SUPHANBURI: The sight of roadside stalls selling seasonal fruit, diesel-flavored roast chicken or other comestibles is a common one on any road trip in Thailand. Along the roads of Suphanburi, however, the offerings are a bit more exotic, with cobras and field rats the current hits.
On October 27, Sala Phromphim, who owns five stalls selling the unusual delicacies along the Suphanburi-Bangbuathong stretch of Highway 340, said that he has been running his operation for around 10 years.
Recently, the demand for snakes and rats has soared, he was happy to report.
The field rat meat sells for 80-90 baht per kilogram, while whole cobras fetch 500 to 600 baht each, depending on their size.
These prices are for fresh, live-caught animals, with the price tags significantly lower for prepared meat, Mr Sala said.
Among his customers, he counted many regular locals, people just passing through, and a number of snake-meat enthusiasts who travelled a long way to buy at his stalls.
Folks in this last group usually demand live snakes and knew all about the best way to prepare them, he said.
Though he was happy for the extra business, Mr Sala said he was worried the increased interest in rat meat would put a strain on the local population of the rodents, which had already been hit hard by changes in local farming techniques.
Local farmer Phairat Wang- dee disagreed, however. He said he was glad to see the rats being caught and sold off because they breed fast, damage crops and can spread disease.
Contrary to popular belief, eating rats is not only for poor people, he said.
The price of rat meat is considerably higher than the price of pork, meaning that only wealthier locals could afford to buy it.
Poorer folks had to catch the rats themselves if they wanted to dine on them, he lamented. But not everyone was so pleased with the new-found popularity of the exotic dishes. Dr Surin Prasithiran, from the Suphanburi Public Health Office, said that properly-cooked rat meat should pose no health risks.
Cobra consumption presented more of a problem, however.
The practice of drinking freshly-killed cobra blood could lead to parasitic infection and gastrointestinal disease, he said.
Assistant Professor Pan-thep Ratanakon, Director of the Centre for Wildlife Protection, added that not only did eating cobras pose a health risk, it was also illegal under the 1997 Wildlife Protection Act.
Trade in cobras is punishable with a prison sentence of up to four years and/or a fine of up to 40,000 baht for both seller and buyer, he said.
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