Koror- I have been living in Palau for 17 years but for all of those years, I have been avoiding the island nation’s signature delicacy —fruit bat, cooked in either water or coconut milk.
On many occasions I have joined friends at the dining table, where they enjoyed stuffing this nefarious-looking creature into their mouths. I just watched, unable to overcome my fear factor as I have always associated this winged rodent with horror movies.
The sight of its face — submerged in broth and its tongue sticking out — staring at you gave me the creeps.
But finally, I dared myself to give it a shot — in the Anthony Bourdain fashion. In May, I met some visiting friends from overseas for dinner. Because they were tourists, the host thought it was imperative to serve them Palauan cuisine.
So, bowls of fruit bat dish landed on the dining table, despite protest from my six-year-old, who kept saying “it looks like a rat.”
I eventually mustered the courage to taste it only when a Palauan friend took off the skin, decapitated the scary head and tore the meat from the bones.
The meat was tender and tasted like roasted chicken. It wasn’t as bad as I imagined. My prejudice, I later learned, was unfounded. I will try it again as long as I don’t have to look at its rat-looking face.
My friend, Pacific Note’s associate editor Ongerung Kambes Kesolei, told me that fruit bat has been a popular delicacy in Palau and Guam since time immemorial.
The bat feeds on fruits and nectar. Kambes said the intestines and everything stuffed in them, except the bones, are edible.
He explained that the fruit bats are ready for harvest and consumption when they are filled with fat. Fruit bats are hunted with air guns and flashlight at night when they are most active, flying over fruiting or flowering trees looking for food.
In the old days, they were caught with a net tied to a "Y" shaped branch. The hunter would catch them from a tree.
Fruit bats are usually served at private occasions, especially when hosting dinner for special friends. It’s actually a luxury treat.
Not everyone can host a dinner with fruit bats because they cost at least $10 a piece. They cost more at restaurants, which charge an average of $25 per serving.
Palau still has a healthy fruit bat population, mainly because not everyone on the island has the appetite for them.
Kambes observed that the fruit bat is not a staple dish for the younger generation. However, the fruit bat population is likely to be endangered if development moves into other undisturbed areas, affecting its habitat.
Fruit bats are important species in disbursing seeds all over the island as well as pollination.