Wednesday, August 20, 2008

I'll try the grilled rat with the mango salsa...

Last autumn, I did a cooking demo on a show called Northwest Afternoon. My segment was wedged between a fashion show of easy-care women's suits from J.C. Penney (they could be put into the washer and the dryer) and a guy named Cody Lundin. He was there to offer daytime TV viewers post-natural or nuclear disaster survival tips from his book, When All Hell Breaks Loose. Hearing that my book had recipes, he walked over to me in the studio in all his aging surfer glory -- barefoot, with long blonde braids -- and opened to this photo of a cooked rat carefully presented on a platter with a garnish of romaine lettuce and tomato.

"Rat has lots of protein and not very many bones. They're not bad tasting, either," he said.

I'd put that out of my mind until this week, when I stumbled across a Reuters report that stated "authorities in Bihar, one of India's poorest states, are asking rich and poor alike to switch to eating rats in a bid to reduce the dependence on rice. They even plan to offer rats on restaurant menus."

For most of us, the idea of eating rat seems heroically unpleasant. But when one stops to consider the distasteful things that Anthony Bourdain eats for kicks, what constitutes the threshold of "too disgusting" when it's a matter of staving off starvation?

Numerous reports confirm that rat meat is regularly consumed by the poor in third world countries, notably in Africa. Certain types of rat are staples of even wealthy diners in Asia. A CNN report this week covered a family in Zimbabwe as the mother prepared a trio of field rats for her children. (You can watch video of her catching them here.) On his site, Weird & Different Recipes, Bert Christiansen cites this passage from the 1979 book Unmentionable Cuisine: "Brown rats and roof rats were eaten openly on a large scale in Paris when the city was under siege during the Franco-Prussian War. Observers likened their taste to both partridges and pork."

My friend Andy visiting this week from Florida remarked that he'd eaten squirrel. Someone in his family used to shoot it and prepare it. That's an awfully close genetic neighbor to the rat; it just has a cuter tail.

Is it wrong? Should we be appalled? On the cautionary side, rats do have a reputation for carrying around unpleasant diseases. They make poor food choices. How would someone foraging for dinner know that the rat had been feasting on poison hours earlier?

In researching this, I stumbled onto a clip from a Travel Channel Show called Culture Shock. The people in one part of India would never consider eating rats -- they worship them. How much do they worship them? They drink liquids studded for their feces as part of a religious ritual.

I'll let you ponder, and leave you with a link to a couple of rat recipes. Personally, I'd deep fry them and serve with hot chili sauce. They can't be any more difficult to bone than a quail... But there's no way I'm eating the feces. Sorry.

- Photo courtesy Cody Lundin

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Anonymous Casey said...

Seriously ewwwww - but a great post! That photo is AWESOME!

August 24, 2008 at 8:21 AM  
Blogger SteamyKitchen said...

I could do rat. tastes like chicken, right?

August 25, 2008 at 5:14 AM  
Anonymous Justin said...

Wow. Just, well, wow. I have a friend with a rat fetish and I was searching on it and found your site by dumb luck. This is an amazing photo, great entry to a terrific blog! I am forwarding to everyone I know. Thanks!

November 28, 2008 at 12:44 AM  

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