Food and wine 

When things get ratty

Or: what happens when you write a food column in the Year of the Rat

I know, I know. The Year of the Rat is associated with wealth and material prosperity; it’s supposed to be good for getting focused and organized, and for investments (although this Year of the Rat soothsayers are saying that we likely just won’t go into recession).

And people born in the Year of the Rat are charismatic, intelligent, practical, hard-working and aggressive. Leaders of a sort, if they play their cards right.

And I know that the rat in the Chinese zodiac carries all sorts of other positive attributes — forthrightness, discipline, meticulousness —and that we’re supposed to get out of our collective Westernized head space when we think about these things.

But I’m sorry. Every time I hear that it’s the Year of the Rat, coming soon to a lunar calendar near you, all I can picture is the hideous, fat black roof rat with its obscene, fleshy tail that used to run along the beam under our deck, its glinty little eyes scanning, scanning, scanning for sunflower seeds the birds spilled from the feeder.

Unlike my girlfriend, who suffered who knows how many mice scurrying across her wee nine-year-old self when she had to sleep on the floor of a house in Regina her family rented one night before the moving van arrived, I’ve never been too freaked out by rats.

But this one was a doozy. There was something about him — maybe the way he defied all manner of traps and bait — that spooked and impressed me at the same time. I mean, this was one smart rat who didn’t fall for stinky cheese or peanut butter, bait traps or humane traps. I think it was smoked salmon skin that was his final undoing, so you had to hand it to him; he was a pretty cool rat with selective good taste. Remy take note.

Up until then, I’d never given much thought to what rats eat exactly, nor to eating them myself. At least not until I ventured up into the northern nether-reaches of Thailand, which was serenely beautiful but realistically couldn’t have been all that serene given it was a refuge/staging area for Karen rebels who had fled Myanmar.

There, in the middle of the mountain trail leading up to a village on a large scruff of bare dirt, were two cheerful girls, maybe eight and ten, who were carefully washing and, with a large dull machete, diligently scraping the short fur from a very dead rat stiffened with rigor mortis.

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