***This is an older story. It’s a travel story from my very first trip back home in 2001. As the collective is younger and newer to the Philippines than yours truly, I though it would be good to share a memory from when it was all new to me as well. It’s an email I wrote my friends. I was less than a month into my travels, the trip would last almost 2.5 years. I read this and I remember a younger me…
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Monday June 11, 2001
I have come to realize that the psychological aftertaste of testicle lingers far longer than the actual physical flavour… but I am getting ahead of myself. Please let me restart from the beginning of the story.
Last Thursday I attended a local fiesta in a town near of the city of Batangas, south of Manila. The fiesta tradition dates back to the Spanish when they encouraged the annual celebration of each townships patron saint. The villagers would throw a huge party, complete with parades, dancing, and, of course, gluttony.
Each household, no matter its financial position, would slaughter its finest livestock and everyone would be invited to eat. This tradition continues. In the past, as now, many would go into debt to afford to contribute to the party (which is one of the reasons the Spanish landowners encouraged the practice you see), but everyone agreed that the yearly party was well worth it.
I stayed with the aunt of my cousin (from the other side of his family) and we also shared a common aunt there from my mother’s side. On the Wednesday I went to my relatives home and witnessed, for the first time in my life, the slaughter of a fellow mammal. In this case a large, adult goat with slightly curled 10 inch horns.
I did not know what to expect—no, in truth I was expecting a very gruesome experience. I considered not visiting while the slaughter was to be done, but curiosity won out. But I did make the decision not to take photographs [*the photos used in this entry are from other places]. This may disappoint some of you, but it seemed disrespectful to the animal at the time.
At one side of the yard where the livestock was kept was a large metal cauldron of boiling water sitting over a flame. Near the flame, was the outhouse that served as the shower and toilet area for the family. The rest of the yard was cluttered with spare metal parts, lumber, bamboo logs.
The goat (which stood at eyelevel with me when it got up on its hind legs to stare at me from behind a chain-link fence) had a coarse whitish coat and odd (to me anyway, who has no recollection of ever looking eye to eye with a goat before) eyes. He had horizontally elliptical irises with a dip on the top portion. My Catholic upbringing clearly recognized the medieval devil image in the creature, it was the almost knowing way the animal held himself. I immediately came to like the guy.
That was when he was led away by the rope on his hind leg. He was hoisted up by two men (one of whom was my uncle), while two others tied his hind legs to a bamboo pole horizontally suspended about six and a half feet off the ground. The wide eyed goat thrashed around for a very short while, giving up some confused yelps (“BAAA AA?!?!??), but very soon he was silent. A couple of the men held on to the legs as a third picked up a thin, eight inch knife. A boy, an eight year old cousin of mine, came scampering over with a large white bowl.
I had expected the throat to be slit. Instead, the man searched for the jugular with his left hand, then in non-dramatic fashion, slide the knife in one side and out of the other. The goat made a quick noise, but was silent when the blood began to bubble out of his mouth. The knife was removed, and the blood gushed out of the two puncture wounds, splashing my cousin, who turned to me with a smile. In just a few seconds the goat stopped moving, a short moment later his breathing stopped.
I’ve seen blood before, but the blood collected into the bowl (to be used for soup later) and splashed over the ground was of a strange hue. It seemed almost, creamy. Not a dark maroon, but the kind of indifferent red of cheap paint. It didn’t seem real. Moreover, the slaughter was not what I expected. No wild desperate attempts to escape from the butcher’s blade. No woe inspiring cries of horror and pain. No long drawn out death. It was simple, and quick. I have no illusions of it being painless, but it did shock me in that it was less agonizing for this viewer to witness that all previous cultural upbringing has made me expect.
What followed was odd. As soon as the breathing stopped, the goat was let down and thrown on to a wooden bench. A rope tied tightly just below the neck wounds and an incision made in the rear left ankle. A bike pump was asked to be fetched (“bike pump?!!??”)—the process of removing the coat was about to begin.
The end of the pump was inserted into the cut on his ankle. A second rope was tied over the ankle incision. Then the goat was inflated, yup inflated, until his skin was taut. Boiling water was poured on to the creature (remember the cauldron of boiling water?), which released the goats not unpleasant musk into the air. The water allowed tufts of hair to be pulled out by the handful.
When this process was complete and the body made hairless the goat was again hung upside down. His head was chopped off as the hair on the head was proving harder to remove and one man set about on that task alone. With the “lid” removed the green leafy contents of his stomach ran, then dripped, out of the neck.
The job of skinning and disemboweling was begun. The testicles were the first to go and the initial incisions in to the abdomen were made when an interruption from the kitchen halted the work temporarily. It was snack-time.
On to the musty, hair and blood covered bench where one man worked alone on shaving the head a plate of rice cakes and cups of coffee were served. The men rinsed their hands with rainwater collected in a metal drum and passed around the cakes. I stood there eating and sipping my drink marveling at the scene. Behind me was the beheaded and partially skinned remains of the goat I had made eye contact with less than an hour ago. And in front of me was a bloody bench where the head of a goat appeared to stare at a plate of cakes.
Then someone brought out the roasted testicles….
Well it was worth a shot I decided, so with eyes wide open I bit into one. A blood red vein was exposed in its centre. It had retained its spongy consistency through the cooking process and after a few chews realized that it tasted a bit like balut (the duck fetus egg delicacy). The inside was white and, um, juicy.
I guess it really didn’t taste so bad, but the thought outweighed everything else and one bite was enough. Everyone else loved it though. One even sucked out the juices, making loud slurping noises, before gulping it down.
There was not much of an aftertaste. Anyway I immediately smoked a cigarette to eliminate any possible chance of that–though the psychological taste remained.
It began with the expected “eewwww, I just munched on testicle,” but soon it became “hey this will make for a pretty good story.” It is this latter thought that has been with me since that Thursday.
And, I hope, now that I have told it, the testicular flavour will go away…..