I just got back from Peru and had an amazing time hiking the Incan Trail up to Machu Picchu. The hike was a grueling 4 day 3 night excursion through the magnificent green valleys and mountains of Peru. At the peak of our climb on the 2nd day, we were over 2 miles above sea level which, at that elevation was an equally challenging experience on physical, mental and spiritual levels. On the 4th day, we awoke at 3:45 AM and dashed off to the Incan Sun Gate to capture our first glimpse of Machu Picchu just as the sun was breaking. To see this with your own eyes after the 4 days of hiking was an unbelievable experience that I can truthfully say will stay with you for a lifetime. Unfortunately reaching the actual site was in someways anti-climatic or as my friend Daniel appropriately quotes Motorhead, “The chase is better than the catch”. Why? Because, as we approached the actual Machu Picchu site, we were suddenly met with crowds of tourists who had just comfortably ascended to the site via train and bus. Tourists aside however, I really can’t complain too much because the actual site of Machu Picchu is indeed a magical place worthy of being one of the 7 wonders of the world (Machu Picchu just got voted in this year). See my photos here
Now, on to the food. Everything you hear about the amazing food in South America is true. The vegetables, fruit and meat are fresh, non-genetically modified, and the taste is better than your average over-priced organic equivalent in the USA.
Day 1 – Dec 28th, 2007 Cusco, Peru
Cranked on a mixture of Diamox (high altitude medicine) and Coca Tea, I stumbled/wandered the city of Cusco (Cuzco) in search of good local cuisine. It was actually quite difficult given that I was staying about a stone’s throw from the Plaza de Armas, the “Times Square” of Cusco one might say – thick with tourist shops and high priced watered down, disgusting N American cuisine. I wandered about 2 km up the hills before finding a few places that served Cuy al horno (baked) and Cuy chactado (fried).
Ok, but Guinea Pig?
Aren’t they related to rodents?
Yes and to be quite specific, Guinea Pigs are a species of rodent belonging to the family Caviidae and the genus Cavia.
Believe me, it was not so much a gustatory dilemma, but also a personal one since my sisters and I had a few guinea pigs as pets during our childhood. Nevertheless, I didn’t come all the way down to Peru just to miss out on a national dish. Not to mention, for you hardcore food enthusiasts, Guinea Pig was featured both on Andrew Zimmem’s Bizarre Foods and Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations. Alas, you’re now looking through the eyes of an obsessed food blogger. Guinea Pig, my friend is what separates foodies from faux foodies. As a side note, I’m going to draw the line at dog right now. Although I was given a few opportunities to try it in China, I could not and will not go there. Call me a fakie if you want, but sorry.
“What the Fuck…”
That’s what I said as I boldly walked into the restaurant and promptly ordered the Cuy Al Horno special. My tingling feet and cramped stomach (side effects of the Diamox) suddenly made me second guess my decision, but I pressed on and slammed down a hot brew of the mind stimulating coca tea which emboldened my decision to eat baked rodent meat.
“What the Fuck..?”
That’s what I said when the waiter served the dish. Click here for photo (I warned you) This has to be a sick joke that the locals play on the tourists right? They must have hidden cameras to capture wary N Americans in the process of buckling over to vomit? I guess he read the blank expression on my face and quickly explained that this is simply a presentation for photos and that he would then take the dish back to the kitchen to have it properly cut for consumption. After retuning with the dish (head removed), I dug in and guess what? It tastes a lot like chicken. No joke! It’s baked with sprigs of a cilantro like herb that was pretty overpowering in my opinion but the meat was tender while the skin was a little tough. There are also a lot of bones, so watch out. The plate was served with a side of baked potatoes and a delicious deep fried pork stuffed green pepper. Overall, a good meal and one I would try again – maybe the fried variety next.
I make it a point whenever I visit a country to try out the local cuisine and I felt pretty good trying out a new dish for the first time in my life. Guinea Pig is significant staple of the Peruvian diet. It is estimated that Peruvians consume an estimated 65 million guinea pigs each year. What’s additionally fascinating is the degree that guinea pigs are engrained into the culture, so much so that there is famous painting of the Last Supper in the main cathedral in Cusco that shows Christ and the twelve disciples dining on guinea pig!
So my advice, try it if you get the chance. I heard from some locals here that you may be able to get it in NY. I highly doubt that but I will look for this and let you know if it’s true.