In Laeral, Wild Bamboo Rats Back in Vogue—and in Restaurants

Once scorned as peasant’s cuisine, wild bamboo rats are once again coming into favor in southern Laeral.

Miaoshi— As Bai Jingfu walks through a rice field on a balmy afternoon in Peichen province, slung across his shoulder are tough wire-mesh traps. At the edge of the field, Bai carefully lays one down, baited with tender bamboo shoots. “There were many burrows in the next field over,” Bai says. “You can tell by the little mounds of dirt. Inside each one—a rat.”

Bai Jingfu is a rat-trapper, who lays his traps around cultivated fields in the region throughout the harvesting season in exchange for a token fee to the farmers who grow rice and other crops on the field. It’s a win-win situation: Bai’s hunting keeps down the population of a rodent pest who eats the crops, and Bai himself makes a tidy living from the bamboo rats he catches. On a good day, he can catch over 70 of the rats grown plump on rice and bamboo shoots, which he sells to local restaurants.

Laeralian bamboo rats, large furry rodents native to southern Laeral, are traditionally considered peasant’s fare, an item in grandparents’ tales of the lean decades of the 60s and 70s. A traditional source of protein for Laeralian farmers and villagers, bamboo rats feature in many local stews and noodle dishes, or sold by street vendors after grilling or barbecuing with garlic and a variety of sauces. Yet rats fell out of vogue on the dinner table in recent decades, as the increased use of agricultural pesticides raised fears of poisoning, and rising standards of living turned chicken and pork from rare treats to dining-room staples.

Increased restrictions on pesticide use, coupled with growing affection for simple countryside cuisine, have recently led to the elevation of the humble rat. Cooks and Tailors, an upscale restaurant in Laeralsford, recently caused a mild stir after adding a pan-fried, breaded rat dish to its menu. At Tiánshu (“Field Rat”), a simple restaurant in the nearby village of Mianxing, long lines appear outside the restaurant in the early evenings as the proprietor begins to barbecue fresh local rats outside. “It’s delicious,” says Li Xiaopeng, a local deliveryman chowing down on a skewered rat outside. “Every I pass by in the evenings, my mouth starts watering just from the smell.” It’s a pleasing sentiment for Bai Jingfu, who supplies much of Field Rat’s daily meals. “I wouldn’t dare eat a rat from the city, with all the garbage and poisons they eat. But out here in the countryside, fed on nothing but rice, bamboo shoots, and fresh air? Perfectly safe, and perfectly delicious.”

Qian Suyin, La Sentinelle

Published simultaneously on the Laeralian Media newsthread.

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