it just once to get the most of its benefits," Bakhit said as she set out the dish with a side of chillies and lime.
Eaten directly from a communal bowl with one's fingers, the liver tastes crunchy despite its gelatin-like texture. The hint of peanut sauce and lemon do little to mask the feeling that one is, well, eating the uncooked insides of a camel.
"It's very tasty -- it's my favorite dish," said Abdullah Abdul Mahmoud, 45, as he bit into a piece at Bakhit's shop.
Enthusiasts say the key to tasty liver is its freshness -- indeed, the anticipation begins in the open field where camels are brought for slaughter just as dawn breaks over the village.
For the uninitiated, the sight can be gruesome. With the camel's severed neck beside him, a butcher in blood-stained robes sets to work slicing off the animal's outer skin. The legs and other body parts are then hacked off in a matter of seconds.
A pool of bright red blood on the ground and an assorted heap of bloodied intestines, organs and meat on a donkey cart are all that's left when the butcher's knife is still.
"I've been eating raw liver since I was born, just like my father and my grandfather before me," said Abdul Azim Ali, 50, reminisced as he watched the camel being slaughtered.
As the shiny disc of liver was pulled out from what was left of the camel's carcass and heaved onto the cart, owner Ahmed Mohammed proudly sliced off a piece and popped it in his mouth, undeterred by the blood still dripping from it.
"There's no need to cook it, because if you do it'll be as hard as stone," said Mohammed, grinning widely as he held up his blood-soaked knife.
"Some people toss it with a bit of oil on the fire but it's much better this way. When the liver is taken out of the camel it is still hot in your hands, and it's delicious."
The camel has long served as food, friend, transport and war machine in the Arab world and its liver is eaten raw in some other Middle Eastern countries as well.
Despite its local reputation as only healthy, a joint study by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Saudi Ministry of Health in 2005 documented cases of plague in a remote Saudi village from eating infected raw camel liver.
Tell that to Mohammed and he scoffs at the thought.
"I've never fallen sick from eating this," he said. "The liver is so healthy it's like taking medicine."
Editing by Paul Casciato