Weird stuff I’ve eaten
It was one of the more disgusting experiences of my life and one which could only have been approached with the support of strong liquor to dull the palate and senses.
About 10 years ago while working as a journalist in Indonesia I spent a largely blissful week in the city of Manado, the capital of the strange, starfish-shaped island of Sulawesi.
Manado is about the closest thing to paradise on earth. It’s surrounded by pristine ocean, a haven for snorkelers and divers, populated by beautiful fish of every hue, and the air is scented with vanilla and clove from the trees that grow everywhere in this part of the spice islands. Manado, however, is let down badly by its restaurants.
Despite being one of the more affluent parts of Indonesia, the locals have devised a genuinely repulsive culinary repertoire, inspired perhaps by Dr Seuss, whereby the rat and the bat are deemed to be where it’s at when it comes to dining.
Like some sick practical joke, I’d been invited by the North Sulawesi Chamber of Commerce to a special banquet at one of “the best” local restaurants.
I found out via the unforgettable squeaks of anguish on arrival that this joint was regarded as “the best” because, unlike the lesser restaurants which bought their rats and bats in from outside, these purists went to the trouble of killing them fresh on the premises.
First up, by way of what the French call an amuse-bouche, was the rat. And not just any old rat – a big hopping rat called a babirusa which had thoughtfully had a stick of lemongrass shoved up its bum and been grilled like a kebab.
It looked like the icy pole from hell – a rat on a stick with fur and teeth and a little singed tail – and before I nibbled gingerly at it I grabbed the bottle of Johnnie Walker on the table and drained about a third of it as fast as I could.
Next up was the bat – a whole bat, stewed in an unctuous fruit-based sauce, which the chef lifted out the slurry at the table with a theatrical flourish and placed on a large serving plate, lying there with its webby wings and pushed-up nose. Sadly the bat did not taste like chicken. It tasted just as you would expect a bat to taste. That is, horrible.
The great fear at this stage was the rat and the bat would be followed by the cat – perhaps even in the hat – but they broke the rhyme and opted instead for the dog. Known locally as rintek wuuk, dog is the region’s signature dish, and happily enough it’s cooked with so much tongue-numbing chilli that you could be eating anything.
I was reminded of this night of hell following the weird story from Murwullimbah over the rat risotto row which has beset that daft “I’m a Celebrity get me Out of Here” program.
Aside from the fact that the rats were probably on a par with anything these two English contestants could get back home, it seems a bit absurd that the producers are facing charges over their actions.
Food is all about conditioning and it makes no less sense to eat a rat than it does a cow. Having said that, I would not recommend the rat on the stick or the pot with the bat or the dog with the kick, and that’s that on the dog and the bat and the rat.
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