Rats, bats and bar­ra­mundi on Asia’s Christ­mas ta­bles

Townsville Bulletin - - Front Page -

DOGS, bats, Ken­tucky Fried Chicken and bar­ra­mundi graced din­ner ta­bles across the Asia Pa­cific this Christ­mas, a fes­ti­val cel­e­brated with lots of cheer, and very lit­tle turkey, in this mainly non-Chris­tian re­gion.

Christ­mas Day is seen as a for­eign, West­ern fes­ti­val in many coun­tries in Asia but that doesn’t stop mil­lions of peo­ple from cook­ing up ban­quets of lo­cal food un­heard of in the West.

In In­done­sia, the world’s most pop­u­lous Mus­lim coun­try which also has a sub­stan­tial Chris­tian com­mu­nity, Christ­mas feasts in­clude del­i­ca­cies such as pork soaked in blood and dog meat.

‘‘We usu­ally hold a fam­ily gath­er­ing at our par­ents’ house or in-laws’ house af­ter Christ­mas eve mass,’’ said Er­mida Si­man­jun­tak, a Batak Chris­tian In­done­sian.

‘‘We do not ex­change gifts, we use this event more to meet and talk.’’

In the east­ern is­land of Su­lawesi, some Manado Chris­tians swear by ka­wok, or gar­den rats, cooked with chill­ies and gar­lic, and paniki, or bats, cooked in co­conut milk.

‘‘Paniki’s meat tastes al­most the same as ka­wok but it has more mus­cles,’’ said Manadonese Stephen Lapian.

‘‘But if you cut the armpit in a wrong way, it will be very stinky.’’

In Ja­pan, many peo­ple head to Ken­tucky on Christ­mas — Ken­tucky Fried Chicken, that is.

The fast food joints do a roar­ing trade over the Christ­mas pe­riod, with restau­rants turn­ing away cus­tomers on De­cem­ber 24 if they haven’t booked their chicken in ad­vance.

‘‘Over the pe­riod from 23rd to 25th De­cem­ber, sales can be as high as 10 times nor­mal lev­els,’’ said Sumeo Yokokawa, of the pub­lic re­la­tions de­part­ment at Ken­tucky Fried Chicken Ja­pan.

The Ken­tucky Christ­mas habit started in 1974, af­ter a for­eign cus­tomer men­tioned to a store man­ager that he had come to buy fried chicken be­cause he was un­able to find turkey in Ja­pan. His words in­spired a sales cam­paign that paid off. ‘‘The fash­ion at the time was to have a nice Amer­i­can-style Christ­mas,’’ said Yokokawa. ‘‘So we of­fered the chicken as a set with a bot­tle of wine and it was very pop­u­lar.’’

Chi­nese sweet ham is a pop­u­lar cen­tre­piece for Christ­mas Eve din­ner in the Philip­pines, where the af­flu­ent serve up roast pig or turkey. Filipinos pride them­selves on cel­e­brat­ing the long­est Christ­mas in the world, with dec­o­ra­tions go­ing up in Septem­ber.

Al­though Christ­mas is a nor­mal work­ing day in of­fi­cially athe­ist Com­mu­nist China, big ho­tels in Bei­jing and Shang­hai of­fer glitzy Christ­mas lunches and din­ners.

Many smaller restau­rants also get into the spirit with staff wear­ing Santa hats and win­dows dec­o­rated with tin­sel, un­think­able in Chair­man Mao Ze­dong’s time.

And if you still have room, try the re­gion’s vast ar­ray of desserts, which range from Filipino bib­ingka — an egg-based rice cake topped with grated cheese and co­conut — to a Por­tuguese-style rice and fruit cake in Bangladesh.

In Ja­pan, many fam­i­lies opt for a plain sponge cake topped with whipped cream and straw­ber­ries.

As de­li­cious as it sounds, the term ‘Christ­mas cake’ was long used to re­fer to un­mar­ried women over the age of 25, who were said to be past their best, like cakes af­ter De­cem­ber 25.

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