One of the many great things about travelling to the more remote parts of the World, is the opportunity to sample the local cuisine. One may argue that you need never leave London, because its wonderful multi-cultural way of life means that you can get a spicy Indian curry, a salsa-laden Mexican fajita and a rather humble cheese sandwich all in the same short stretch of road. But nothing beats actually being in the country of origin.
Wallace ate a great many weird-and-wonderful things during his travels in the Malay Archipelago, and he often writes with great enthusiasm about his culinary experiences. Whilst in Sulawesi (Celebes) he was invited to the house of a chief. He writes:
“The dinner was excellent. Fowls cooked in various ways, wild pig roasted, stewed and fried, a fricassee of bats, potatoes, rice and other vegetables, all served on good china, with finger glasses and fine napkins, and abundance of good claret and beer, seemed to me rather curious at the table of a native chief on the mountains of Celebes”.
All seems unremarkable in this description, until you spot the ‘fricassee of bats’! This is not something you would encounter in the suburbs of Merton, for sure. Well - maybe you would encounter the ‘fricassee’ bit, which is chopped meat stewed in gravy. Clearly, I don’t come from a posh background, as I call stewed meat, stewed meat - not fricassee...
Of course, being a game type of chap, and wanting to experience as much as he could of Wallace’s travels, Bill Bailey accepted an offer to try this local ‘delicacy’. So we travelled up the road from the lodge where we were staying, to a traditional sturdily-built thatched wooden house. A small fire was constructed in the nicely-swept dirt backyard, and a spicy ‘gravy’ of coconut milk, spices and chillies was prepared in a large metal pot, before the unfortunate bat (which are sold in the local markets) was popped in. After being simmered for 20 minutes or so, the bat was ready.
Fricassee of bat being cooked
Bat is considered by the locals to taste very much like rat, but given that this flavor ‘benchmark’ is unfamiliar to most Europeans, one needed to sample the bat in person. Bill manfully ate a decent sized portion. Chewing on the wing membrane, Bill remarked that it was like eating a musty old umbrella - yum! Being one to try most things at least once, I decided to try the bat too. It wasn’t as bad as I imagined it to be - it tasted very much like ostrich. However, given that this comparison might also be fairly useless, as not everyone has eaten that beast either, I will describe it as a cross between chicken (doesn’t everything taste of chicken?) and liver. I have to say that I was glad not to have to eat my way through the entire dish!
Bill eating the fricassee
The species of fruit bat which Bill ate is a common and geographically very widespread one. For a recent article on the ethics of eating such things see http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/sep/18/can-rat-on-menu-why-not