Flu fears, rains buoy Cambodia rat exports to Vietnam

Mon May 18, 2009 11:51am EDT
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By Ek Madra

CHREY THOM, Cambodia (Reuters Life!) - Stir-fried or grilled, Vietnamese can't seem to get enough of Cambodian rat meat, and the global influenza outbreak as well as recent heavy rains have proven a boon for both consumers and exporters.

In Chrey Thom, a Cambodian town on the border with Vietnam, motorbike after motorbike carries wooden cages full of hundreds of the plump, furry, brown rats.

The rains in the Mekong Delta area have helped boost the Cambodian trappers' catch, as more rats rush out from their flooded holes and into waiting cages.

"There were so many rodents we just can't eat them all, so we need to export lots more to Vietnam," Cambodian rat trader Kang Chanthan told Reuters. "It's good business."

"If you prepare them well and fry the meat with garlic and put some mint on it, they're tastier than chickens," he added.

Worries about swine flu, as the H1N1 influenza virus was first called, may have also spurred demand. The spread of H1N1 flu was not caused by pigs and pork, but many people and governments have reacted to the name.

"Rat meat substitutes well for pork these days," said Khe Le, adding that her family exported up to a ton of live rats across the border on good days.

Rat meat was eaten in Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge regime in the 1970s and for some time afterwards when little else was available. The poor took to rat meat last year when the price of other meat soared, but younger Cambodians tend to avoid it.   Continued...

<p>Live rats are stored awaiting transport to Vietnam at Chrey Thom district in Kandal province, 65km (40 miles) south of Phnom Penh near the Cambodia-Vietnam border, May 15, 2009. REUTERS/Chor Sokunthea</p>