The great Indian Omnivore

When ever I am asked if I am a non-vegetarian, I am tempted to reply that I am an omnivore. Then, I give up and reluctantly nod yes. I dislike the term ‘non vegetarian’ – it implies that I don’t like vegetables (which is do). In fact, after being introduced to a bewildering variety of vegetarian food in Peru , if I had to choose between an exotic meat or a vegetarian dish, I would choose the later. Exotic vegetarian dishes are hard to find though.

Growing up in India, an omnivore is not exposed to much variety in kinds of meat. There are the big four – chicken, mutton, fish and prawns. (I also dislike lumping all fish together – it’s like saying that I eat mammal, but’s that another blog.) For the adventurous, there is the occasional crab, lobster, sheep or fowl. It is rare to find anything beyond that.

However, according to author Colleen Taylor Sen, this lack of diversity in meat in Indian Cuisine seems to be a recent phenomenon. In the book ‘Fasts and Feasts: The History of Food in India’ she describes a variety of meat preparations that no present day Indian would be familiar with.

Consider this preparation:

Barbecued Rat
The strong black rats that live in fields and along riverbanks are called Maiga; the are held by the tail and fried in hot oil until the fur comes off. The rat is then washed in hot water, the stomach cut open and the inner parts cooked with Indian gooseberry [Amla] and salt. The rest of the ear is put on an iron skewer and fried over red-hot coal until the skin is charred. When the rat is well cooked, it is sprinkled with salt, cumin and dried ginger.

Before you slot this away into some sort of exotic tribal delicacy enjoyed at the margins of society, I should explain that this recipe is taken from the Manasolassa, a composition in Sanskrit verse by King Someshvara III, the eighth king of the western Chalukya dynasty (which controlled parts of Karnataka, Goa, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana Maharastra and Kerala), who ruled from 1126 to 1138. And before you think that this book contains only similar exotic dishes, it also describes what we consider mundane Indian foods such as papad, dosa and paratha.

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