Here on Don Det as the rice is finished being cut, and the grains knocked off the stalks, all those helping, gather for a party to celebrate the end of the work. Our friends Kham Pau and Mr. King invited us to the King family gathering for this event. So we hopped into Kham Pau’s wagon pulled by a tok tok (a Chinese two-wheeled tractor that makes the sound “tok tok” and thus the name) and made our way across the island to the King family’s home where the final rice was being processed.
The children were playing while the women were either working with de-graining the rice stalks or cooking up food for the gathering over their little charcoal cookers. The men were laying around in the pavilion-like shelter on the shoreline of the Mekong River drinking BeerLao and laughing. The division of work here seems to be the men do the plowing and fishing and the women do everything else. Donna had her camera and was taking pictures as we joined the men.
Soon, space was being cleared and trays of food were being set in the middle. It is a very communal way of eating with one big bowl of soup, but everyone gets their own spoon, a few “tip khao” (containers) of sticky rice, jaew (dips), and a couple of big bowls of “larb ped”. “Larb” is a type of Lao meat salad and “ped” means duck. To eat this, one takes a bit of sticky rice, shaping it into a bite-sized little ball, pressing it into the larb to get a bit onto it and into the mouth. It was very tasty but soon finished!
As we sat around, the men played with slingshots seeing who could shoot the best. Someone started picking out good rocks from a gravel pile. Then Kham Pau turned to me and said, “Come Papa! Mama, you stay here.” Donna wasn’t too happy about being left behind but she had her camera with a good telescopic lens which she took advantage of.
Someone handed out bamboo sticks about a meter long to several of us. “Where are we going? What are we doing?” I asked. “Come Papa!” We walked into the harvested rice field towards a small copse of trees. There was a hole at the base of one tree to which Kham Pau told me to ram my stick into. “Okay.”
Suddenly, there was an explosion of large rats escaping out of the hole! The Laos men started swinging and batting the rats! Some of the rats climbed up the tree and ran out the branches but they could not escape the dead-eyed marksmanship of these pro slingshot masters! Thwack! Down they would fall. It all happened so fast! I swung my stick wildly trying to hit a rat but missed terribly. Kham Pau seeing how dangerous I was told me to stop and handed me a net basket as he took my stick away. The men started flinging the dead rats in my direction as I caught them in the basket. There were quite a few, somewhere between 20 and 30. Mr. King reached into the hole under the tree and pulled out three little baby rats about as big as your thumb.
We walked back towards the house to give the children the three babies to play with. I admittedly did the most obvious thing to do with three baby rats and juggled them before giving them to the kids. They were delighted. Then we went out to the Mekong where I learned how to skin a rat.
The rats here are very clean and nothing like their city counterparts which are disease-ridden and scuzzy. Laos people say you only eat the ones in the fields, not the ones that come to your house. As you could imagine, field rats are living on Bio grown rice and are quite healthy!
Skinning a rat was incredibly easy. By grasping the tragus of the ear and pulling towards the tail, the whole skin slips off easier than a pair of socks! I thought to myself, ‘Oh! I could make a nice little bag out of these skins’ then Kham Pau said, “Throw it in the river.” Which I did, several times. There were a lot of rats!
We then took the skinned rats up to the ladies who chopped the head and the toenails off and minced the rest up to make “larb nu” or rat larb.
Shortly, as we lay around in the ‘pavilion’, trays of rat larb were placed in the middle, and the feast continued. I have told this story a few times, and when I do I ask, “What do you think it tasted like?” Everybody tends to say, “Chicken!”
But the real answer is…
… duck. And it really was delicious!