By Elvina Nawaguna
One man's meat is another man's poison, so the saying goes. The day a picture of Iteso eating rats made front page, a proud Mukiga man said the smallest animal they would ever eat was a goat.
Apparently, the Bakiga don't even consider rabbits for a possible meal.
Well, not so for the Iteso and many other people across the globe.
In Togo, rat meat is as common as rolex in Wandegeya or fish at Ssese Gateway Beach.
A customer goes to the rat roasting stand and picks from a variety of rats. The butcher then slashes off the rat's head and roasts it muchomo style. The meat is served with Kachumbari or ebigenderako as it would be commonly called.
In Thailand, rat meat is a delicacy that many families serve to visitors as barbecued, deep-fried or yummy chopped rat with chili paste!
The rats are trapped from rice fields at night in sacs. The head is chopped off and a cut made behind the ear to make pulling off the hair easier. The rats are then cut open so as to remove intestines. The heart and the liver are also eaten.
In China, rats were first eaten to reduce their population when they became a nuisance or during famine.
Rat meat later became a popular dish served in restaurants and there are more than 400 rat meat recipes in China.
In Vietnam, the population of rats had increased so much that the government banned eating cats and snakes. The people then resorted to eating rats.
In Cambodia, people resorted to eating rats after getting scared of catching bird flu from eating chicken.
The delicious rat meat is served with rice or accompanied with alcohol.
Many Congolese, Indian and native American tribes eat rats. If all these tribes eat rats, then the practice should not be as gross as it seems.
Among the Iteso, eating the edible rat (omelekes) is part of the culture. Veteran journalist, Ilakut Ben Bella says he grew up eating these rats.
"I used to eat them when I was young in the 1940s. The meat was as delicious as chicken, goat or pork. The Iteso eat a lot of greens and peas. Since they were not supposed to kill cows, chicken and goats, the Iteso ate edible rats to supplement their diet, instead of having greens all the time," Ben Bella says.
He says they caught the rats using snapping rattraps with pieces of meat as bait or hunted for them near the river.
Mary Goretti Akiror says the villagers would attack the rats' holes with burning dry elephant grass, which would force the rats out and they would hunt them down.
"A sumptuous feast would then follow," Akiror says.
Ben Bella says the edible rats were slaughtered like chicken. They were slit open to remove the intestines. The feet were also cut off.
He says they had to catch as many rats as possible in order to get enough meat for the whole family.
"If we caught many rats in the bush and we were hungry, we would roast and eat some of them before going back home," Ben Bella says.
Rat meat tastes like ordinary meat but it becomes tastier after adding spices.
Akiror says the difference between rat meat and any other type of meat is only in name.
However, Ben Bella says the rats that were eaten by the Iteso were not the small ordinary rats.
Like many tribes in Uganda, the Iteso ate the edible rat, called Omusu in Luganda. Most tribes in Uganda, including the Baganda, Langi, Bakonzo and Acholi eat this rat species.
Ben Bella says eating rats in Teso stopped in the 1950s because the edible rats became extinct.
However, Okiria, a resident of Tororo, says the Iteso in the area eat even the small common rats.
Okiria says this group of Iteso came from Kenya and they are different from those in Soroti, Katakwi, Kumi and Paliisa.
The saying goes that "he who has not travelled out of his home thinks his mother is the best cook". And evidently, the same man who has not ventured beyond Uganda will not realise how much weird meals are out there.
Without even going far, how about roasted crickets and termites, which are sometimes eaten raw in Bunyole and chicken heads, intestines and legs eaten by the Luo in Kenya?
In Nakasongola, people chase squirrels just to have them for supper!
So if you think you cannot try rat stew, then try any of these delicacies; frog legs or garden snails in France, monkey head in Congo, maggot cheese in Sardinia, monkey brains in Hong-Kong (the brains must be eaten from the open skull of a live monkey, in a very expensive restaurant!!).
Other strange dishes include rattlesnake fried in butter in Texas and worms in Mexico.
Others are salted pig blood, owl soup and live shrimp swimming in a bowl of soup in China, (One has to fish it out with chopsticks and take a bite!).
Weird, huh? Rat meat would seem like mere matooke compared with some of the dishes above.
Every body thinks the other's food is gross. Americans find it sickening that Ugandans eat fish with their eyes â€œpleading for mercy.
And even more weird that we eat grasshoppers and white ants.
If everyone got on comfortably with the idea of rat meat, may be businessmen would export rats to Togo and names like Yakobo, Rat Joint or Nicodemus, Roast Rat Joint! would pop up!
So, guys, anything, which creeps, crawls or walks can be eaten.
It may upset the stomach for a while but with time, you will get used, especially if you don't have to pay for it from the butcher!!!
Rats for dinner, a delicacy to some, a taboo to many