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Rats! I wasn’t expecting that!

Zubin D’Souza

Every year on March 7, the Adi tribe that resides in the less frequented hills of the Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh celebrate Unying-Aran.

The festival would not be remarkably different from several other Indian religious festivals that evoke gaiety and mirth.

The one differentiating factor though is that this festival celebration revolves around a rather unusual subject.

This festival has created history as it is completely focused on rats.

Although the tribe can easily manage to hunt a wide variety of wild creatures like deer, goat and buffalo that are available in their forests, they enjoy rat meat so much that it is an integral part of their diets.

Rats are given as gifts to children, are exchanged at weddings and are part of each festive occasion in the community.

But Arunachal Pradesh isn’t alone when it comes to spotting rats at a family meal.

Cambodia and Vietnam share a long tradition of barbecuing field rats and pairing them with some lip-smacking sauces.

The rats available here are not the garbage munching and sewer living versions that we have come to associate with city dwelling. Since they forage on a steady diet of generally organic rice, sugarcane and potatoes, the rats make quite an interesting dining concept if you can bring yourself to eat something that just a little while earlier was the living form of Mickey Mouse!

Southeast Asia isn’t the only place you can catch these fleet footed furry creatures. They are quite commonly available in South America, Africa and the Indian state of Bihar.

In fact, in Bihar, the Dalits who are a poverty stricken and oppressed community tend the fields of wealthy landlords in exchange for being allowed to eat all the rats they trap in the landlord’s farms.

Meanwhile in certain parts of Africa, the government is supporting marginal farmers in their quest to domesticate and farm cane rats for the table.

Despite their name alluding that they belong to the rat family, cane rats are actually the size of a large cat with meat that has been described as succulent and sweet.

Rats have been eaten from Roman times where one delicacy called for grilled dormice to be served with a drizzling of honey.

The Romans really enjoyed eating dormice and the upper classes used to own ‘grilariums’ which were clay pots that were cast in a manner that they mimicked dormouse burrows. The dormice were placed in them and fed a constant diet of acorn and other goodies till they were suitably plump and fattened for the grill.

The grilled version of the dormouse is still served in Croatia and Slovenia.

The Tang dynasty also recorded the eating of rats. They were domestically and colloquially referred to as ‘household deer’.

The Chinese royalty back then also enjoyed a rat-based specialty which involved the stuffing of new born rats with honey and then roasting them in a furnace operated oven.

Belize is a breathtakingly beautiful country that lies in Central America. It was formerly known as British Honduras when it was a colony of the United Kingdom.

After gaining independence in 1981, they renamed themselves yet maintained friendly ties with their former colonisers.

In 1985, they were holding a major national celebration and decided to invite the queen.

At the state banquet, there wasn’t much of a debate as to what was to be served up to the royal guest.

She was served with beautifully prepared ‘gibnut’ along with all the traditional accompaniments.

Culinary circles are still in a debate about the choice.

Gibnut is a traditional Belizean dish that is available across the country. It is the unofficial national dish although it does not grace the plates of the wealthier section of the population too often.

The reason is that ‘gibnut’ is considered ‘bush meat’ which needs to be hunted out and is the preferred protein source for several tribes of the local indigenous population. It also belongs to the rodent family which in effect meant that the queen was fed a giant rat!

The only happy outcome of this story was that due to the presence of a certain gibnut on the queen’s plate, every descendant since has carried the title of ‘royal rat’.

Research shows that our planet may very soon not be able to provide food for all and that although unrelated, the rat population is set to explode.

Including rats on our menus is strongly being considered as a win-win solution for pest control and starvation abatement.

I don’t need the sales talk!

The next time rats bite into my cable wires denying me my daily dose of WiFi and entertainment, I am biting back!

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