Bat meat still popular in parts of Indonesia, despite coronavirus fears

FILE PHOTO: A passenger wearing medical mask stands at the international arrivals terminal of I Gusti Ngurah Rai airport, following an outbreak of the new coronavirus in China, in Bali, Indonesia January 31, 2020 in this photo taken by Antara Foto. Picture taken January 31, 2020. Antara Foto/Fikri Yusuf/ via REUTERS

Bat meat is still popular in some parts of Indonesia, despite research suggesting the coronavirus spreading from China might have originated in bats before being passed on to humans.

Bats are traditionally eaten by the Minahasan people from North Sulawesi in the form of a curry-like dish called Paniki. Whole bats are used in Paniki, including the head and wings.

“It (the coronavirus) has not affected sales,” said bat seller Stenly Timbuleng at his stall in Tomohon, a city in North Sulawesi, south of the provincial capital of Manado.

“In fact… sales continue. It is always sold out.”

On an average day, Timbuleng sells 50-60 bats and during festive periods, he can sell up to 600.

“Bats are the favourite indigenous protein, particularly in North Sulawesi,” Indonesian culinary expert and author of half a dozen of cookbooks, William W. Wongso, told Reuters.

“My favourite part is the wings,” Wongso added.

Glands from the armpits and the neck of the bat are first removed to get rid of the bad smell.

It is then grilled or torched to get rid of the bat’s hairs before being chopped and cooked in a stew of herbs, spices and coconut milk.

The coronavirus is believed to have originated in a food market in the Chinese city of Wuhan that was illegally selling wildlife. Health experts think it may have originated in bats and then passed to humans, possibly via another species,

In China, the virus has killed more than 1,000 and infected more than 42,700.

There are 319 coronavirus cases in 24 countries and territories outside of China, according to the World Health Organization (WHO) and Chinese health officials.

None has been reported in Indonesia, but the outbreak has prompted many Manadonese restaurants in the capital, Jakarta, to take bats off the menu.

For Manadonese Jufry Mantak, the links between the coronavirus and his favourite dish have not put him off.

“We have not found any (coronavirus) cases in Manado. Up till now, there are still many people eating these bats. Because bats are good, especially when cooked with coconut milk.”

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