December 31, 2021
For many, eating dog meat would be unimaginable, but for those who have done so since childhood, it’s just another meal.
Since he was a child, Simson Sidebang has eaten dog meat.
His hometown has a tradition of slaughtering dogs to eat on certain days, including for New Year celebrations, when villagers combine the dish with a cup or two of tuak, a Batak palm wine.
Simson hails from Paropo, a small village on the shores of Lake Toba, in Dairi regency.
“At the time – I was maybe 6 years old – there was an event in the village where people cooked dog meat to eat together. The first piece of dog I ate was given to me by my father,” the 36-year-old said. His father, Simson said, “loved” dog meat.
“In our village, the weather is cold,” he said, adding that the combination of dog meat and tuak was perfect for warming up the body.
As in several other Southeast Asian countries, certain Indonesian communities have traditions of eating dog meat.
In areas of North Sumatra where the majority of the population is Christian, for example, stalls serving dog meat abound.
In Medan, dog meat shops are plentiful in areas where the majority of people are from the Batak or Karo ethnic groups. In a 5 kilometer stretch called Simpang Selayang, there are about five food stalls serving dog meat. This is where Simson and many other dog meat lovers come for the controversial meal.
Campaigning for change
In recent months, amid social media posts about alleged dog theft, or “dog-napping”, campaigns that proclaim “dogs are not food” have been on the rise. While it is not clear if these have had any effect on the sale of canine meat or its consumption, law enforcement institutions have made statements on the matter. In Sukoharjo regency, Central Java, in November, the police claimed they had begun infiltrating the region’s dog meat business with the aim of thwarting it.
“Dogs are companions, not food, and the trade is illegal and strictly prohibited by Islamic law. Consumption of dog meat is considered cultural by some, but culture evolves and so do we,” said Sukoharjo Police criminal investigation unit head Tarjono Sapto Nugrohosaid, as quoted by Tribunnews on Nov. 26.
Dog Meat Free Indonesia, an organization that campaigns against the trade, claims that at least 7 percent of the Indonesian population eats dog meat, that the animals are sometimes tortured and that the practice can cause rabies to spread.
Some organizations are more hands-on. A Yogyakarta-based organization called Ron Ron Dog Care (RRDC) told SuaraJogja.id that they had rescued dozens of dogs from slaughter in 2021 alone.
RRDC founder Viktor Indra Buana told the publication on Nov. 28 that “from January 2021 to October 2021, we succeeded in thwarting the slaughter of 80 dogs. Most of the rescued dogs were in Kulon Progo regency – 62 of them. The other 18 dogs were rescued in Bantul regency.”
While dog eating may not be common practice in Yogyakarta, local dogs are often delivered to regions where the meat is in higher demand, such as North Sumatra.
Charles, a banker and dog meat lover from Siborongborong, North Tapanuli, North Sumatra, who asked to use a pseudonym for this article, said the dog meat in the Lake Toba area was typically imported from West Sumatra.
“At least once a week a truck brings dozens of dogs, and they are sold to shops,” he said.
The meat is eaten smoked, baked, in the form of soup or in the popular saksang preparation – cubed and stewed in the animal’s blood.
In Medan, many dogs are purchased for consumption from a market in the corner of town. But as this market sells a relatively small amount of dog meat, most food establishments rely on orders of dogs from outside the region. A number of restaurants and stalls have regular deliveries of dogs, dead and alive.
When the writer accompanied Simson to his favorite dog meat restaurant in Medan, two people came to the restaurant with dogs in a large burlap sack and accepted payment for the delivery.
Simson believes the widespread consumption of dog meat has resulted in an increase in dog theft in the region.
The writer approached three different organizations opposed to the consumption of dog meat, but none was able to provide specific data on rates of dog theft in the country. Besides anecdotal stories and independent news reports, no data specifically points to an increase in the practice.
“One of my dogs went missing recently. Maybe it was sold to a stall like this too. Who knows?” said Simson, who previously kept two dogs to guard his house.
“My dog already weighed 13 kilograms, its price could have reached Rp 600,000 [US$42],” he said.
While some consider eating dog meat a North Sumatra culinary tradition, others contend that the practice began relatively recently has little cultural precedent.
“In the cultural rituals of the Batak people, there is no dog meat, but pork,” said Jones Gultom, a writer and observer of Batak culture.
According to Jones, dog eating is becoming more frequent because of the belief that dog meat can cure malaria and typhoid.
“Over time, it becomes a habit. There is no cultural element aside from satisfying one’s appetite,” he said.
A Batak woman who lives in Tangerang, Banten, and often eats dog meat at a nearby restaurant said, “I don’t know how, but I believe that it does ward off light illnesses like the common cold.”
She and her family, which includes two young children, own a Labrador and a mixed-breed dog, but they see pet dogs and dogs bred to be eaten as different.
“It’s like farmers who may consider one of their cows a favorite but some others just a source of a delicious steak,” she said.
Simson said it was “normal” to eat dog meat, adding that because he often traveled out of town for work, it played a crucial part in keeping him in good health. He ate dog meat around four times a month, he said, and the number could go up when he felt ill or in need of rejuvenation.
He believes the meat has saved him from bouts of typhus and malaria, as well the common cold. And there’s still another reason.
“It tastes good, of course,” he said.
But there are some lines he won’t cross.
“It sounds weird,” he said, “but a lot of dog meat eaters wouldn’t want to eat their own dog.”
“I’ll eat any dog except my own.”