Rat soup

Mekong River, 4000 Islands, Laos
Mekong River, Laos | Art by Todd Berman

As Todd and I set off this morning on a tour of the Buddhist caves near Tha Khek, the tour agent asked what we wanted for lunch so he could tell our non-English speaking songthaew-taxi driver. When I boasted, “Wherever the locals eat,” I forgot that we were headed to the Laotian countryside, where “local” is very local. Context is so important.

Noontime, the songthaew shudders to a stop in front of a roadside shack, smack in the middle of nothing. A woman waves us over to her open-air, rudimentary kitchen, and points to a steaming pot of what can only be soup. Nodding, I say “gai gai,” the Laotian for “chicken chicken,” always the safest bet.

While we wait for our lunch, I watch the oddly-common-in-Laos sight of a toddler playing with an eight-inch knife, blissfully stabbing the shack’s floorboards. Todd’s distracted by some action in the kitchen, leaning way back on his plastic stool for a better view.

“They’re . . . working on something over there,” he cryptically mutters.

His tone has me worried. “What d’ya mean, ‘something’?,” I ask. “What something?”

“Something . . . with a tail.”

We scamper over and see a squatting man using a knife – identical to the one the kid was playing with – to de-hair a rat.

Todd gets the attention of our driver, chatting in the kitchen. Todd points to the rat, then at himself and me, and, rapidly waving his jazz hands together and apart, makes the international gesture for “Aw, hell no!” With a quick glance at the rat, our driver reassuringly reciprocates the “Aw, hell no!” gesture.

Soon after Todd and I sit back down, our soup arrives. A very close inspection confirms that the meat’s definitely chicken, and some damn fine chicken at that. As we hungrily slurp, neither Todd nor I state the obvious: there’s no way to ever know what went into the soup stock.

Photos from Tha Khek and Champasak, Laos

As previously mentioned, I accidentally deleted many photos from our time in south Laos. These are what’s left from our time in Tha Khek and nearby Champasak. Unfortunately, no pics of the rat de-hairing survived.

If you can’t see the photo slide show above, view the photo set on Flickr.