GUANGZHOU - Many restaurants that feature rat meat dishes are enjoying brisk business in Zhongcun town of Panyu district in this Guangdong provincial capital, though medical experts warn of hidden safety risks.
The rat dishes are so popular that diners sometimes have to book in advance for a meal in some restaurants during peak hours.
A staff member from the Jijiao street restaurant said rat dishes have been a major attraction at his restaurant for decades.
"The restaurant can now sell more than 40 kilograms of rat meat dishes a day," said the employee, who wished to remain anonymous.
Rat meat can be roasted, braised in soy sauce, stewed or cooked in soup, he said.
One kg of rat meat costs diners about 50 yuan ($7.3), while the restaurant purchases the raw rat meat at about 15 yuan per kg, he said.
Every day, several cages of rats are displayed in front of the restaurant to lure diners during business hours.
According to the anonymous staff member, most of the rat sold at the restaurant are field mice purchased in Zhanjian city, the western part of Guangdong, Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region, Hunan and Jiangxi provinces.
"Diners who visit the rat meat dish restaurant come from around the country," he said.
Other restaurants that sell rat meat dishes are also reportedly experiencing robust business in Zhongcun town.
A Zhongcun resident, surnamed Tao, said local people have eaten rat meat dishes for decades and that many find them to be both delicious and nutritious.
Many local residents believe in an old saying: "A rat equals three chickens in term of nutrition," he said.
"And the rat meat dishes can help cure baldness and prevent hair from turning gray."
In addition to the rat meat dishes sold in many local street restaurants, rat meat is also made into cured meats that are sold in local bazaars as special local products.
The growing number of rat meat restaurants in Zhongcun has raised the concerns of medical experts, as well as those of some residents who dislike the dish.
Lin Lifeng, deputy director of Guangdong provincial center of disease control and prevention, said rat meat usually carries various viruses and bacteria that are harmful to people's health.
"It is groundless and lacks scientific evidence that rat meat is highly nutritious and can help cure baldness," Lin said.
He urged people to avoid eating rat meat dishes, because rats carry many infectious diseases.
Those who engage in catching, transporting, slaughtering and cooking rat meat are also at high risk of being infected with diseases, Lin said.
Chen Yingyun, a white-collar worker in Guangzhou, suggested that relevant government departments should ban the eating of rat meat to prevent diseases from breaking out and spreading.
"Most of the mouse meat is actually from sewer rats, rather than field mice, since most of the rice fields and farmlands in the Pearl River Delta have been occupied by industrial projects and housing estates in recent years," Chen said.
"The Cantonese people should not dare eat all kinds of animals," she said.