Thaton, Thailand: Where to Find the Best Barbecued Rat

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barbecue rat, thaton

Thaton, Thailand: Where to Find the Best Barbecued Rat

We’re in northern Thailand, right by the Myanmar border in Thaton, near Mae Ai. I’m fumbling for excuses. ‘Well, as a rule I don’t really eat rodents. It’s a cultural thing…’. I’m not even convincing myself. Besides, everyone else is positively slavering with anticipation (maybe there’s something to this barbecued rat business after all), and I’m being offered first dibs out of politeness.

barbecued rat, thaton

Thaton: In tribute to the great A.A. Gill, who died recently of a ‘full English’ of cancers, here is my dining companion, The Brunette, with spatchcocked, barbecued rat starting to sizzle in the foreground. Note the neat bisection of the rat’s incisor teeth. PIC: JC

‘Everyone else’ is our construction team, and indeed my wife, The Brunette. We’re building a house and the team has been more than usually animated all morning. They’d waited, and today the delivery was due. It came. A consignment of rats from Ayutthaya, the old capital of Siam till the Burman invader besieged and sacked the city in the 1760s, has arrived. I didn’t know this at the time, needless to say.

Before I’d got there they’d made a fire, erected a makeshift spit, pulled out the first rat, skinned it, spatchcocked it (cut it in half to the backbone) and it was starting to sizzle over the fire. I couldn’t countermand my own curiosity, and decided to try some. But first I had to check the provenance of the barbecued rat, a bit like always looking for that real-deal, EU Protected Designation of Origin stamp on prosciutto Toscano.

“Er, where is it from?”

[Construction team boss Pi Wan gives me his ‘these white people are crazy’ look, as if the answer is so obvious I’m paining him by hazarding the question]: “Ayutthaya!”

It’s not enough for me. I mean, okay, Ayutthaya is kinda nice, but a rat is a rat. Right?

Wrong. Not when it’s an Ayutthaya rat.

Another look, more pained this time, eyes still twinkling with amusement, greets my follow-up question, “Why is that good?” The assembled crew fall about and slap each other on the backs, mimicking ‘is that good?’ and guffawing.

Kissing Cousins (Not)

Ayutthaya rats don’t come from the city itself (the old bit a UNESCO World Heritage site; the new a town of 52,000), but from the rice paddies around the old city, where they party all day on rice, insects, fish and birds’ eggs. The Rattus argentiventer is your Epicurean rat, living the good life on the country estate and eating decent grub compared to their low-rent Rattus norvegicus cousins in the cities. Think of it like this: country rat, slow-food aficionado, stays healthy, gets plenty of fresh air. City rat, sewers, street oil, dodgy peer group, chewing through things other than rice stalks, chucked burgers.

Thus, Ayutthaya rats are the finest in all Thailand. For barbecued rat.

“QED and how could you not know that?” thinks Pi Wan. “Phew, these white people are just like children who need everything explained.” All, including Pi Wan, giggle.

Barbecued Rat, Thaton

Thaton: Pi Wan, grinning, and his team hoe into some rice whisky at the end of another hard day’s work. Time for barbecued rat. PIC: JC

To avoid having the brain kindly offered to me, I said I’d try some meat off the thigh area.

Okay texture, I thought as I started chewing. It was quite well done, browned off. Taste? Barbecued rat is less concentrated than squirrel (because plumper), but also more delicate; not bad at all, actually, having been assured of the rodent’s credentials. Yes, I’ve eaten lots of squirrels. My ex-housemate Angus the Woodsman was the squirrel culler for Dartmoor National Park in England. He had a large basket in the hallway of our farmhouse that filled unnervingly rapidly with squirrel’s tails. We had lots of casseroles, but there’s not much meat on them; even less after three hours in an Aga.

barbecued rat, thaton

Meditation in green: northern Chiang Mai province, where Thaton is located, is part of the ancient kingdom of Lan-na (transl. 1 million rice paddies). Perfect place to find barbecued rat. PIC: JC

The construction team carried on producing barbecued rat every day for a week; until their consignment was gone (many were given also to cajoling friends). Their tale of the white man who’d never heard of Ayutthaya rats has been told and retold since with much hilarity.

 barbecued rat, thaton

Thaton: The site of our construction and where we ate barbecued rat. Looking east with the Wawi Hills in the distance and the Shan temple at center. PIC: JC

That was four years ago, and we’ve been living in the house ever since. I recommend Thaton as a destination because you can take a boat from there to Chiang Rai down the Nam Mae Kok river. And the big stupa, too.

So, Rattus argentiventer it is then. I’ll have a brace. Perfect for barbecued rat. Ask for it in the villages dotted over Thailand’s central rice-growing belt. And make sure it’s not Norwegian (though in fact the brown rat species originated in Asia too). In other words, if you see a lot of gunk when the rat’s intestine is removed, have a good excuse ready. Always.

John Clamp

John Clamp

John Clamp has lived, worked, and scuba dived in Asia for ten years. An incorrigible traveler, he knows Europe, North Africa and the Middle East, China, and South America. His favorite places are Rio de Janeiro, Borneo, Hong Kong, Shanghai, Phnom Penh, and the Similan Islands in the Andaman Sea.

3 Comments

  • Erika
    Erika

    I didn’t think you could, but you convinced me to try BBQ rat.

    May 16, 2017 at 7:36 pm
    • AA

      +1

      May 16, 2017 at 7:54 pm
  • Ronald

    Great story and yes iv tried as well not bad only will try again if Im starving…

    May 17, 2017 at 11:33 am
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