WSJ: For Vietnamese, The Year of the Rat Starts With Lunch

year-of-rat.jpgHappy Chinese (Lunar) New Year!, which is officially today, Thursday, February 7th, 2008 – Year of the Rat. Chinese New Year is celebrated in many countries in Asia, usually those with a large ethnic Chinese population. Vietnam is no different, and in a recent issue of The Wall Street Journal, the newspaper covers the increasing popularity of rat as dining cuisine in “For Vietnamese, The Year of the Rat Starts With Lunch.“:

“…Rats have been a delicacy in Vietnam’s rural areas for centuries, with recipes dating back 150 years. For a long time, however, this country’s big city folk were generally less enthusiastic, often associating the animals more with garbage-digging vermin than mouth-watering entrees. But in 2004, flare-ups of bird flu claimed scores of lives here and prompted many diners to search for alternative sources of protein. Demand went up, but paradoxically supply did too. That’s because rats’ natural predators — snakes and cats — are increasingly finding themselves on the menus of posh restaurants frequented by wealthy Vietnamese…For connoisseurs of rat meat, slightly chubby rats are the most sought after. A thin layer of fat adds more flavor to the meat and provides a satisfying sizzle when the chunks of rat meat are added to the frying pan, they say. It is also best, they add, served with generous servings of potent home-brewed rice wine.”

I’ve heard of dog as being a Asian cuisine in the past, but never rat! I wonder if rat tastes like chicken? In any case, the article goes on to list a few rat recipes, including ground rat meat and chili, rat steamed with lemon leaves, and rat stir sauteed with spring onion and herbs:

Ground rat meat and chili

Two field rats, chopped into quarters
Two chopped cloves of garlic
Half cup of lemon leaves
Half a cup of dried chili peppers
Quarter cup of fish sauce
A dash of salt

Mash up the chili peppers and add fish sauce to moisten the mixture. Then added the chopped garlic.

Place the lemon leaves in a bowl of water to soak.

Heat a frying pan over an open flame and add vegetable oil. Then add the chili pepper mixture. When sizzling, add the rat meat. Stir vigorously until cooked, and then add the lemon leaves. Simmer for five minutes, adding water as necessary to keep it moist.

Serve with steamed rice.

Rat steamed with lemon leaves

Two cleaned and gutted rats, chopped into quarters
A small bundle of lemongrass
Half a cup of fish sauce
One small onion

Place the rat meat in a bamboo steamer. Place the steamer in a saucepan of boiling water. Add the lemongrass and onion, then brush the rat with fish sauce.

Steam for approximately 20 minutes, or until the rat meat cooks thoroughly.

Serve with steamed rice and spring onions.

Rat stir sauteed with spring onion and herbs

2 cups fragrant khotweed
Several spring onions
Quarter cup of fish sauce
Two cleaned and gutted rats, chopped into chunks
Half cup of vegetable oil
Fresh basil

Mix the rat chunks in a bowl with fragrant khotweed and spring onions. Add the fish sauce. Let stand for 10 minutes to allow the flavors to sink into the rat meat.

Then, gently heat the vegetable oil over low heat and add the mixture, slowly stirring. Cook for ten minutes, stirring occasionally.

Serve with steamed rice or rice noodles. Garnish with fresh basil.

I hope you all have a Happy Year of the Rat!

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About John

I'm a Taiwanese-American and was born & raised in Western Massachusetts, went to college in upstate New York, worked in Connecticut, went to grad school in North Carolina and then moved out to the Bay Area in 1999 and have been living here ever since - love the weather and almost everything about the area (except the high cost of housing...)
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