Turtle meat: A Balinese tradition

by Nick on January 21, 2006

by Nick | January 21st, 2006  

Turtle meat has been a part of Bainese cultural tradition for a long time. A hundred years ago when Bali’s population wasn’t 3 million, and the natural habitats weren’t damaged, it wasn’t such a problem. Nowaways catchnig turtles is banned, though is allowed for cultural purposes.

In 1937, Miguel Covarrubias sampled turtle meat and here’s his account of the proceedings.

“On the road coming from the seaport of Benua we often met men from Belaluan staggering under the weight of a giant turtle flapping its paddles helplessly in space, and then we knew they were preparing for a feast. For days before the banquet of the bandjar, four or five stupified turtles crawled under the platforms of the bale bandjar awaiting the fateful moment when, in the middle of the night, the kulkul would sound to call the men to the gruesome task of sacrificing them. A sea-turtle possesses a strange reluctance to die and for many hours after the shell is removed and the flaps and the head are severed from the body, the viscera continue to pulsate hysterically, the bloody members twitch weirdly on the ground, and the head snaps furiously. The blood of the turtle is carefully collected and thinned with lime juice to prevent coagulation. By dawn the many cooks and assistants are chopping the skin and meant with heavy chopping axes (blakes) on sections of tree trunks (talanan), are grating coconuts, fanning fires, boling or steaming great quantities of rice, or mashing spices in clay dishes (tjobek) with wooden pestles (pengulakan).

The indicated manners of preparing the turtle are the aforementioned four styles:

Lawar: skin and flesh chopped fine and mixed with spices and raw blood;
Getjok: Chopped meat with grated coconut and spices;
Urab Gadang: Same as above, but cooked in tamarind leaves (asam);
Kiman: Chopped meat and grated coconut cooked in coconut cream”

These sights are rare these days although if you are friends with a Balinese family you might get to see a similar preparation involving other meats for a big event like a wedding.

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