BAN NOON SE KOON, Thailand >> When it comes to eating rat, there are two kinds of people: those who grew up eating it and those who are repelled by the idea.
Friends who grew up in farm towns in Southeast Asia said, “Save some for me.”
The more common reaction, though, was, “Ewww. No. No. No.”
Rat meat was for sale at the local market in a rural Thai town when I visited last month. My friend, who had invited me to her hometown to celebrate Songkran, the Thai New Year, asked if I wanted to try some.
I was hesitant.
“How do I know where that rat came from? Or if it’s fresh?” I said.
Turns out, her brother’s friend catches rats on his farm and sells them. The farm rats eat sugar cane — the main crop in the area — rice and watermelon, which are also grown here.
So, theoretically, the meat should be sweet and clean.
We went to the friend’s house and peered into huge 5-foot-tall clay pots while he used a flashlight to point out the rats for sale.
He feeds them rice for a few days after catching them to make sure the meat tastes good.
That night, after we’d paid about $15 for two rats, he brought them over to the house, still alive, in a blue mesh net.
My friend’s brother dispatched them, much as you would a chicken, by grabbing the neck and hind legs and stretching out the animal until the neck or spine snapped.
Using charcoal ash, he pulled off the fur and burned the rest of it off over a fire. He then cleaned out the insides and cut off the paws and head but left the tail on, as people like to eat it.
My friend’s mother, a very good cook, roasted the rat in an electric oven after seasoning it with oyster sauce, fish sauce, garlic and a packaged Thai spice mixture.
The finished rat, nicely browned on the outside, looks very much like a roasted chicken, except for the long tail.
I tore off a piece of leg meat and considered what to do next.
On one hand, rat is a common food in farming areas, and these were field rats, not city rats from the sewer or trash pile. On the other hand, it’s still a rat.
It helped that the meat, separated from the tail, looks a lot like chicken. The leg bone is about the same size, and the meat is fatty and juicy.
I took a bite.
It was good. The meat was tender, not at all gamy, and the garlic and oyster sauce gave it a nice flavor.
It’s a bit of a food cliche to say strange meats taste like chicken. Frog, alligator, rabbit — they kind of taste like chicken. But you can tell the difference.
Rat meat really tastes like chicken. The tail, however, is not as tasty. It’s kind of crunchy — like a rat cracker.
My friend’s dad likes it with beer.
That makes two cliches: Rat tastes like chicken. Rat tail, like other exotic foods, is better with beer.
Web producer Craig Gima tries out new foods in a video and print series every other Wednesday. Dare him to try a really scary food: firstname.lastname@example.org.