Eat what you kill, kill what you eat is great hunters motto…but what about mice? Living in the country, mice are everywhere and our record is over a dozen trapped in a single day. A little research and I’ve learned that mice have been eaten as a delicacy throughout history, and are still eaten in many parts of the world today.
It all started late one night watching an old HBO show called Rome. We don’t watch a lot of TV, but this one’s free on amazon prime and winter is long up here in the north country. Rome is similar to Game of Thrones in all its raunchy debauchery, but it has some vague historical elements. Namely, the characters feast on dormice while lounging on couches. I watched one of the characters chomp down on a mouse, and my first thought was to search for recipes.
Everyone’s gotta have a hobby, and cooking up weird is one of mine.
I found dozens of intriguing mice recipes from around the world, both ancient and modern. Clearly, the Romans weren’t the only ones slumming it up and slurping down mice.
Disclaimer: If you’re eating mice, you’re doing it at your own risk. I’m not your mother or your doctor, and I’m not taking responsibility if you contract the hantavirus (or anything else for that matter). I wrote this based on my own research for my own entertainment, and I do not recommend eating mice in any circumstance beyond as a last resort.
Roman Mice Recipes
In Rome, all the ancient mice recipes are for a creature called a dormouse that’s native to Europe. Though it is technically a rodent, it’s appearance and behavior is much more like a squirrel. They reproduce once per year and can hibernate for 6-7 months of the year in cold climates. Their teeth and diet are closer to that of squirrels too.
The Romans took advantage of this long hibernation to store them in specialized enclosed terra cotta pots called glirarium. In the dark confinement, dormice are stimulated to hibernate and fatten up considerably. Dormice normally weigh 4-6 ounces, which is big for a mouse, but they double in weight for hibernation.
A half pound mouse is a serious meal, especially at a time before animals had been selectively bred to a freakish modern size. Add in the fact that the frame and bone structure is built for an animal half the size of the chubby little hibernating dormice that were raised in Rome. Dormice were actually weighed at feasts because raising extra large specimens was a status symbol for wealthy Romans.
There are two roman mice recipes that survive to the present day.
- Roasted Dormouse Coated in Honey and Poppyseeds – An early Roman novel describes the presentation, but doesn’t provide an exact recipe. “There were also dormice rolled in honey and poppy-seed, and supported on little bridges soldered to the plate.”
- Stuffed Dormice – Described in a cookbook from the first century AD, the dish involves dormice “stuffed with a minced pork and small pieces of dormouse meat trimmings, all pounded with pepper, nuts, laser (similar to fennel), broth. Put the dormouse thus stuffed in an earthen casserole, roast it in the oven, or boil it in the stock pot.
French Rat Recipes
While the Romans weren’t exactly eating rodents infesting sewers, the French were. That is, at least in times of siege and famine, and who can blame them. If modern NYC were ever under siege, rats would be on the menu within a week no doubt. During a siege in the late 1800s, just about everything was on the menu in Paris, including the zoo animals.
The book Unmentionable Cuisine discusses a dish known as Entrectte la bordelaise: “Brown rats and roof rats were eaten openly on a large scale in Paris when the city was under siege during the Franco-Prussian War. Observers likened their taste to both partridges and pork. And, according to the ‘Larousse Gastronomique,’ rats still are eaten in some parts of France. In fact, this recipe appears in that famous tome. Alcoholic rats inhabiting wine cellars are skinned and eviscerated, brushed with a thick sauce of olive oil and crushed shallots, and grilled over a fire of broken wine barrels.”
I’ve also read that there are rat recipes in the book Larousse Gastronomique, which is a French culinary encyclopedia, but I’ve been unable to verify.
Indian Rat Recipes
Eating mice during times of starvation and siege is one thing, but having a festival with rats as the main course is another. According to the BBC, “On 7 March every year, in a remote village in the hills of north-east India, the Adi tribe celebrates Unying-Aran, an unusual festival with rats as the culinary centerpiece. One of the Adi’s favorite dishes is a stew called bule-bulak oying, made with the rat’s stomach, intestines, liver, testes, foetuses, all boiled together with tails and legs plus some salt, chili and ginger.”
African Rat Recipes
In parts of Africa, mice are part of the staple diet and a much-needed protein source. Another excerpt from Unmentionable Cuisine notes, “In West Africa, however, rats are a major item of diet. the giant rat (Cricetomys), the cane rat (Thryonomys), the common house mouse, and other species of rats and mice are all eaten. According to a United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization report, they now comprise over 50 percent of the locally produced meat eaten in some parts of Ghana. Between December 1968 and June 1970, 258,206 pounds of cane-rat meat alone were sold in one market in Accra! This is a local recipe that shows the South American influence on West African cuisine.”
The author then goes on to discuss the nutritional deficiencies, namely protein deficiency, in children from areas that do not eat rats. He provides a recipe for stewed cane rat that involves frying the meat before stewing it tomatoes and peppers until tender.
Mice are also eaten in Malawi, where according to one source they consider them cleaner than rats. “I met this man in a village market in Malawi. He was very perturbed that I thought he was selling grilled rats… “Rats are dirty,” he said, “In Malawi, we only eat mice.”
Similarly, in Zambia, mice are eaten instead of rats. The source of the photo below noted that “Mice (not rats) are an eastern province delicacy in Zambia. In this picture a young boy is selling the mice he caught by traps for K15 to travelers on the great east road.”
Vietnamese Mice Recipes
It seems that most places don’t bother with cooking mice, but stick with the much larger rats. There are some exceptions though.
An author writing for serious eats describes eating mice in Vietnam, prepared two ways. The first was called “chuot roti” and was covered in a thick sauce made from garlic and five-spice powder, which was by far the favorite. The second, “chuot quay” or Barbequed mice was less popular with the tasters.
Still, rat seems to be the preference even in southeast Asia. These bbq rats below are for sale in Thailand.
I’ve also read one source discussing a Mexican field mouse recipe called “Raton de campo asado” where the mice are simply gutted and roasted on a skewer. I haven’t been able to verify this one, but I’m sure in all of human history more than one person has done it.
Not to leave out the US of course, survivalists, thrill seekers and simply hungry people eat rats and mice in the US too. An article from wide open spaces describes using a deadfall trap to catch a rat, and then the cleaning and cooking process over an open fire.
So have I eaten a mouse? Still, nope. Call it cultural bias, but I still can’t do it. I’ll happily eat squirrel, woodchuck or even coyote, but you’ve got to draw the line somewhere and until a real zombie apocalypse my line is right before mice and rats. Since the old Roman recipes were for dormouse anyway, which is more or less a fat squirrel, I plan on cooking up squirrel using those ancient Roman recipes.
What about you, could you do it?