For our second break from school, we headed to Manado, which is a city on the northern tip of Sulawesi, an Indonesian island nearing the Philippines.
The Manadonese are among the most hospitable people that I have ever encountered. Specifically, they care for you with food.
Upon our arrival to Manado, Joel picked us up. Joel is the son of the family that we are staying with, and he is a distant relative of Grace’s. We started to talk about the city, and he soon informed us that, “Here in Manado, you can eat Scooby-Doo, Batman, and Tom and Jerry.”
Translation: we would have the opportunity to consume delicacies such as dog, bat, and rat.
Not willing to turn down such a challenge, we headed out in search of these new dishes. We stopped for dinner on the way home from the airport, and eagerly ordered pork, which is very difficult to come by in Jakarta, due to the largely Muslim population. After a bit of consideration, we also decided to conquer the first item on our new edible bucket-lists: dog.
I’m going to be straight with you: it’s not that good, but it’s not that bad. I didn’t like it enough to continue eating after my mandatory first bite, but it wasn’t anything gag-worthy. It was a bit mushy and quite spicy (par for the course in Manado), but not awful. I can’t tell you what it tasted like, because “spicy” was about all I got. I do, however, think that this is intentional: I’ve heard it tastes like dog food smells.
After a good night of sleep, we headed out for our first full day in the city. Though we visited a few sights, we quickly learned that tourism in Manado centers largely around food. Thanks to the wonderful natives of the area hosting us, we simply followed blindly as they led us from one place to the next, eating what they set before us. We started of with a 12 o’clock brunch, during which we sampled the traditional Manado porridge and fried banana (pisang goreng).
Around 3:00, we stopped for lunch #2, a restaurant on a mountain with a beautiful view of the city, the ocean, and Bunaken island, where we were headed the next day.
We only had a day and a half in Manado, so the mandatory “have you ever eaten…” items needed to be checked off in rapid succession. Item of choice #2: bat.
Now, having eaten “Scooby” the night before and not thinking him half bad, I was optimistic about “Batman.”
The bat came out in a bowl, broken wings sticking about with bones protruding from them. The rubbery wings were still half-stretched across, looking less-than-promising on the taste scale. Unfortunately, this was something that I had said I was going to do, and pride would not let me back down. I struggled to tear off a rubbery piece of the wing, and choked it down. It was awful! If you have ever worked out with elastic bands, you can easily relate to the texture that I was trying to chew.
A wonderful SPH family, originally from Manado, picked us up directly from the restaurant to take us to dinner. We drove for a bit, arriving in a beautiful rice field with mountains rising up as its backdrop, the sun just starting to set behind them.
It was about 5:00 by this point, and heaping plates of roasted corn (my favorite!) and the most enormous shrimp I have ever laid eyes on were set on the table. Digging in, we enjoyed the delicious food, the sunset, and the time with this wonderful family.
As we left this restaurant, it was explained to us that the corn and shrimp were simply a snack on the way to dinner! Laughing, we began to realize the truth in what we had been told about the Manadonese love for food.
Turns out, the final restaurant of the night was the nicest one in Manado, right on the ocean. We ate on a pier that jutted out over the water, under strings of lights and paper lanterns. The restaurant had its own boats that caught the all of the seafood, and a pool in which they kept it alive until we ordered it.
Although I’m not sure that I’ll be able to eat again for 3 days, it was a wonderful day full of delicious food (And bat. Not delicious.). What I will remember more, though, is the incredible hospitality that was shown to us. Not to go all mushy on you, but I really was struck by the way that people went out of their way to make this an unforgettable trip for us. It was so nice to be in the presence of families again, and enjoy the easy banter and crazy children that come along with it!