On Day 12 I ate rat. Okay, it really was guinea pig, which is a Peruvian specialty called cuy, but it sure looked like a rat.
The taste was fine, not like chicken as I expected and with some nice creole-type spices, but the presentation was such that I don’t intend to ever eat it again and in fact may have a nightmare about it. Matt, who had had been gunning to try it and actually bought it, couldn’t eat it and I thought he was going to throw up as it sat on our table at the Mixtura Cajamarca (the Cajamarca Food Festival).
Cuy is on the menu of just about every restaurant in the area and is offered two ways: fried and stewed. There was no way I would have tried the fried cuy as those look like flayed bats but I ignorantly thought stewed would mean the meat was off the bone and chopped in little pieces. I knew something was up when Matt was walking back to our table with his plate in hand and a peculiar look on his face. And there it was: a half (we think, we did our best not to look too closely) stewed guinea pig, complete with little nasty claws and a prominent rat-like tooth. It was worse when we went to turn it over in the hopes that the other side would look less rat-like and then saw its little head and ear.
Matt was done, but I picked away at the edge of it, trying to not look at it, to get a little taste. I succeeded and called it quits after about 1/8 of a normal sized bite.
Then it sat on our table until the guy clearing plates came by. He was very friendly and concerned that we didn’t like it and asked if the taste was too strong or meat too tough. How do you explain to someone that his national dish is revolting to you without being rude? The best I could come up with was that I couldn’t look at the tooth, which gave him a good laugh. I think he was relieved later when he cleared our dessert plates and saw we had eaten every bite.
Apart from the cuy, we enjoyed the Mixtura, which is a fundraiser for the neighborhoods of the city with the proceeds going toward the Carnival parties. Each neighborhood makes a typical Cajamarquena dish and your entrance fee ($9.35) allows you an appetizer, entrée and dessert, which you eat in a covered pavilion while enjoying music from a band. I had Caldo Verde, or green soup, for my appetizer. It is a broth-based soup with the “green” coming from fresh parsley and possibly other herbs. It has potatoes, fresh cheese and boiled egg. Really delicious.
Matt had fried, stuffed potatoes, which were sliced potatoes pan fried with various spices and some unidentifiable meat that he believes were chicken innards. The potatoes were tasty; I passed on the innards, but Matt likes them so he ate them. Our other appetizer choice was a huge ear of boiled corn with a generous slice of fresh cheese. After the cuy fiasco, I got us the Parrillada, or grilled meat plate, to share. The plate contained a very thin filet, a red sausage of some kind, boiled potato and cooked carrots. The potato was presented cut in half and each half had a different green sauce. Both were good although one was quite spicy. The Parrillada was a much better choice for us than the cuy! Other entrée options were fried cuy, roasted hen leg, grilled chicken, Chicharones, which is a common pork dish that is cut up stewed chunks of meat served over huge kernels of corn, or fried trout. Our dessert options were various cakes, gelatin, figs with honey or some gooey, fruity tart. We each opted for a slice of cake; both were very good: moist with a wonderful chocolate flavor. Matt’s slice had a caramel frosting and filling and mine was maraschino. A delicious end to the Mixtura.
Oh my goodness! You are so brave! Sounds like the festival was fun…you know, aside from the guinea pig. 😉
Do they know Americans have Guinea pigs as pets??
Yum. I always wonder if there is stuff we eat in the US that would gross people out from other countries. Arby’s for example is made of pressed meat slime. That’s pretty gross. I do like that Arby’s advertises how great it is that it is sliced fresh, as if that makes it something other than pressed meat slime. I am proud of you for trying it — that was my motto in China — I will try everything.
I have to tell you, seeing cuy in it’s form as a little critter, would cause me to “just say no”. I applaud you for your sense of adventure.
You know I am a fairly adventurous eater. I would be right there with Matt chowing down on chicken innards, and would try cuy if it were off the bone (or at least decapitated), but I do not like to eat food that looks back at me as I eat it. I was traumatized in childhood by having to eat the whole fish that Al caught and did not filet and that stared at me at every Friday dinner until we could finally eat meat on Fridays. Do the local people eat the brains? Why is the head still on? The cake with caramel frosting sounds delicious! Sabroso!
Oh, Chris, you would not do well with fish here as it is served whole with the head. After having it twice that way, Matt is giving up on it! I can manage to eat it although I do try to position something on my plate over the visible eye! I did not consider whether the cuy’s brains are eaten and am gagging just thinking about it. I suspect not as we had plastic utensils at the Mixtura and you would have needed a sharp knife. Plus would a guinea pig’s brain be worth the effort? But the heads of everything else are certainly sold as I saw at the market today! Pig or cow head soup anyone? No thanks!
We have a pet guinea pig and sometimes when she squeaks too loudly, I jokingly tell her, “Be quiet or we’ll have you for dinner!” AAHHH! Bravo for your courage to try the dish (my kids, however, would be totally freaked out).
I showed your post last night at Chill on the Hill & Greg said he would have tried it. But as he reminded me he eats head cheese & tripe!
I could not eat cuy after seeing it. You both are really living the adventure. What are all the vegs you are using. Don’t recognize all of them.
Stay tuned – the fruits and veggies will be revealed in an upcoming blog!
I have been waiting to find out what that was on your plate. We had a pet guinea pig named Toffee so I will not share what it was with my kids. I have been thoroughly enjoying your blogs. It sounds like quite an adventure.
Sarah had a pet guinea pig for many years and although she knew they were eaten in other countries, she was “grossed out” at the picture of your cuy. She also said she would be going VERY hungry over there 🙂 Kudos to you for even trying an 1/8 of a bite!
Tell Sarah there is a lot of great food notwithstanding the cuy. Who doesn’t like French fries with every meal? And the desserts have been very good too. 🙂