(Two tarps advertise the specialty meat being sold in a makeshift stall. Customers buy the products in a drive-thru manner. Photo by Elmo Roque)
CABANATUAN CITY – On a side of a bypass highway here, gourmets stop at a makeshift stall to buy and take home one kind of what is esteemed by many as extraordinary or exotic kind of fresh meat: skinless daga.
Daga is the common Tagalog word for field mice and house rats.
But, the daga being sold here as food is dagang- bukid (field mice).
To the uninitiated, the word daga may make them icky as this hairy mammal, especially the house rats, are objects of intense hate because they bring disease and continuous destruction of valuable materials.
But for others, the dagang- bukid is considered excellent food, and many men believe it is an aphrodisiac. The stall, owned by Teresita Constantino Beltran of Ibabao Baba, Emilio Vergara Highway, herald here specialty foods through crude signage that advertise “Dagang bukid 4 sale.”
She sells other kinds of saleable meat like “Live itik” and “Drest itik 4 sale” in another board. (Drest is apparently for dressed or skinned duck’s meat.)
If there is enough supply, her stall rolls out about 50 kilograms of fresh rat meat and adobong daga placed in stypor (foamed expandable polystyrene) boxes in a day.
Buying is mostly via “drive thru customers,” said Beltran. She said there are many customers who appear dismayed when she says they have no more meat to sell.
She said the buyers seemed “sabik dahil seasonal lang kasi ang pagkakaroon ng karneng daga (anxious as the commodity is only seasonal).
“I sell the skinless daga at P120 per kilogram and the adobo at P50 per serving,” she said.
Beltran said she purchases the raw dressed mice meat from different sources in different towns near this city. Her husband Marte buys it from different suppliers.
She did not reveal the farmgate price, but said “enough to make good profit for us.”
She was told, she said, the farmers who hawk the meat of their catch, on field planted with standing rice crops.
They do it through pangunguyente (use of low voltage electrified gadget) or by using wooden clubs. Some of the sellers make available five to seven kilograms of meat, she said, that’s why they approach other sellers.
She said she competes with other vendors who off er the meat on a house-to-house bases for prospective buyers in their respective towns.
Beltran said contrary to common belief that there is more than enough supply of live mice during flooded days, there is almost none.
The mice take refuge in trees or high grassy lands and are difficult to catch, she was told.
She started her business here two years ago, and finds herself the only one selling skinned daga and adobong daga here.
One curious mediaman here, Jordan Ilustre, station manager of DWAY, finds the field mice meat being sold by Beltran not showing any semblance of being mice. It looks the meat of birds or some fowls, he said.
He did not taste the adobong daga offered to him for some reason or another but added that his counterpart of Sunshine radio in different locations would like to come here and have an experimental taste of it.
Many customers said they prefer the rat’s meat as it is cheaper than current market price of pork which sells in the market at P240 per kg.
It’s not the first time that this “phenomenon” about the gourmet food daga came out to fore.
In the ‘60s
This reporter remembers that in the late 60s he broke the story on how to solve the rat menace in the field by saying “eat them.”
He referenced it by saying that in his younger years, he used to go with farmers in searching for field mice, which were still few then, and cooking them for different food preparations.
When the problem, though, about the massive destruction of the mice erupted, people started catching them and using them for food which tasted “like pork or chicken.”
The popularity of eating the field mice surged when some food experts came out with the list of “STAR recipes.”
Read backward, the word “star” is rats. Belonging to the order Rodentia, mice grow with continuously growing incisors in each of the upper and lower jaws.
They have to continuously use the incisors to prevent them from growing very long and inconvenience them. Hence, their gnawing even on hard objects like wood.
Very prolific, each pair of mice, according to experts, can produce a population of 482,508,800 descendants in just three years.
They said the rats’ sexual maturity happens after four to five weeks, and their population can swell to around 1,250 in one year for each pair as their pregnancies last for only 21 to 23 days.
Food experts who studied a kilogram of rat meat said it contains 648 calories, 63 grams of protein, and 33 grams of fat.
In comparison, a kilogram of lamb’s meat contains 402 calories, 61 grams of protein, and 16 grams of fat and almost comparable with 300 grams of New York Sirloin steak with 684 calories, 62g protein, and 47 g fat.
Animal experts don’t seem worried about the practice of catching field mice and partaking it as rat meat.
Usually, rice officials cajole farmers to exterminate the field by putting baiting stations, as they can cause tremendous destruction to the standing crop.
They said about 20 rats can wreck big havoc on the crop in one night by cutting down the plant’s stem on the vegetative and booting stages and the stalks that bear the pancicle.
“Welcome na welcome ‘yang panghuhuli at pagkain ng daga. Nakatutulong sa pagliligtas sa paninira ng tanim na palay, may exotic food pa (It’s a welcome practice, this catching and eating of the rats meat. It helps solve the rodent’s destruction of the rice crop as it also provides exotic food),” a rice expert said.