The 'Rat Burger' May Sound Like Some Gross New Thing. It's Not.

November 21, 2016

One of my go-to sources for news every morning is the U.K.’s tabloid of record, The Sun. It's usually a useful window to some important stuff going on in the world. So color me surprised when I chanced upon the following headline as I sipped my morning coffee—“RAT'S DISGUSTING! Russian restaurant serves up RAT burger to diners saying the meat has health benefits.”

Rat burgers. What a world. (I know what you’re thinking: man, this site is going downhill fast. Why write about a rat burger? Disgusting!) Type the words “rat burger” into Google and you’ll get an algorithmic suggestion for the phrase “ratburger,” which corresponds to a delightful piffle of a children’s book. Ugh. No, Google…that’s not what I meant. But this is unsurprising. When coupled, the words “rat burger” are anathema to most people’s tastebuds: It’s a phrase that is the stuff of alarmist studies about what’s really in your burger, as if our fast food restaurants are trying to poison us.

Uhhh, did I mean “ratburger”? No...

Last Friday, The Guardian’s Moscow correspondent Shaun Walker reported that 35-year-old restauranteur Takhir Kholikberdiev’s Krasnodar Bistro, located in Moscow, has begun to serve what’s known as the nutria burger. As the name implies, it’s derived from the meat of, nutria, a hulking semiaquatic rodent with orange chompers. (It's also known as the "river rat," or coypu.) The offering sits beside the nutria hotdog, nutria dumplings, and cabbage leave-ensconced nutria on the restaurant's menu.

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“It’s a really clean animal; not only is it a herbivore but it washes all its food before it eats,” Kholikberdiev told The Guardian of the nutria. "And it’s very high in omega-3 acids. A lot of doctors and dietitians recommend it.” The Guardian piece details how nutrias tend to reproduce a lot, making them easy to farm, though the trend of cooking nutria into burgers is a new culinary frontier for Moscow.

This Guardian story has already been aggregated rather feverishly, because of course—what an irresistible headline. Here’s the thing, though: One thing I haven’t seen tackled is that nutria meat isn’t even new. And it certainly isn't the Russia-bred monstrosity these headlines may suggest.

Peep this article from Deseret News that’s nearly two decades old. “Hungry for a nutria burger?” its headline asks. “Louisiana has a treat for you.” It goes on to briefly detail how the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries had received over $2.1 million in federal funding to develop a nutria meat industry. Indeed, nutria meat has been the foundation of burgers—and a lot of other dishes—for a long time in Louisiana, a state whose swamps have been overrun with these rodents since they came up through the wetlands in the 1930s, and they have since begun to gnaw Louisiana's coastline into oblivion. Last year, former Food52 Writer-in-Residence Sarah Baird wrote a piece on nutria meat for Modern Farmer, and Louisiana's unending attempts to curb its alarmingly libidinous population since the 1950s. One of the methods has, as of late, involved turning its carcasses into food.

Well, well, well. Not so weird after all. I’ve managed to find a 1963 cookbook dedicated to nutria recipes, from gumbo to casserole to chop suey. Some have even suggested nutria meat as a Thanksgiving alternative for the turkey-averse. Yeah, how's that for Thanksgiving content? Timely as hell.

Ever have—or cook—nutria meat? Let us know in the comments.

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Mayukh Sen is a James Beard Award-winning food and culture writer in New York. His writing has appeared in the New York Times, the New Yorker, Bon Appetit, and elsewhere. He won a 2018 James Beard Award in Journalism for his profile of Princess Pamela published on Food52.


BigEasyWeezie November 22, 2016
Although we Louisianians eat many animals that others don't like, nutria isn't a very commonly eaten meat. In fact, there was a campaign in the 90s in either Jefferson or Orleans parish to get citizens to eat nutria. It never took off. Pretty interesting when you consider a place where people often eat squirrel, coon, rabbit and alligator. I love alligator and rabbit, but for some reason, I don't think I would eat nutria. Now... wild boar? Absolutely. It is the big new thing on menus around the New Orleans and Baton Rouge area. http://www.theadvocate.com/new_orleans/entertainment_life/food_restaurants/article_10ce8ae2-a076-11e6-be74-4b4c6cb68deb.html
Richard M. November 22, 2016
I love food 52 but I would ask you to reconsider using The Scum for anything other than kindling, frequent purveyors of lies. I would ask you to google the sun and hillsborough for further understanding of what that paper stands for
William L. November 21, 2016
Excellent, Amanda! May we see a video of you trying it?
Amanda S. November 21, 2016
I'd try it.
I mean the animals we eat versus don't eat is largely cultural - typically there's no real reason we don't eat other animals other than it's taboo in our culture.
Humans eat a wide variety of animals such as guinea pigs (they weren't bred to be pets), alligator, emus, insects, rotted shark (there's a whole festival in Iceland for it), snails. Not to mention weird parts (organs, stomach lining, feet, tongue, eyeballs, cheeks).
And if you're feeling grossed out, maybe you don't really want to know what goes on with your factory farmed meat (like.... you should know because of the environmental impact of factory farms, but still).
Frankly I'd much rather have a responsibly caught, ecologically sound 'nutria' rather than some Purdue chicken.
Sharon November 21, 2016
Now you've done it. I was just getting ready to enjoy my breakfast but I've lost my appetite. Seriously gross article. Sorry I read it but it's too late now. Can't UNread it. Ugh, my stomach is queasy...I think I might throw up.