Young and Hungry

Eating Rats in Togo, West Africa


This is the kind of video that makes Americans and Europeans squirm, because the only things they equate with the rat are nursery rhymes and pus. Other countries take a more utilitarian approach to varmints, notably China where in 2000 Peter Hessler wrote the definitive story on rat cuisine, which he sampled in a small village in Guangdong Province.

Today, I found this amazing video from National Geographic, showing some villagers in Togo who go to great lengths to capture and prepare the giant rats that serve as a main protein in their West African diet. It's only too easy for Americans, who routinely eat chicken meat pumped with all manner of drugs, to pass judgment on these folks.

But food cannot be judged from afar, though it always has been of course. Sometimes it's judged without even tasting it. Remember how Americans used to think eating raw fish was weird? Few folks blink an eye anymore about stepping into a sushi joint.

Though his experience came from a different country and culture, Hessler proves a helpful source in understanding rat cuisine. Consider his words from the New Yorker:

At the Highest Ranking Wild Flavor Restaurant, I began with a dish called Simmered Mountain Rat with Black Beans. There were plenty of other options on the menu-among them, Mountain Rat Soup, Steamed Mountain Rat, Simmered Mountain Rat, Roasted Mountain Rat, Mountain Rat Curry, and Spicy and Salty Mountain Rat-but the waitress had enthusiastically recommended the Simmered Mountain Rat with Black Beans, which arrived in a clay pot.

I ate the beans first. They tasted fine. I poked at the rat meat. It was clearly well done, and it was attractively garnished with onions, leeks, and ginger. Nestled in a light sauce were skinny rat thighs, short strips of rat flank, and delicate, toylike rat ribs. I started with a thigh, put a chunk of it into my mouth, and reached for a glass of beer. The beer helped.

The restaurant's owner, Zhong Dieqin, came over and sat down. "What do you think?" she asked.

"I think it tastes good."

"You know it's good for your health."

"I've heard that."

"It's good for your hair and skin," she said. "It's also good for your kidneys."

Guangdong Province
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