Daniel Azemia was the driver from Mason’s Travel who picked us up from the airport when we arrived in the Seychelles. He was also the one who drove us to the airport when we left. I remember, chatting in the car when we first arrived, I asked him about bat curry.
You heard me right – bat curry.
My Facebook friend, Norlizah, had been in the Seychelles the week before we went and one of the things she had told me about the Seychelles was bat curry. Apparently it was a local delicacy and her husband had wanted to try it but it had to be pre-ordered so he missed it.
Anyway, that had got me thinking about bat curry and that was why I asked Daniel about it when we first arrived. Not that I wanted to eat it because I wasn’t that adventurous when it came to food – it was pure curiosity! The Seychelles fruit bat or Seychelles flying fox as they are also called, are abundant in the Seychelles and commonly eaten by the local population. They also appear on menus in local restaurants and hotels.
Today when we saw him again, I told him that they had served bat curry one night at the Chez Lamar Creole Restaurant at the Banyan Tree where we stayed.
Hubby said he would taste it and I cringed at the thought. It looked just like any ordinary curry, to be honest, but I begged him not to eat it. I just couldn’t bear the thought. And later I read this about fruit bats and was glad he didn’t try any. Apparently fruit bats are also widely hunted and consumed for health or medicinal purposes by various groups of people around the world. Protected in some countries but not others, including my own Malaysia (eeeeks!), which is home to the largest fruit bats in the world, these wild life face extinction if hunting is not stopped.
Daniel said he loved bat curry and had been eating it since he was five years old! His mum prepared it every Sunday when they were kids because his dad used to go bat hunting on Saturday nights in the old days. He and his mates would go out with their shotguns and bring home a gunny sack full of bats!
And then he gave us the full rundown of how bat curry or more elegantly, "Curried Fruit Bat" was prepared.
The Seychelles fruit bats are relatively small creatures so it was 3 to 4 bats for 2 or 3 people. The bats were first skinned, of course. They had a very strong distinct smell which came from glands situated at their throat, wings, chest and reproductive organs which first had to be removed. These glands gave the meat a very strong smell and taste. Then the meat was cut at the joints and washed, then soaked in vinegar and water. After washing again, the meat was marinated in vinegar, curry powder, garlic, ginger and spices like cloves and cinnamon. This is then placed in a sealed container and kept in the fridge overnight. The next day, it is cooked. Oil is heated in a pot then the marinated meat and all it’s marinade is added. It is sautéed for a while then covered after adding some water. Sometimes if the meat is very tough, it is cooked in a pressure cooker. Salt is added then some tamarind juice. He said it is quite a flavourful dish and you wouldn’t know it was bat curry if you weren’t told about it!
According to him, the meat of the fruit bat is very sweet because they only eat fruits and are always in the air, never on the ground.
They eat most fruits like breadfruit and papaya but their favourite has to be mangoes! They don’t actually eat the fruits but suck the juices. They would hang from their feet on a branch and grab a mango using their clawed wings. Sinking their claws into the mango, they suck it.
He said they had mango trees in their garden and they couldn’t stop the bats from eating their mangoes. They could even hear the bats sucking the mangoes at night! If disturbed, they would fly away with the mango and drop the seed from the air when they’re done. So it’s not uncommon to have mango seeds plonking to the ground, on the roof of someone’s house or on their car!
Daniel was very funny when he said, "That’s why I like to eat bats, because they eat all our fruits!" Actually fruit bats are responsible for the natural cultivation of fruits all over the islands. The are no orchards and fruit trees grow wherever their seeds travel.
Daniel then told us about Billy.
Since weapons were banned in the Seychelles, bats were caught either using nets or a line and hooks. One night when his dad was still alive, they set up a line with hooks between trees to catch some bats for Sunday lunch. The next day they found that they had caught a mother bat which had with it a baby bat. The mother succumbed to its injuries so Daniel and his family decided to keep the baby bat as a pet. They called him Billy.
Billy stayed in his own cage and became very close and friendly with Daniel and his family. He got so domesticated that they could leave him out of the cage for long periods of time and he wouldn’t go anywhere. He would often follow Daniel’s dad to town attaching himself to his hat! I could just imagine the sight.
Everybody in town knew Billy the bat.
Billy couldn’t fly because obviously he had lost the opportunity to learn naturally from his mother. He would flap his wings desperately but nothing would happen. Daniel said that Billy was also somehow not smelly like other bats. It must have had something to do with him not being able to fly. Perhaps those "smelly" glands did not develop. The family knew how much he wanted to fly but there was nothing anyone could do about it. One day, they decided to leave Billy outside all night and see what he would do.
When they woke up the next morning, Billy was gone. They looked everywhere but Billy was nowhere to be found.
Daniel said they waited days in case he returned but he never turned up. He and his family were deeply saddened by Billy’s disappearance. They concluded that he had probably been attacked and eaten by a cat or some other animal. Poor Billy. Since he couldn’t fly, he couldn’t escape his predators. But Daniel said Billy lives on in many homes around the world. His family ran a restaurant which was a favourite among tourists. They loved his mum’s cooking and they loved Billy and his antics. Many of them had taken photos of him and with him so not only does Billy live on in the memory of Daniel and his family but also all those who had his photos among their travel souvenirs. I wondered if this or this was Billy.
Certainly we were thankful to Daniel for sharing his anecdotes about fruit bats, bat hunting, bat curry and Billy. Now we too have a travel story to remember, even though we never "met" Billy.
But the question remains: who ate Billy the bat? Or did he finally learn to fly?