Forget kale, forget quinoa. This season’s foodie craze in Moscow is homegrown, affordable and full of nutrients. It’s rat.
Well, not quite rat, but nutria, a giant orange-toothed rodent also known as coypu or river rat, and found in southern Russia. The furry, whiskered beast is finding its way on to plates at several Moscow restaurants this autumn.
Eating rodents might conjure up images of starving peasants desperate to survive, or Soviet citizens grimly making it through the siege of Leningrad, but 35-year-old chef and restaurateur Takhir Kholikberdiev has other ideas. He serves up nutria burgers and a whole range of other rodent-based dishes in a sleekly designed eatery right in the centre of Moscow.
The recently opened Krasnodar Bistro, named after the southern Russian city from which Kholikberdiev hails, is marketed at the new breed of middle-class Muscovite with broad culinary horizons, and fits into a recent trend among Moscow restaurants of focusing on high-quality local ingredients.
Those who are a little freaked out by the idea of munching on rodent are simply misinformed, says Kholikberdiev. “It’s a really clean animal; not only is it a herbivore but it washes all its food before it eats. And it’s very high in omega-3 acids. A lot of doctors and dietitians recommend it.”
The nutria burger at Krasnodar Bistro is pale, juicy and fairly bland, somewhere between turkey and pork. It came in a soft bun, with plenty of relish and served on a chopping board. It tasted pretty good, though while chewing on the meat the diner may get mental flashes of quivering whiskers and nattering orange teeth. A generously sized nutria burger cost 550 roubles ($8.60).
Nutrias multiply at an alarmingly fast rate, making them an easy and cheap animal to farm. In the 1990s, when most Russians lived on the poverty line, people could not afford traditional fur coats made of fox or mink, so nutrias were bred as a cheap substitute. And with all the excess carcasses, people began to eat the meat. “Every village in Krasnodar region would have 100 or so nutrias, and when you went to stay with your grandparents, they’d always stew one up for you,” said Kholikberdiev.
In Moscow, eating nutria was unheard of, but that is changing, although rat on the menu takes a little getting used to. The website Afisha, a bible for Moscow hipsters, wrote in its breathless review of Krasnodar Bistro: “Just to reiterate this: it’s 2016 and you can eat a rat burger just a few hundred metres from the Kremlin!”
Kholikberdiev said: “I have it here and at one of my other restaurants. Other chefs have started to use it here. And now, if you go to the market in Moscow, they might not have nutria available every day, but they’ll get it in for you within a week if you ask.”
He also said the beauty of nutria was how easy it was to cook: mess up the cooking time of a rabbit and it will dry out in a matter of minutes, but nutria tastes nicely juicy however long you cook it for.
Other nutria delights on offer at Krasnodar Bistro include nutria hotdog, nutria dumplings and nutria wrapped in cabbage leaves. For diners who smell a rat when it comes to nutria, there are plenty of other options using the meats of southern Russia, including a spicy kidney and sweet potato pie and a succulent, delicious and blissfully rodent-free grilled chicken with plums.
Source: The Guardian