I've always been an adventurous eater. My parents noticed early that I had no "regular" or "usual" go-to. Instead I ask for the weirdest or newest item on the menu.
My curious palate has led my stomach to be full of stinky fruits and moldy cheeses, various parts of different insects and reptiles, bull genitalia (penis and testicles on separate occasions), things we all know should not be eaten raw, things we definitely know should not be eaten fried, and too many types of brains and eyeballs to remember.
Honestly, none of it was that bad. Surprising maybe, but edible. The only things my tongue will absolutely not allow me to revisit are different animal's milk. I don't even like cow's milk (lactose intolerant) but, can appreciate the taste. But, horse or camel? No. Never again. Foul.
Eating isn't only about taste though. Smell, and especially sight play a big role in a culinary experience. With that in mind, my absolute most intense, shocking, and confusing meal I've ever had was the fruit bat in Palau.
Really though, who needs that adjective? Fruit has nothing to do with it. I guess it makes it seem a bit nicer. "I ate fruit bat" vs. "I ate bat". Taking away that one syllable makes it so much more declarative and aggressive. When saying, "I ate fruit bat" you think, "What is a fruit bat?". When saying, "I ate bat." you think, "Ozzy Osbourne."
Maybe it's supposed to be fancy, making us carnivores feel better by explaining the diet of the flesh we're about to consume - like saying "grass-fed beef". Though just as even your most healthy cow does not produce spinach-filled fillets, this bat did not have raspberries waiting inside when I cut open it's stomach.
Yea. That's not a figurative illusion. I literally cut open the stomach. Bat is not something large enough to be served in parts of any kind. There are no "choice cuts" form which to choose. You get the whole thing. Fur, wings, teeth, and all. I'll just say that again, slower. Fur. Wings. Teeth. All.
I don't know what I was expecting but it wasn't what was put in front of me. A large bowl, half an inch of an onion broth, with an entire bat staring up at me. I stared back, presumably in shock, and didn't move or say anything.
The lovely waitress realized my hesitance and asked if all was okay. I wanted to say, "um not really, there is a bat staring at me with it's incisor-only smile!" But that would have been embarassing as I had ordered the thing, so I just asked innocently, "Do I eat the fur?"
Obviously feeling for how incredibly out of my league I was, the waitress simply shook her head, "no" and asked, "may I?" as she grabbed my fork and knife. What followed only added to the surreal restaurant experience, as I was (again, literally) fed by the waitress, each small bat bite at a time, as she expertly carved up the creature.
There weren't many other patrons in the restaurant (and I was the only brave soul eating bat), so me monopolizing her time seemed acceptable and I seem to remember talking and laughing throughout, but mostly I just tried to avoid that toothy gaze in front of me. It was unclear what bite would come next, what she would give me to eat, what all the little brownish-grey tubes and slices even were. None of them were particularly tasty. It's clearly eaten now more for the novelty. I imagine the locals looking on thinking, "we only ate that on really bad fishing days...". With each subsequent fork-full however, I became braver and braver.
By the time she had finished with the bulk of the body, I was feeling adventurous and decided to touch it. I grabbed it's little claw and pulled it to see if the wing would expand. It did, and the waitress, mistaking my look of amusement for one of prey-like hunger, said, "you can eat that too....but only the Japanese men do."
My eyes must have gleaned at the challenge and soon enough I was ingesting the wing, fruit bat wing, BAT wing! It was my favorite part! It was a weird middle-ground between rubber and leather. Neither of which is edible, so not sure why those are what come to mind, but honestly, there's nothing more fitting. It was yummy!
I guess I try and be adventurous with food because you never know what will be surprisingly tasty. It also makes life and traveling more of an experience and something to remember. I can't tell you what I had for breakfast or lunch that day, but I'll never forget that dinner. It also creates a connection to the culture you're visiting, it shows an acceptance, a willingness to take a walk in their shoes (mouth?). Some strange foods I've even come to really enjoy: goat's head is one of my favorite dishes. You get such a variety of meats with it!
Every country, every culture, every person has a relationship with food. We all share that. How we do it is the small difference that makes the similarity more appreciated.
After the bat, I got some tea for dessert and left a big tip for the waitress, thanking her for hand-feeding me. Then I walked out into the world changed – with bat guts in my gut.
That is one experience I will never forget about Palau.
Do you have any food experiences that you'd like to share from your travels? I'd like to hear. Feel free to share below in the comments section.