41 - Too Cool For Mas Mul? (Surakarta, Indonesia)
Stop for a cop? Engage mental flop. Never shake thy thumb at the power of dumb. Street balls and awkward calls, sassy is my way? Poor ole Nag ripped from the bag is perfect for satay.
by Mr. Nos T. O’maniac
I WASN’T AGAINST ANOTHER DAY OR TWO spent loafing in the Ku De Ta sands of Seminyak, but there was shit to do. Only so much time left on my visa. I needed to motivate and ambulate. So, I packed up my iron burro and drove west to Java, getting as far as Probolinggo on the first day. I would not exit Bali unscathed.
Had my first run-in with traffic police. Didn’t see it coming. Monkey see, monkey do… I thought. Left-hand turn on red at an intersection? Sure, but not at that intersection. Duh. Considering all I’d witnessed, I’d often wondered what it would take to garner 5-0 attention. Should I’ve known better? Maybe. I’ll admit that given the layout not turning on red made sense. The stopping point was set back from the intersecting road thus obscuring a full view until close to the actual turn. A pre-green light entry meant merging with oncoming traffic, fairly heavy traffic. Only someone familiar with the area would understand the modified “rule.” (Rules? What rules?) Obvious? No. How could it be? The rest of the island is the Wild West, but let’s infer civility here. Silly gringo.
I saw the cop standing on the corner as I slowly rounded the turn. Maybe he thought I was fucking with him. Who knows? Or he saw an easy payday. Would he have done the same with the aborigines? Dunno. A stern wave and sterner facial expression curved my path. I pulled to the side with befuddlement bleeding from my eyes. Como? I thought.
After parking, I sat on a bench next to my new friend for a chat. Sometimes it’s helpful to know a few words of the local tongue. This was not one of those times. I played stupid. I played it well. I can only speculate how often I repeated, “I don’t understand”? Fifteen times? Twenty? He edged closer and closer to writing a ticket as my IQ dropped lower and lower. Provoke enough frustration to facilitate capitulation. That was the idea. On that occasion, I succeeded. Stupid me: 1, Indonesian traffic police: 0.
On to Probolinggo.
I found a restaurant with fried frog and fried pigeon on the menu. I was in the mood for neither as I’d skipped lunch and was famished. Since they both probably taste like chicken anyway, I went with traditional fowl. I scoffed at my diminished sense of culinary adventure, but I was to make up for it very soon.
Later, I went in search of a cold beer to top off my boring dinner. Along the way, a small Indonesian man mimicked the action of grabbing my balls as he passed by. A warning? An offer? An involuntary neurological tick? Not sure. Perhaps the plumply transvestite (Cross-dresser? Transgender? Transsexual?) from Kuta beach a few mornings earlier called ahead. Either he assumed most western male tourists are gay or there’s something special about me. Could’ve been the recent haircut. I must exude the “promiscuous gay sex” vibe. Sassy.
On to Solo (Surakarta) in Central Java.
I may have skipped the frog and the pigeon, but went whole hog with the snake. The Lonely Planet mentioned a restaurant named Mas Mul serving cobra satay. I couldn’t resist, so curiosity killed the cobra.
“Restaurant” is a stretch, at least when I visited. More like a wooden food kiosk in the corner of a wide alley. A one-man operation. That one man was a grizzled fellow with a grave countenance. Had I not been led there by the LP (Lonely Planet) there ain’t no f’ing way I would’ve thought to sit down for repast in that spot. You could say it was a bit grim.
He knew the deal. White asshole wants an exotic snack? C’mon down. I didn’t have to ask. He knew I was there to eat serpent. (Also, it’s the only menu item.) On the ground near the grill sat a bag full of cobras. How many? In my estimation, somewhere between a few and a shitload. Hard to tell considering how long and tangly they are. Seeing them all coiled in a bag ball wasn’t unsettling. Not at all. I’ve read he’s upgraded to a glass tank for storage. More dramatic that way, I assume. Who can resist cobra bingo?
The chef nonchalantly put on fingerless gloves and dove in for that night’s lucky winner. Nag was not amused. In fact, he was a cantankerous fucker. Who could blame him? The chef did nothing to assuage his anger. Quite the contrary. He waved his hands melodramatically as Nag snapped and hissed like a madman. Though not addressed, I’m assuming snakes are defanged after capture but before shipment. Kind of makes you wonder where one buys a bag full of defanged cobras. Somebody out there has a seriously shit job. I had a lot of questions but the owner spoke almost zero English, so I was content to dwell in my usual cloud of ignorance.
I stood there thinking, What the hell is happening right now? I’m about to eat the poor bastard. No need to torture Nag in the interest of theatre… Jesus.
Thankfully, the show was short-lived. A butcher knife to the neck ended the festivities abruptly. Separating the head from the body isn’t acknowledged by either. Both continue undulating in unison for moments afterward. Nope, nothing unsettling there.
And then shit got for reals. The snake whisperer drained blood into a small glass, hung the carcass on a hook, and stripped off the skin as it continued to writhe and wriggle. Pieces of the spinal cord and stomach were removed and placed inside the same glass… I think. I was struggling to translate. Internal structures were ripped from the corpse and placed in the glass. That I know for sure.
Besides blood, spinal cord, and stomach, the glass also contained Red Bull. Why? My best guess is taste enhancement. Maybe it’s the tourist version? Dunno. I know cobra is a local delicacy. The blood is believed to increase virility and promote adamantine erections. Not my main motivation but I wasn’t opposed. Screw Viagra. I want to earn my erections.
The glass was placed before me. I stared. I pondered. I weighed the pros and cons. And then I down the lot…gulp. It was surprisingly palatable. I can’t say it tasted bad though I credit the Red Bull, not the blood and organs. Not saying I’d want to serve it at cotillion, but the flavor wasn’t repulsive. The battle for intestinal fortitude was purely psychological.
I quashed any hints of rebellion and moved on to the satay, grilled and marinated in soy sauce. Don’t knock cobra teriyaki until you’ve tried it. Cliché alert: It really did taste like chicken. Moot at that point as hunger wasn’t an issue. I blame all the excitement and the precautionary Italian meal I’d eaten earlier. I was afraid drinking blood and eating cobra might stifle my appetite. Imagine that? In hindsight, loading my stomach prior to grossing myself out could have backfired… big time, high five. I thanked the chef and moseyed onward, wondering if my stomach was going to continue cooperating. It did.
Still waiting for the erection.
♫ Let's get ethical, ethical. I wanna get ethical. Let's get into ethical… ♫
PETA wouldn’t be amused, nor would Peter Singer for that matter. Chopping off a cobra's head, drinking a cup of its blood mixed with stomach and spinal cord followed up with a barbecued cobra satay dinner is probably not on their list of “Ethical Ways to Spend Your Evening.” I have no defense.
Or do I?
Think consuming animal flesh is wrong? Well, then, I have no defense. I am a practicing omnivore and firmly believe meat is a nutritional powerhouse too formidable to ignore. I have nothing against vegetables but, pound for pound, they don’t hold a candle to well-managed and sustainably raised livestock. Factory farming is abhorrent. No arguments here. But I can’t swear off meat based solely on questionable farming practices.
We’re “designed” to eat meat just like lions and tigers and bears (oh my). We’ve evolved to do so and there’s ample evidence meat consumption explains our supercharged brains. The human mind requires enormous energy, up to twenty percent of total expenditure. Only in the presence of sustained nutrient-dense intake could we survive and prosper through the millennia (i.e. avoid extinction). Hunting and gathering included fruits and vegetables but nothing compared to wild game. We liked meat. We needed meat. We liked meat because we needed meat. A cheetah doesn’t have to consider its preferences. Instinct be thy guide. Why should we be any different? Are we not filthy animals? Yes, yes we are. Most animals eat animals.
So, I subscribe to the ancestral health model based on over two million years of evolution. One thing you must understand is that I couldn’t care less about where the path leads. I spent years researching and pondering and weighing the evidence. This is where I’ve landed. If vegetarianism or veganism were the ticket, I’d be all over it like white on tofu. Truly. I can’t get there. What I do think is shameful is how we discard the most nutritious animal bits. Nose to tail. That’s the way to go. If you’re going to kill animals for their meat, I think ethics demand we waste very little.
Grandma and grandpa knew what they were doing. Sure, finances may have been at play but that only strengthens the rational. Eating healthier can be cheaper, especially when you eat the shit nobody wants. It would also help if we as a society weren’t so far removed from where our food originates. Everyone should have to trace their cheeseburger to its roots before signing off. Sales of chicken nuggets would plummet, I’m sure.
I’m not an angel in this arena. I’m a sinner not a saint and far, far from perfect. I’m still on this journey and trying to get better. This brings me to the cobra. I didn’t need to eat snake. It was an experience fueled by curiosity. People do eat snake in many parts of the world. Cobras are not an endangered species and I’m sure the one I ate was “farmed” reptile. The snakes were kept in a duffle bag. Ideal? No. But I’m not certain how one would ethically house cobras slated for satay. And I was forced to confront the reality of my dinner. Nag was killed and prepared right in front of me. Most of the animal was used. I wonder how many people would eat veal if they were forced to watch a calf’s execution pre-meal. I drank the blood (Blood is highly nutritious. Just ask the Maasai of East Africa.), ate part of the organs, and consumed most of the meat. The animal died quickly with little suffering (notwithstanding the pregame warmup). If I had stalked a jungle cobra, killing and preparing it myself, would that satisfy a higher ethical standard? Dunno.
Eating cobra is not immoral in and of itself though I understand anyone who takes issue with the circumstances. Even now I am on the fence about whether I should’ve skipped dining with Nag. If you choose to disregard evolutionary biology in service of ethical ideals, I can totally understand, if not applaud, but that doesn’t change the science. (For the record, I think the ethical justification is misguided as well but respect those whose motives are pure.) The goal should be to avoid unnecessary suffering, not discount a superb source of vital nutrition. Am I an asshole? Definitely. Am I an asshole for eating cobra? Mmmmm… maybe.