At a dinner last week, a few friends were discussing the weirdest food they had ever eaten. There were a few of the usual suspects (grasshoppers, cobra blood in alcohol, fugu fish) and a few rarer “treats” (deep fried witchetty grubs stuffed into an apple so they looked like they were crawling out of the fruit. Ok, not very appetizing but I have to admit I was intrigued. Hey, they apparently taste like peanut butter!)
My list included a rare find – fat scrapped off the ovaries of a hibernating snow frog, a dessert delicacy in China, Taiwan and Hong Kong – I’m still not sure how or why anyone found that one out!
But it also included something I thought would be considered fairly mainstream in today’s world of weird and wonderful food – roasted guinea pig. Apparently, however, eating a little furry creature that a lot of people primarily keep as pets is still a bit odd. Oops!
Still, in the platetrotting spirit, I figured a post on my first and only edible encounter with a guinea pig was long overdue.
The time – Spring 2013. The place – a cosy courtyard restaurant in Cusco, Peru called PachaPapa. The highlight? Cuy. Or to the English speaking world, guinea pig.
Guinea pigs are native to the Andes and originally were domesticated and consumed during ceremonial meals but due to the fact that they breed rapidly (like most in the rodent family), don’t take as much space to rear as a cow or a real pig, and can be easily maintained in an urban setting, their popularity as a source of food spread from the Andean highlands to many cities in South America, particularly in Peru and Bolivia.
The meat is very lean and low in cholesterol and could be likened to a mix between rabbit and lean pork, so it’s also pretty healthy.
Now, I am not a heartless pet eater. I draw the line at cats and dogs, I don’t think I could eat one and look my pets in the eye with a clear conscience again. And, to be honest, the very first time I had heard about guinea pigs being eaten in South America, I thought the whole idea was very strange.
But that was a long time ago…
In 2013, the idea of eating a guinea pig seemed fantastic. And truth be told, it was.
Those who are a little squeamish may not wish to look at the guinea pig in its butchered but not-yet-roasted form, they do look a little helpless.
The guinea pigs at PachaPapa were marinated in a chimichurri-like sauce and popped straight into a hot wood burning oven.
The result was a very tender pork-like meat (maybe that’s why they are called pigs?) that I would very happily eat again.
Best enjoyed with a glug of corn beer or chicha morada (a drink made from unfermented, sweetened purple maize juice), roasted cuy was one of the culinary highlights of my trip to South America.
Lovers of all things cute, please don’t judge me!
One continent, four countries, plates and plates of awesome food!
You will have to forgive me for being a bit on the back foot with updating the blog... three weeks on holiday in some of the most stunning places I've ever been to has made me forget (quite happily) the internet and everything else associated with sitting at a desk and typing out stuff.
Still, there's too much great platetrotter-friendly material to post about, I figured I better get back to it :)
I thought a round up of some of the best dishes I came across in each of the four countries we went to might be a good place to start:
Ceviche at Tataku Vave, Easter Island, Chile
Plump pieces of the island's ubiquitous white tuna, prawns, scallops and cuttle fish doused in tangy lime, tossed with onion and tomato and turned out in a giant sea shell - just the sight of Tataku Vave's ceviche was enough to make us lose interest in anything other than getting forks to mouths. The food was incredibly fresh and the setting would put most restaurants that claim a sea view to shame - luminous blue Pacific waves crashing just metres away, giant clouds and spectacular sunsets... what more could you want?
Steak with Jalapenos at La Parrila Del Nato, Guayaquil, Ecuador
I was dutifully warned by the waiter that the dish was spicy when I made my order but I'm happy to say the warning was unnecessary. La Parilla's jalapeno steak was hands down the best steak on the table that evening - incredibly tender and bathed in a creamy onion and jalapeno sauce that hit just the right piquant notes. Just thinking about it is making my mouth water...
Trout with Creamy Ginger Mash at Toto's House, Aguas Calientes, Peru
I'd never eaten trout and I can't believe it has never made it onto my plate before - it's too good to have been ignored this long. The trout at Toto's House was silky, served with a caramelized ginger topping for a truly simple yet sublime dish. The creamy mash which had just a touch of ginger (and what we thought might have been coconut milk) made the perfect accompaniment to the fish. Add to that a perch just above the crashing Urubamba river and you have a top-quality dinner spot in an otherwise overly touristy town.
Pastel de Santa Ana at Mercado Municipal, Sao Paolo, Brazil
I've waxed lyrical about Portugal's Pasteis de Natas before and while I don't mean to change loyalties, the Pastel the Santa Ana might just be my new favourite. This eggy tart probably uses the same ingredients as the former but the filling is rendered denser and richer as opposed to a custard... almost like raw egg yolk beaten with sugar. Best eaten with a bica to cut the sweetness, it was the perfect sweet ending to an awesome food-filled trip.
I am a condensed milk junkie. Yes I know it's unsophisticated eating at its finest and is the sugar + dairy haters' poster child for foods that do bad things to you, but it tastes so good!
I remember the feeling of pure joy watching a tin of Milkmaid being emptied into a glass jar, ready to be dug into after each meal. My mother would puncture two holes at opposing ends of the tin and balance it precariously on the rim of the jar and I'd watch the entire contents slowly ooze out in a thick swirly flow.
Then it was time to eat - smooth and sweet straight from the jar or thick and lickable after it had been left to sit in the fridge for a bit. Condensed milk in coffee, tea, on bread, chappatis, pancakes - all were fair game.
After that came the invention of squeezable tubes of the stuff (convenience defined), and my discovery of Vietnamese coffee (to me purely a vehicle for the delivery of sweetened evaporated milk). My childhood obsession with the stuff has definitely grown with me.
So it's little wonder that I am over the moon to be heading to South America this weekend. South Americans have managed to improve what, in my mind, is something I thought no living person could make any better. They've managed to do it by caramalising condensed milk to turn it to dulce de leche - milk candy that is even more delicious than the stuff it's made from.
I can already taste those Brazilian beijinhos (soft dulce de leche candies coated in coconut sprinkles) and hope to eat my share of manjar - the thick milk candy spread available in Chile and Peruvian Tejas - dulce de leche nut candies coated in fondant and chocolate. Basically I plan on tasting very single version of the stuff I can find :)
I predict a picture gallery in the near future!
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