Not to everyone’s taste
The largest supermarket in Tomohon looks much like any other in Indonesia. Glaring neon, watchful staff, alluring labels; most products on display in the North Sulawesi hilltown are to be found in Jakarta, Surabaya or Medan.
However there are differences. For starters there’s ample choice in liquor. Cartons of canned beer at bulk prices and a bonanza of brands openly displayed, not hidden behind the check out desk so the thirsty can be scrutinized: Are you really over 21?
Whisky and brandy in hip flasks or big bottles, brands never before encountered at prices way below airport duty-free. If not to your palate the drinks double as drain cleaners, guaranteed to burn off the most stubborn stain.
Then there’s the food: Bacon and ham in large quantities mixed with other meats. If you don’t know a pork chop from a lamb cutlet, the head of a boar, preferably wild, will indicate. Should your interests turn to the exotic here are the ingredients for rat or bat stew.
Confused because the barbecued beasts look similar? The long bi-colored tails of the rats are folded and included in the presentation. The rodents are braised and skewered for sale; apparently they taste like rabbit but retain a distinct oily smell.
The nocturnal flying mammals grow plump in this part of the world. Trapped as they fly from their roosts, dewinged and singed they bare their teeth on the butcher’s slab a last moment of screeching defiance.
The so-called bat wings served at Halloween parties in the US are chicken wings served with a black sauce, but in Tomohon they are the Real McCoy.
The French have a vegetable dish called ratatouille. Here you can prepare one with meat, or make a batatouille. An academic study published last year warned that the megabats, also known as flying foxes, could become a threatened species if the slaughter continues.
Alternatively a slice of reticulated python could slither down well. These non-venomous snakes with batik-like markings can grow to 10 meters. A kilo will cost Rp 75,000 [US$ 5.50]. They are not listed as needing protection. Yet.
Unfortunately another favorite of the Minahasa bush meat trade is imperilled. The Crested Black Macaque, known locally as yaki, is on the critically endangered list. Anecdotally it is still being seen on plates, but all The Jakarta Post could find were signs warning people to protect and report traders.
By now readers will have realised that most citizens in what used to be called North Celebes are not Muslim and enjoy foods and drinks that are haram [forbidden] elsewhere. They also like dogs, which are decidedly not requiring conservation.
They trot around the church-filled city as though they own the place, tails wagging like bunting. Eyes bright, noses damp, they sniff the clear mountain air for the chance to mate or scavenge.
A sleek, fit gang is led by an aristocrat with Dalmatian ancestors; his followers include a squiffy shortlegs whose great-great grandma was probably the great-great grandchild of a terrier. The naughty nine prance through the gates of a government office intent on mischief. The security guards pay no attention.
Traffic swerves around a bitch and her suckling pups sunning on the warm asphalt. A lean and lanky pseudo-greyhound strolls into a shop for a de-flea scratching by shelves of bread. He decides when he leaves.
There are about 100,000 humans living in this city and from the noise the same number of canines. At nightfall Tomohon becomes Barkville. The upside is no caterwauling – it’s a feline-free zone.
This far north peninsula is closer to Manila than Jakarta. The culture, faiths and cuisine are radically different. A casual visitor might conclude they’ve found pooch paradise.
Restaurant menus feature the local delicacy rintek wuuk known as RW. Elsewhere in the Republic the initials stand for Rukun Warga [local community leader] so care is needed or offence could follow.
Tomohon also has a traditional market. It looks like any other except for the bush meats – and dogs, the main ingredient of RW, a spicy, tasty high-protein dish. Or so they say.
Unlike the other exotic foods which are delivered dead, the dogs arrive alive. Connoisseurs scan the cages poking the mongrels for a better look. Few oblige. One snaps, but these mutts show none of the bouncy behaviour of their free colleagues.
“They’re not pets,” says the executioner who knows a bit about other cultures’ attitudes. “In the West I’ve heard you don’t eat dogs – but these are anjing hutan.”
Forest ferals? More like kampong strays. No snarling ferocity, no challenging their captors and demanding the right to roam - as wild beasts do when trapped.
Some look sick; old scars crease their flanks, saliva soils their throats. Most pretend to sleep. Two use their ancient beguiling skills and liquid eyes to plead contact. They’ve given up being Man’s Best Friend.
Further prodding; a big hound is selected. The buyer shrugs when asked his criteria. “It’s for a feast,” he grunts as though that’s reason enough.
After being clubbed to death a gas-fired blowtorch is used to burn off the fur and roast the skin till every handsome color, tail tips and ears have gone. These are genuine hot dogs.
The consumers don’t wants throats slit. “It tastes better with the blood,” one remarks.
The bloated black carcase is weighed – 12.8 kilos. The price - Rp 35,000 a kilo. In the supermarket it’s a third more. Grubby notes to the equivalent of US $32.50 are counted. The customer shoulders the corpse and heads home.
In another section of the market a lanky cur wanders among the shoppers. No one kicks, throws stones or curses. This isn’t Java. Tomohon folk like dogs.
First published in The Jakarta Post 18 February 2016