Throughout my week in Peru, one dish popped out on almost every menu: cuy.
I saw it on chalkboard lists on roadside stands in the Andes. I spotted it on fancy menus in Lima hotels. It came to seem like a challenge
Come on, coward, it taunted me. You say you like to "live like a local." It's time to eat like one.
I do like to live like a local on the road. I'll happily rent an apartment, stumble through an unfamiliar language, wander the back streets of neighbourhoods far off the beaten path. But when it comes to food, I'm as unadventurous as a six-year-old.
And cuy--the Peruvian term for guinea pig--definitely challenged my self-imposed boundaries.
I told myself I was being a hypocrite. After all, I don't have a problem with eating chicken, lamb, beef or fish. Animals are animals, right?
But no matter how I tried to psych myself up, when it came time to order, I'd usually choose something safe, like lomo saltado (stir-fried beef).
What finally convinced me was the lure of cold, hard cash. An editor back in Canada had offered to pay me to write a story about cuy. So in a bistro in Huacho, I took a deep breath and ordered cuy. I was so flustered, I forgot to ask how the dish would be served. In the back of my mind, I was thinking everything would be chopped up and slathered in a thick sauce, like some sort of Peruvian take on curry or gumbo.
My stomach dropped when my plate arrived. Here's what I saw.
It had teeth. It had claws. It looked like a meal that could bite me back.
When I finally picked up my fork, I found the meat surprisingly bland, like overcooked pork. That didn't help, though, as you can see from my expression.
I managed just three bites before gratefully accepting my companion’s offer to trade lunches.
For a less drastic taste of Peru, I’d recommend ceviche (marinated fish) or chicha (a slightly alcoholic beverage made from corn and fruit juice). Save your bravery for the winding, potholed mountain roads, where many drivers think speed limits, signals and lanes are for sissies.
P.S.: My Aeroplan Arrival magazine article about cuy isn't available online, but you can read my short guide to Peru for the same magazine.
Disclosure: I travelled to Peru courtesy of Peru Tourism.