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Oct 11, 2008

Eating Fruit Bat Soup

fruit bat soup
I recently spent a week with a group of travel journalists in Palau, an island nation in Micronesia known for its sensational diving, gorgeous scenery, and bountiful adventures both soft and xtreme. You can read all about our trip here, and in a few days I’ll have a page devoted to Palau (with plenty of photos) on my travel website.

But right now, this being a culinary blog and all, I want to tell you about the xtreme food adventure I had on Palau while dining at the five-star Palau Pacific Resort. Our gracious host—having learned that we were all wildly curious about Palau’s most famous culinary delicacy—had arranged to satisfy our inquiring journalistic minds with a dish not ordinarily on the menu. After a pleasant round of drinks, the wait staff suddenly arrived en masse carrying steaming bowls of soup, which they placed gently before us.

Yeah, you got it: Fruit Bat Soup.

These little bats live in heavily-forested areas of Palau, residing at the top of trees. They eat wild fruits, nectar, and flowers, pollinating plants and widely distributing seeds in the process. Fruit bats spend most of their lives upside-down, or so it seems to us; they eat, sleep, and even give birth suspended downward from tree branches. Palau’s fruit bat, a sub-species known as the olik, lives nowhere else on earth.

fruit bat
Talk about sustainable foods! Until recent times, most Palauian residents−for that matter, most island inhabitants throughout Indonesia−fed themselves with what they grew, caught, or hunted. Fruit bats have long been a traditional food in Palau, providing needed protein and nourishment. Now that a western-oriented diet has become popular, bats have become an expensive rarity. You can find Fruit Bat Soup in a couple of local restaurants, but expect to pay a premium for it. The soup is mostly ordered by intrepid foreign tourists who learned about it on Survivor: Palau.

The soup’s history and rarity didn’t make it any less discomfitting for me to gaze down and spy a slightly-furry bat wing floating around at the top of my bowl. Nothing in my adventurous life of gourmandizing had prepared me for such a sight.

But, hey, I’m game for anything…or at least I pretend to be. I picked up my spoon and dug in. You know what? It was good. Not great, I’ll admit, but good—and before you ask, the bat meat did not taste like chicken. It didn’t taste like anything I’d had before, really. It was quite gamy and oddly fragrant.

Want to try it? Below is a well-known recipe for Fruit Bat Soup that originally appeared in The New York Times Natural Foods Cookbook (Jean Hewitt, 1971). This recipe differs from what was served to us, though, in that you get the bat meat in your soup—but not the bat.

Vive la difference!

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FRUIT BAT SOUP
Serves 4

• 3 fruit bats, well washed but neither skinned nor eviscerated
• Water
• 1 Tb finely sliced fresh ginger
• 1 large onion, quartered
• Sea salt to taste
• Chopped scallions
• Soy sauce and/or coconut cream

1. Place bats in a large kettle and add water to cover. Add ginger, onion, and salt. Bring to boil and simmer 45 minutes. Strain broth into second kettle.

2. Take bats, skin them, discard skin. Remove meat from bones. Return meat and any viscera fancied to the broth. Heat.

3. Serve, liberally sprinkled with scallions and seasoned with soy sauce and/or coconut cream.
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