Aizawl: There's smoked salmon, smoked ham, smoked bacon and other kinds of smoked meats that are an epicurean delight, but smoked rats? It's true, the rodent is much in demand in kitchens in India's northeastern Mizoram with some vendors in this capital selling as many as 200 smoked rats a day.
Despite a government notification that rats are often killed by poisoning and therefore are unsafe to eat, smoked rats are still in demand in Aizawl's busy New Market.
Rats caught by traps in paddy fields called Zu Pawl sell like the proverbial hot cakes.
Hundreds and hundreds of smoked rats come in to the city from nearby villages like Khawruhlian, Sesawng, Rawpuichhip every morning.
"I don't keep records of my sales, but I normally sell about 200 smoked rats daily," Lalvenpuii, a New Market shopkeeper, told IANS.
They don't come cheap either, with one smoked rat costing anywhere between Rs.15-20.
This rather strange dining choice was borne out of sheer desperation, say old timers recalling the famine of the 1950s.
"The habit of eating rats as far as I can recall began during 'mautam' (the bamboo famine of the 1950s) when rodents multiplied like anything. They devoured our paddy fields and anything that could be eaten. So, out of sheer desperation, we started eating them," said 97-year-old Thangbawii.
"It soon evolved into regular food," said the Aizawl grandmother who, like many Mizos, is very fond of rat meat. It's a matter of pride when she persuades her grandchildren to serve it up for her guests.
But the Mizo government is getting worried.
With rodents appearing in paddy fields across the state, efforts are on to kill them either by poisoning or through traps. The agriculture department has identified the proliferation of 12 species of rats and expects another batch of 20 species after sporadic bamboo flowering, expected next year.
"We have already launched an awareness campaign about the risks involved in eating rats. There can be no proof of whether they were killed by poison or traps," said James Lalsiamliana, plant protection officer of the agriculture department.
Lalsiamliana is the leader of the team assigned by the department to track the proliferation of rodents across the state.
After rats, frogs are the other staples in Mizo menu. Tadpoles, baby frogs, which are humorously dubbed as 'GI Joes', and the full-grown form other favourite flavours here.