Warning: animal lovers may find some of the images distressing
Tis the season of good cheer to all God’s creatures, or at least that is what the Christmas card manufacturers would like us to believe. However, as you are probably aware by now, I am that nagging voice in a dark corner of the travel blogging world, reminding you that things aren’t always as nice as the travel brochures want you to think. So, I hope you have fully digested your Christmas dinner and are sitting comfortably. Let me take you to the Tomohon meat market in northern Sulawesi.
Meat markets away from our own sanitized world often do little to disguise the chain of events from an animal in a field to what eventually sits on our plate. The industry would rather disguise the process with cartoons of happy creatures only too happy to sacrifice their souls for the greater good of humanity, without us having to witness any of the gory reality. Perhaps the best example of this that I had previously seen was at the livestock market in Kashgar (Xinjiang), where live sheep stood, were then killed and butchered, minced, put into pies, cooked and then eaten by the patrons all within a few metres radius. All it lacked was an adjacent toilet to complete the food chain. Tomohon likes to go one step further in challenging the comfortable, western model and the result is more akin to having a suicide bomber detonate at the zoo.
No neatly packaged, evenly sliced portions of meat here. Erratically hacked chunks of hairy, black pig slumped next to unidentifiable piles of flesh and organs. Blank eyes in unattached faces remind us that meat was once very much a living thing. Beneath your feet the blackened accretions of years of inefficient cleaning clung grimly to cracked tiling: the health and safety inspectorate would appear to have no branch in this region. Amongst this meat fest were forms and faces unfamiliar to our meat lover’s palettes: rats impaled on sticks; bats in neat rows, mouths agape in deathly grimaces, their severed wings jumbled together on one side; huge gutted pythons in a spongy tangle.
The market isn’t just a grand butchers though. Sitting glumly in low cages were bedraggled dogs awaiting their fate. There is little doubt that they were fully aware of their imminent demise, as blood dripped from the dismembered carcasses of their former friends laying atop the cage, while a man wielding an industrial blow torch burned the hair from their skin, leaving the corpses smooth and charred. Just to complete this unholy scene a man pulled the slimy, grey entrails from the rectum of one dead dog – this delightful image having remained firmly imprinted on my brain ever since, one which you will be glad to hear I opted not to photograph.
As you can imagine, after a morning of witnessing this carnage I was feeling pretty hungry. So it was off to the local cafe for a slap up meal. It seemed only fitting to go for the rat and dog combo with rice – both cooked in a tangy sauce with garlic, ginger, chilli and tomato. (A quick assessment of the dish’s presumed popularity with readers meant I didn’t take a note of the complete recipe.) Once you have negotiated the bones, rat is a truly scrumptious meat but it should be pointed out they are sold complete with their tails so that the field rat can be distinguished from its sewer dwelling urban cousin, whose consumption may involve some health issues.
Unlike most civilised people, as my now probably rapidly diminishing circle of friends will tell you, I regard dogs as a nauseating pestilence, worthy of a place in life only one small step up from mosquitos in the “what was God thinking about” scale of things. Hence, I have absolutely no emotional issues about eating the damn things. This however did nothing to improve the taste of their firm, dark red meat which, whilst by no means disgusting , did have a hint of what I can probably only inadequately describe as a certain mustiness about it. The dish came complete with a good few lumps of the skin and its sub-layer, which are soft and rubbery, with a blander flavour more obscured by the sauce.
I had returned from the market proudly bearing a bat and a large lump of snake, for which I enlisted the help of some local ladies to cook for me. Snake (I assume some kind of python) was a fairly similar to pork but with too many bones to make it worth having as a regular meal. The, again, firm, red and slightly gamey meat of the bat was on par with the rat and the wings were a surprising treat with a texture similar to Chinese black fungus or some kinds of seaweed ie: slightly rubbery but not unpleasantly so. Apart from the dog, the other creatures had very tasty livers, (or at least some organ that tasted like them, my knowledge of wildlife biology is somewhat sketchy) which I can wholeheartedly recommend. After these delights the aquatic chicken meat of the frog I had a few days later seemed a tame option for dinner, so sticking to the more challenging end of the market, myself and fellow travel blogger Derek hunted down torpedo soup in Kuala Lumpur – this delight is in fact cow’s dick soup. The pieces of the aforementioned organ are essentially chewy lumps of cartilage. We both agreed that although we had tasted far worse we are quite glad that it came in bite size chunks rather than as a complete cock.
There were two notable absences from the market which I remain dedicated to hunting down for your delectation elsewhere: monkey and cat. The latter is regarded as a special treat for Christmas, so traders were holding back stocks for the final festive week.
Well, I hope you all had a delicious Christmas feast and trust you now have some fresh ideas for an alternative to turkey next year.
I would like to thank, or though you may wish to blame, that intrepid voyager Brad Bernard for putting me on to the wonders of Tomohon. His many wonderous adventures are detailed on his blog myWanderlist.
Please note that some animals were most definitely harmed in the making of this product.