March 26—A friend of ours told us that the Minahasa people of North Sulawesi eat everything but stone. And we found evidence of this fact our first day here, forty kilometers south of our touchdown in Manado.
By 7 am, the market in the mountain town of Tomohon has been bustling for hours. Preparation and sales happen simultaneously. In the vegetable sellers section, women peel the outer layers off spring onions and wash greens in worn plastic buckets. In the fish market—filled with local varieties of salmon and tuna—an old lady scales small fish with a sharpened spoon.
Tuna and needlefish stand in racks around a fire of scrapwood and paper. The smell of their slime mingles with the smoke. Sellers shout their prices to passing buyers, enticing them to their stalls. Overhead, last night’s heavy rain still drips from orange and blue tarps. Nearby, Styrofoam boxes of baby tuna from the port town of Bitung are being offloaded from a pickup truck. Two men offload them onto the back of a motorbike, which shuttles them to different stalls. Another man runs behind the bike, steadying the box.
[DO NOT READ ON IF YOU DO NOT WANT TO HEAR ABOUT DOGS, RATS, AND BATS]
It is in the meat market where our Javanese friend’s words ring true. The clop of cleavers hacking through flesh and bone resounds through the pavilion. The cement floor is matted with a black layer of fur and dried blood. Fresh blood and guts accent the blackness and my toe bumps against a dog paw.
Bats, dogs, rats, pigs and jungle hogs are on offer.
Two cages at the periphery are packed with brown-furred dogs, stuffed in so tight they are hardly able to move. Behind them, other dogs are killed with a knife to the neck. Their hair is burnt off with a blowtorch. Then they are butchered and their meat displayed on a table a few meters from the cages of live dogs. Each of the blackened, dead dogs has a grimace frozen on its face.
The wings of fruit bats are in a jumbled pile on another table. The bodies of the bats are lined up next to them, their small teeth also bared. A woman asks for five, and the seller deftly slices off their heads, flays their bellies, and extracts their intestines. “Enak sekali” (very tasty), the bat buyer assures me in response to my skeptical facial expression.
Next to the bats are forest rats spitted on a wooden stick. Behind the rat table, a man scorches the rats one at a time, while his partner scrapes the remaining hair detritus from their skin and rinses them in a murky bucket of water.
The pigs and wild hogs are the largest animals brought in whole to the market—the cows seem to be already apportioned by the time they arrive. (Though Indonesia has the largest population of Muslims in the world, here in North Sulawesi the majority of people are Christians and pork is eaten openly.) The scent of burned rat, dog, and hog hair hangs in the air.
But in the midst of all the blood and flesh, a young family gathers for breakfast behind their stall. The father cleans a stump of wood used as a butcher block and the mother unwraps rice, egg, and vegetables from brown paper. One plate is set on the butcher block. A three-year-old boy, sitting on the table and propped against his father’s leg, digs in.