Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Rat Soup (In China)

I seem to recall that some sort of field rat is considered a delicacy in the tourist playground that is Guilin, in southern China. I've never had the pleasure of eating it, so I can't be sure whether this is just tourist trappings or a rather minor example of the Cantonese tendency to eat, well... everything.

Unfortunately, last night Kiera and I came quite a bit closer to inadvertently dining upon rat than we had intended.

The scene: Eating in one of our favorite hole-in-the-wall restaurants across the street from our apartment. The time is late, perhaps 9 pm. Kiera works late some nights, so we eat late. All the other customers have cleared out. The family that runs the place is cleaning up; some of the older members are relaxing at another table to chat until their last two customers finish. Our food is a vast pot of stewed chicken, potato, and other veggies. The preponderance of cumin betrays the origins of the dish as coming from the Turkic western frontiers of China. A rat falls from the ceiling onto the table directly behind Kiera.

Kiera naturally stands and screams. Not the full-throated wail of a horror movie vixen, but a frantic warble that also somehow communicates her embarrassment to be making such a commotion. She also jigs about as if she's caught the tarantella. The rat scurries as fast as its little legs will take it, back towards the back of the restaurant. The staff saw us, and the rat, but they didn't seem very bothered by it--mostly just amused at our reaction to the unwelcome intruder from above.

The rat had fallen from a crevice (an unused light well, perhaps?) that ran around the edge of the restaurant's ceiling. We'd seen it scurry by earlier that evening, but hadn't worried too much. As long as it wasn't near the food, I was willing to be sanguine about the whole experience. In countries like China (not to mention in Myanmar and Africa and other places I've traveled to) you just have to accept that such critters are everywhere... or spend all your time cloistered in decadent 5-star hotels. We were even joking that at least the rat hadn't jumped into our pot of food, when it did in fact jump. Just not into the pot.

So, I still haven't had rat. But I've certainly come a bit closer to that culinary milestone. I was thinking that in the US, such an event would get a restaurant shut down permanently. In China, owner and patron alike just shrug and get along with their everyday concerns. I'm a bit torn as to which is the better reaction.

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Anonymous said...

Hey, Its Stephani.

I certainly have a degree of ok with rats etc, more than some less than others. However, in countries where you aren't meant to have them, I start to worry what else they're doing. A previously favourite pub was visited, and the wine they served me was so full of fruit flies I initially thought it was the colour of the wine. SO not impressed. I've seen bar staff strain fruit flies from alcohol before, so I asked for a different type as a replacement.

Then later we had mouse visitors. FRIENDLY mouse visitors. They clearly lived a cheerful life unafraid on the restaurant floor. I think either one by itself might have been excusable, the mouse more so than the fruit flies, but combined we decided to give the place a bit of a miss. I'm more confident that people who live with rodents regularly can still be reasonable in their food hygiene around them...