Not so Coy with Cuy – Peru

Not so Coy with Cuy

For the most part, Peruvian Cuisine is cool! It’s as close to home as can be, accumulating years of collision mainly between the Spanish and the Chinese that it’s similar to Philippine cuisine, my mother palate.

Yet it can be as exotic and out-of-this-world, incorporating ingredients as guinea pig and human saliva. That last part is more on the extreme unpalatable side.

On my arrival in the US, my American boss first asked me an ignorantly insensitive question – if I eat dog? Certainly, I don’t because I grew up in the city and had them as pets all my life. Somehow, I know that other countries ate exotic stuff too. I am familiar with the Chinese who almost ate anything “that moves”. They are the biggest factor influencing Philippine cooking. Together with some Thais, Laotians, Vietnamese, and other Southeast Asians, canine meat is a delicacy.

Cuys Coming out of the Horno (They cost $7 each)
Cuys Coming out of the Horno (They cost $7 each)
The most exotic I’ve eaten so far are pressure cooked glutinous chicken feet and incubated duck fetus, boiled and salted. Possibly the most extreme I can go is about a couple of days old embryo when the beak, the head, the legs and the feathers are not yet fully perceivable, the tasty yellow yolk still forming 80% of the composition. In the Philippines, they are energy and protein boosters, eaten at night especially for the honeymooning groom. In Vietnam, it is also a delicacy.

Talk about fear factor, that’s chicken feed.

The Italians and the Spaniards too are equally guilty. I know for one, they eat cow tail, tongue, heart, and tripe, my favorite.

The Spaniards who first “civilized” the Filipinos, and so assiduous about their mission to annoy the Muslims and profess their Catholic faith, eat every part of the pig with gusto – the brain, the snout, the ear, the lungs, the liver and the hooves – dry and display them in their windows facing their Muslim neighbors, in sheets and strands of sausages.

The French eat snails, foie gras, and frog’s legs – that’s no big deal. Frog legs remind me of human legs and for some reason, I don’t eat them. Mexicans eat grasshoppers and caterpillars for snacks and main course, no problem.

In Cuzco, I had the chance to eat the lovable guinea pig or locally called cuy. What the heck, they look like rabbits. All right, they are cute but I hope my friends at the animal shelter will forgive me, and it was out of curiosity.

My driver-guide pulled over along a road of a town specializing in cuy cuisine as we traveled. Locals profess to eat it twice a week.

It was high noon and we were hungry. He ordered one for each of us specifically instructing the restaurant owner to cut-off the hands, feet, and head for me, and chopped it off into pieces, as compared to his, which came in whole piece.

The meat was baked in a beehive oven called horno and the animals are snapped like hotcakes, in great demand by hungry customers. The poor rodent came on top of a heap of boiled potatoes and pasta that the presentation look liked a pre-Medici French banquet plate. It was medieval and savage.

Caldo de Gallina with Chulpe (Corn Kernels)
Caldo de Gallina with Chulpe (Corn Kernels)
I picked up a piece and sniffed the essence. It was somehow earthly, grassy, and peculiar. It has a strong smell distinctive in its own right, just as pork has its own, beef its own, and goat meat its own. This smell grew on me that in the course of my trip, it has become annoying.

After the dining experience, my appetite went downhill. I sensed that distinctive smell everywhere, it was becoming nauseating. My smell, other’s smell, my breath, other’s breath, my armpit, my fart all smelled cuy. It was disturbing, compounded by my diarrhea, which started to kick-in after. If I can only get back to Lima as soon as possible, the rest of my stay I splurged on bottled water and apples to drain out my system.

Peru’s Chifas or Peruvianized Chinese restaurants are a relief. In fact, I don’t have to go there. I can do a blindfolded pick on any restaurant.

Rice has become a staple in Peruvian dining together with potatoes. If corn is to Mexico, potato is to Peru. I read that Peru is the birthplace of potato and it thrives in 2,000 varieties at least.

My favorite dish is lomo saltado, the Chinese gift to Peru, sautéed beef in thick brown sauce and vegetables. I encountered also the Pao, Filipinos locally called Siopao, a fluffy steamed Dim Sum rice flour with sauced meat inside.

In the course of my travel, I recognized chicharon, dear to the hearts of Filipinos – and Peruvians as well, a fried crackling from pigskin eaten as appetizer, and leisure snack.

Peruvians also cook food in terracotta pots just like countryside Filipinos do.

Ceviche, initially suspected as Japanese contribution by the strong Japanese community, is actually a Quechuan fare, raw seafood soaked only in vinegar and lemon, and garnished with lots of onions. Nevertheless, it’s not as welcome in my digestive system. I’m a raw food intolerant in denial.

Quechuan cooking diffused by Spanish influence comes through cau cau, a stew from cow’s tripe.

In the mornings, restaurants serve Caldo de Gallina, chicken noodle soup served just as exactly as they do in the Philippines garnished with lots of chopped scallions. Dried corn kernels suspiciously genetically enhanced for its giant size are called Chulpe served as appetizers.

On an overnight trip, the tour bus Ormeño served rice and adobo, Philippines’ national dish, which is heated chicken marinated in soy sauce and vinegar. It was one shocking dining experience revelation.

The dessert was uniquely named mazamorra morada. It’s a heavy slumpy jelly, with less elasticity, that snaps easily. In sidewalk stalls, they’re topped with jammed fruits, sweet rice, and milk.

Beverages come in hot quinua emoliente, the miracle Andean grain, tea-like and grainy, half the size of barley, slightly sweet and very invigorating as well. Chicha morada – grapefruit colored corn juice, and a tea called mate yerba Maria Luisa, if I heard it correctly, are healthy.

An 80 cent lunch
An 80 cent lunch
The pharmaceutically-looking Inka Kola makes a cheap substitute for coke. This makes it easy to shove down comfort food sold in streets – the ubiquitous papa relleno – mashed and deep fried potato dumplings with vegetable mix inside.

Snack comes in picarones, donut shaped deep fried batter of pumpkin with honey syrup poured on top.

Also, dried rice and cerealy varieties formed into balls and blocks, favorite snacks sold in Philippine sidewalks are aplenty in Peru. They are just making headway in the US beautifully termed as granola bars. Been there, done that.

Now this next one can be gross. When I was reading a book on Peru, I came across chicha – an alcoholic drink done by fermenting mashed corn with human saliva. I made sure I avoided that and checked with locals. They assured me that that is only done in the jungles. True to my adventurous spirit, I came across an Inca fair and bumped at two American women gulping down a swig of Chicha for S/.0.50 (nuevo soles). It must be safe and I ordered one. It comes like a very rotten fruit shake. I did a bottom up. On my return trip, while at the plane, I run across an entry reading a travel guidebook that indeed this variety of chicha is fermented by human spit.

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