For most restaurants, rats are bad news. But in the Cambodian province of Battambang, the arrival of this seasonal rodent delicacy signals big business.
Battambang, 300 km northwest of Phnom Penh, is the rice bowl of the nation. And with rice comes rats - grain-fattened paddy rats that connoisseurs say are delicious barbecued, boiled or roasted in a heady mixture of lemongrass, turmeric and garlic.
"The last rice has just been harvested, so the rats are ready. They are coming onto the market now, and the next three months while they are in season are very good business for us," says restaurateur Chhrut Hen, 24.
Hen's family owns two candle-lit street restaurants in a busy late night snack strip opposite Battambang Referral Hospital. For months, customers have to be content with a mundane tapas of dried stingray, fish and squid to sip their wine and beer with. But rat meat, she says, is what really brings business flocking.
"We can make an extra $200 when rat is in season," Hen says. Only paddy rat and never city rat is served, she stresses.
Some say rat meat became a delicacy in the years of deprivation under Pol Pot's Khmer Rouge regime, and many Cambodians still recoil at the thought of eating the rodent.
However, vendors say those who have developed a taste for it span all social classes, and their appetite is insatiable. Hen's restaurant alone sells at least two kilos of rat meat each night.
"We usually serve them barbecued, but at home I prefer them in a tom yum style soup," says Hen's sister, Chhrut Him, 16.
Him says she first became a fan of rat meat in her home province of Kampong Cham, 200 km to the east, but the meat of Battambang rats is sweeter because the rice is harvested just once a year here and Battambang's highly sought-after fragrant rice makes the rodents fatter and more flavoursome.
At the nearby upmarket 100 Rice Fields Garden restaurant, Srey Mom is also gearing up for a rat season rush. Here patrons sit in individual thatched huts, and instead of rice wine, the drink of choice is often imported beer or even whisky. But rice paddy rat, she says, still makes a perfect accompaniment to any tipple.