It was 1997 and I was on my first visit to Ghana. Driving from Accra to Cape Coast we passed stalls of fruit and vegetables - mangoes and pineapples piled high. Women were selling tomatoes and yams. It was a benign landscape that you could look out across and admire. And then there they were. Suddenly, without warning, I was confronted by the sight of men running along the roadside, gesturing urgently, pointing at the huge rat-like things in their hands.
Certainly the sight of a man waving the biggest rat I had ever seen in my life was disconcerting, but what was even worse was the pre-barbecued, road kill version he waved in the other. It is a memory I will not easily forget.
Technically they're greater cane rats but in Ghana they're known simply as grass cutters. A hefty rat that can grow to up to nine kilograms in size, grass cutters fall under the cuisine category of bush meat. Most commonly sold on the roadsides, they're also to be found in the market, and let me just say there's nothing quite like rounding a corner in a hot, teeming market and coming face to face with a grass cutter that looks like it's been stunned with a Taser and then boiled...
Traditionally they've been hunted in the wild but a growing demand for their meat is seeing the rise of commercial farming. High in protein, apparently low in cholesterol, and easy to farm, grass cutters are providing a lucrative niche market opportunity for small-scale farmers.
For now, they're primarily a local delicacy, but with farmers looking to the Ghanaian diaspora as a source of export earnings, who knows, maybe soon we'll be able to share our grass cutters with world.
What do you think - is there room on your barbecue for a grass cutter or two?
photo credit: Nyani Quarmyne