Cuzco

 

 

 

I am ashamed to admit that part of the fun of travelling for me is consuming exotic local species. But what happens if the new life form is as cute as a cupcake and more?

 

 

Read on at your peril.

 

 

 

It was in Cuzco, Peru after seven weeks on the road in South America that I felt the strength of character and the pangs of hunger to down the local speciality. As a starter, I chose rocotto relleno, which is stuffed chilli pepper, but as a main the new species I had been meaning to try: cuy (Quechua quwi) al horno or baked guinea pig to you and me.

 

 

 

The Andean people did not have a wide choice of domesticated animals to eat; llamas and guinea pigs were fundamental to their diet. However, when the Spanish brought them to Europe, the infantas and the hidalgos were taken in by their charming looks and any thought of cooking them evaporated.

 

 

 

"Does it come whole ? " I asked the waiter.

 

 

It did.

 

 

"Can I not have the head please ?".

 

 

 

"Sin cabeza ?" he asked with surprise. Apparently the head was a delicacy. Why are all disgusting body parts ‘delicacies’ for ‘connoisseurs’?

 

 

 

"Yes, please, please no head. The bloody thing already looks like a rat. If I have to eat it, then it must look as little as a rat as possible".

 

 

 

"OK”. The waiter stared bemused. “Do you want to come in and choose it ?"

 

 

I swallowed hard. Choose It ? Like a lobster ? Alive and while it's still fluffy ? No please, don't subject me to more guilt. What next? Must I decapitate it myself with a mini guillotine?

 

 

 

"You choose it for me,” I said with a tinge of guilt. “Choose one which has lived a long, happy and rewarding life.”

 

 

 

You don’t believe me, eh?

 

 

 

OK, so what I really said was: "Choose a fat one. And a cold Inca Kola, please.”

 

 

Although this was my first cuy, it wasn’t my first Inca Kola. This is a local canned drink which has taken on Coca Cola and won. It looks like yellow piss and tastes like lemon bubblegum, but who cares? It is one of the few Latin American beverages that have successfully resisted the multinationals’ invasion, and it appears it’s a Peruvian patriotic duty to consume it instead of Coke and Pepsi.

 

 

 

Certainly, if you want to look cool as a tourist, forget about wearing Che Guevara T-shirts and multicoloured ponchos. You are judged by what you drink: Coca Cola and you have been branded a bad gringo even if your middle name is Trotsky; Inca Kola and you are a clearly a follower of Comandante Castro  despite your Gucci backpack.

 

 

I must have been oozing coolness myself after several cans of Inca Kola to quench the fire of the rocotto relleno. It was really chilli stuffed with chillies which felt like divine punishment for ordering the guinea pig.

 

 

 

So what did it taste like ? Well, it was covered with a dark, sticky sauce which was very tasty, but the skin was quite chewy. I also had to use my hands as there was hardly any meat on it; they probably slaughtered the scraggiest of the lot. What meat there was tasted like rabbit.

 

 

 

But the worst part was that they served it ‘as is’: headless, but with its feet sticking out including its sharp nails. I was eating it, wondering if I had been conned and it was a rat, after all. Or a large hamster.

 

 

 

More Inca Kola, please.

 

You can get Cuzco included as a stopover in the 4 Continent Explorer RTW or there are cheaper options via Latin America here

roundtheworldflights.com have some great options in South America here