In Search of Rat Soup
When my friend Wes Nations, travel blogger extraordinaire at Johnny Vagabond suggested that we drive to the Saturday market just down the road from San Cristobal de las Casas, in Oxchuc, Chiapas to try sopa de rata (rat soup) I was skeptical but intrigued. I had images of scurvy, beady-eyed flea infested, rodents being dropped live into huge cauldrons of steaming gruel. I pictured furry, buck toothed heads floating in broth being ladled into huge earthenware bowls and served up with chili and lime. I decided to push all that to the back of my mind and did a bit of research.
It seems that “sopa de rata” is a traditional Tzeltal dish made from, yes rats but not ones captured scurrying in gutters and trash cans. Evidently, the rats are specially raised on a diet of medicinal herbs and designed to be a curative for a variety of ailments. Rat medicine instead of rat poison? This made me feel a little better. I decided to go and keep an open mind. I never thought I would say this but I actually wanted to try rat soup. Protein is protein, right?
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Saturday is a particularly good day to visit the market in Oxchuc. The stalls are filled with a variety of fresh meats, fruits and unusual (to us) vegetables. The restaurants and food stalls are all cooking full bore, the trinket vendors are well stocked and there is even a little bit of street entertainment. The place was crowded – very crowded – but Wes and I appeared to be the only tourists in the place. We searched a while for rat soup and asked in the best Spanish we could muster – bear in mind the most common language here is Tzeltal – where we could find this concoction that had brought us here but we were coming up empty.
Finally, we spotted a woman in full Mayan dress with a plastic tarp on the ground selling whole dead rats but not rat soup. Some were apparently freshly killed with the fur still on others appeared to be skinned and grilled. I HAD to get a picture so I tried to be as subtle as possible. I Took out my trusty camera, crouched down and attempted to get a shot off and out of there as quickly as possible. Didn’t work. Within seconds I had a crowd of what must have been a hundred villagers surrounding and watching me. It seems that a gringo with a camera is high entertainment in Oxchuc on Saturdays. Everyone seemed friendly but I have to admit I was a bit uncomfortable. Maybe celebrity just isn’t for me. Wes just kind of attempted to fade into the background. Well, as much as a large six foot tall gringo that looks strangely like Ernest Hemingway can do in an indigenous market on Saturday in southern Mexico.
We had spotted rats but no sopa de rata. We asked around a bit more but to no avail. The only rats we found on that day were the take home and prepare variety. I would like to say I was disappointed but honestly, I am still not sure. I will try anything once but this was pushing the edge of my culinary adventurousness. We decided to give up the quest and have a nice pollo asado al carbon (chicken barbequed over a wood fire) and watch the great show that is the Oxchuc market.