Something's Fishy, eh what?

on Saturday, March 31, 2007


This handsome creature is actually the world's largest rat. It is the capybara (Hydrochoerus hydrochaeris) is native to Central and South America. An adult stands at about two feet (60 cm) tall at the shoulders and weigh as much as 65 kg. It is considered semi-aquatic as it spends most of its time in the waters of the vast marshes of its habitat. It even has webbed toes. It's name may be derived from the Tupi "kaapĩ ûara" which quite appropriately means grass-eater. Oh, and it is a fish!

This is currently the season of Lent which today refers to a period of forty days before Good Friday and the Easter weekend. For the Roman Catholic church, Lent is a period in which followers are encouraged to give up some luxury as a sacrifice to God in a symbolic acknowledgement that God was willing to sacrifice His Son, Jesus Christ for all of us. Today, adherents may commonly abstain from eating meat on Fridays. Others may give up smoking or alcohol or even chocolates.

Before 1970s Vatican II Council, the rules were stricter. In fact, followers were expected to give up the eating of meat for the full forty day Lent period. In Europe, this often meant that fish became a staple during this time as it was not considered a meat.

However, in South America and in particular certain parts of Venezuela, there was no meat of the traditional European fare like beef or pork. Instead, in the 1600s, capybara was the major source of food. As there was very little else to eat in this hostile environment, abstaining from meat during Lent became a serious issue. It is said that the local priest sent a petition to Rome describing vaguely an animal that is scaly yet hairy but spends almost all its time in the water and asking for a ruling that the capybara could be eaten during this period. Whether it was because of the vague discription or because they did not want their parishoners to starve, the pope agreed to consider the capybara as a fish.

Today, capybara remains a favorite dish in Venezuela and even more are eaten during Lent where some say it is to Lent what turkey is to Thanksgiving in USA.
So beware, if you are dining in Venezuela, and you order the surf 'n turf, you might be getting turf all the way!

21 comments:

geewits said...

When I first read this, I mistook the capybara for the nutria which are considered a terrible pest. I looked it up and see that there is a big difference. It seems to be a popular food item, but ICK!

Becky Wolfe said...

Very interesting little (big) critter. Kind of looks like a beaver or a large swimming marmot thing.

Interesting facts about Lent. I didn't remember the 'whys' of it all so the reminder is good! I think the idea is giving up something that would truly be a sacrifice. The year I went to Bible School we were encouraged to "lent" and I remember giving up coffee. If I chose to do that now it would be VEERRY difficult. Love my cup of morning coffee!

Janice Thomson said...

While this guy is indeed quite a "looker" I have a hard time with anything related to the rat genus. About 8 years ago our building at work was infested with hundreds and hundreds of rats...they literally migrated to our building and destroyed all my office paperwork and a lot of other things too...like all the clothing we had in boxes (our winter stock)...it took a week to exterminate them all. I felt bad this had to be done but there was no other way other than to relocate our store. They migrated because an old unused building had been torn down and the basement gutted. In their frenzy to find a new home they chose our basement which ran underneath three businesses including a coffee-shop.
It's interesting how a simple little rodent like a rat made me feel so defiled when hundreds took over our store...and set off the alarm 5 nights in a row LOL. So eating one is definitely not on my menu...besides I'm vegan :) Interesting post as always LGS!

HeiressChild said...

hi LGS, how interesting! the capybara does look like part of the beaver family. i think i would just eat veggies during the lent period if this applied to me.
i'll be watchful if i ever get to venezuela. i didn't know the history behind lent either, so this was informative for me. good post!

Josie said...

LGS, that's very interesting. I think I would have difficulty eating that, whether it were fish or meat. It really does look like a rat.

Vancouver, being a port city, is inundated with rats.

Like Sylvia, I think I would stick to veggies during Lent.

Josie

Molly said...

I have seen this not-so-handsome fellow at zoos and could never warm to him. Now I know why. The varmint is a rat! Must remember to avoid Venezuala when I go on my grand South American tour, which is a pity since I have always loved the exotic sound of Maracaibo...
A+ on your Lenten doctrine!

Josie said...

I might add, he certainly isn't as cute as squirrels :-)

Josie

Open Grove Claudia said...

I think our dog chases something about that size in the La Platte river that runs through Downtown Denver. We try to discourage her but....

Ok, it's gross but she has a good time.

gledwood said...

I keep rodents as pets. My current is a Chinese hamster only 12cm long. I've never had any nibbler THAT big in my house. Imagine if it BIT me >?????

patterns of ink said...

That critter looks like a R-O-U-S from "The Princess Bride." (Rodent of unusual size.)

Jocelyn said...

I think I have to give up big aquatic rats for Lent.

And for ever.

Lone Grey Squirrel said...

geewits,
I had to look up "nutria". I've learnt that its a big pest in Texas. Develop it into a Chinese delicacy and it will cease being a pest and become a commodity...... all it needs it good PR.

"Nutria, even the name stands for Nutrition and it has less cholesterol than beef!!"

becky,
I don't practice Lent but beginning to appreciate the idea behind it. Maybe next year. If you gave up coffee before, you can do it again. :)

janice,
I can understand your adversion to rats. I wrote about a home invasion by rodents in my 8th and 9th January posts. But not all rodents are nasty.....let's not forget from whence comes Mickey Mouse.

heiresschild,
welcome back. Yes, veggies is a safe fallback.

josie,
I think I am turning a lot of people off meat. I hope the meat industry doesn't come after me.

molly,
I am sure there's lots to eat other than big water rat/fish creatures at Maracaibo. Maybe just avoid going during Lent. Thanks for the A+ (are you a teacher by the way?) for my Lenten doctrine. I was a little worried about the correctness of the info.

I am not a Catholic although my parents are and I studied at a Catholic School and most of my knowledge about the Catholic beliefs come from informal discussions.

josie,(part II)
Thank you, thank you. I am not inclined to disagree. hehe.

claudia,
your dog and I can still be friends as long as the dog never actually catches anything!!! Also, there are no capybaras in Denver, so they must be ROUS. (see patterns of ink's comment).

gledwood,
You'd need to trade in about 500 hamsters to get one of these babies. It shouldn't bite unless you are disturbing it or it thinks you look like vegetables. :)

poi,
ROUS, yes but not as vicious.

jocelyn,
You are so clever. We should all give up bad habits before we start. That really is the best way.

CSL said...

I did the Lent thing in college - gave up chocolate one year, and all sweets the next. Now I just ty to go for some degree of mindfulness year-round. As for the capybara - I have a big carved wooden one on my dresser that my grandfather brought back from Panama. We'd visited them there when I was a little girl and it reminds me of that trip, and also of Gradddaddy. But classed as a fish? No, way. It's a mammal, and off my eating list in any season.

thethinker said...

A rat being called a fish for the sake of Lent? How strange...

Cheryl said...

Well that's one strange looking animal. I thought it was a nutria too. Someone needs to take an interest in that thing as a food source.

Interesting post, LGS

Lone Grey Squirrel said...

csl,
I don't practice Lent but that's mainly because it has not been part of the tradition I have been exposed to. I think the idea is fine but people practicing it must not lose sight of the idea behind it and just make it a rule to follow. It should not be a rule but a meaningful practice that people can choose to do.

theThinker,
Lots of strange science related stuff when different disciplines intersect. For example, law and science. The value for pi is 3.142857142.....recurring. Law makers in some parts of the U.S.A., not understanding the concept actually adopted a law to say that pi = 3.14. This no doubt caused a lot of problems with engineering calculations. There is also a silly by-law of a gentlemen's club in U.K. which forbids the presence of dogs in the club. Later when they wanted to make an exception to allow guide dogs for the blind, they actually found it easier to declare that animals helping the blind are to be deemed as cats. Go figure!

Cheryl,
I didn't know anything about Nutria until I read geewits post and did a google search. Care to develop some recipes? :)

Odat said...

A rat by any other name...is still a rat! Hahaha.
Peace

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