Published on January 27th, 2010 | by Mark Chesnut
Rat Race: My Quest to Eat a Rodent in Guatemala
The first time I visited Guatemala City with my partner, a taxi driver recommended that we try a local dish called tepesquintle at a restaurant just behind the governmental palace. He didn’t tell us exactly what kind of meat it was, but we tried it, and it was delicious.
After two days of asking every local we met exactly what we had eaten (“it’s like a rabbit,” said one person; “it’s like a raccoon,” said another; “it’s like a dog,” said the third), I finally looked it up online and found out that it was a giant rat. Not the kind you’d see in the garbage dump, mind you, but a giant rodent called the “royal rat” in English. The species is raised on farms, just like a pig or a cow, specifically to eat. And it tastes good. So I decided that it would be a great idea, since I’m now blogging about everything when I travel, to further document this offbeat dinner option during my visit to the beautiful historic town called Antigua Guatemala this week.
Apparently, it’s going to be harder than I thought. “I don’t think there are any restaurants in Antigua that serve tepesquintle,” says the driver who picks me up at the airport, adding that he’d never eaten it, and wouldn’t want to.
“Ohhhh, I don’t think you can get that anywhere in Antigua,” concurs a waitress at a café next to the town square. She makes a face. “I’ve never even tried it.”
The concierge at La Posada del Angel, the luxury boutique hotel where I’m staying, is a bit more helpful (and sophisticated enough not to make a face when I ask). He points me in the direction of a nearby hotel’s dining room, which turns out to be closed, and then to a small restaurant, La Fonda de la Calle Real, although I find two eateries with that same name. At one, the maitre d’ says that they would only prepare tepesquintle on special order, and with advance notice. At the next, the waitress and two cooks confer intently before giving me their response. “You can’t get tepesquintle in Antigua,” the waitress says, decidedly. “Chinese food, Italian food, typical Guatemalan food, yes. But not that.”
Hungry and tired from clopping along the rough cobblestone streets all day, I give up and resign myself to a chicken sandwich combo meal at Pollo Campero, a Guatemalan fast-food chain, where the chicken mascot shrugs his shoulders and smiles, as if to say, “Oh well, tomorrow’s another day!”