Sunday, April 15, 2007


Vegetarians and squirmish eaters - look away now.

The two culinary specialities in Peru are ceviche - raw fish cured in lime juice, red onion and chilli - and fried cuy - or guinea-pig to you and me.

Ceviche is a stunning dish, especially if you´re anywhere near the coast. The impact of the acidity of the lime gives the fish (shark or bass usually, but it works just as well with any white fish, or shellfish) an al dente texture (by altering its molecular structure). My dad introduced me to ceviche. Since he retired he has been experimenting with different ways of smoking and curing fish (and cheese and meats) and selling it at farmers´ markets in Suffolk. If you are ever in Woodbridge or Aldeburgh on a Saturday morning, chances are you will find him in the village or church hall selling his latest concoction. I may be biased, but his food is superb. Here he is, proudly standing by his smokehouse (a filing-cabinet connected to a barbecue) :

I have been trying to persuade him to wear a bowler-hat and pinstripes at his markets, but so far he hasn´t been convinced.

Anyway, back to ceviche. My dad´s attempts at selling it to the good people of Suffolk haven´t been entirely successful. Most people are resistant to the idea of raw fish (while the lime juice cures the fish, it doesn´t actually cook it). But I figure if it tastes lip-smackingly refreshing on the Pacific coast, it surely should do the same on the North Sea coast on a hot summer´s day. They serve it with a hot sauce, salad and dried maize here, but brown bread and butter works just as well.

Cuy became a popular dish in Peru around 7000 years ago. Guinea-pigs were domesticated by Andean people, and before very long those same people started serving them up for dinner. Again, most people will turn their noses up at eating a cute, fluffy little guinea-pig. This seems to me to be a curious (though quite understandable) moral stance : why not eat a guinea-pig when you´ll happily chow down a bacon-butty? Aren´t pigs cute too?

When I had cuy, in the Cordillera Blanca region of Peru, it had been fried in an inch or so of hot oil. The texture was somewhere between rabbit and pork loin, the flavour was porky too, and the crispy bits on the outside near the skin were like the best crispy bacon you´ve never tasted. It was served with a nutty, curryish sauce, but other than that there is no effort made to disguise that what you are eating is a guinea-pig.

And frankly, I figure that animals - mosquitoes, bed-bugs, ants, fleas from hostel-cats, hostel cats themselves - have devoured my flesh pretty eagerly in the last five months. So you´ll understand, if I ever come round for a dinner-party, the drool that will pour down my chin as I eye up your young daughter´s guinea-pig...


Blogger Snowball said...

I don't think I have ever met your dad, so nice to see him at last. Are you coming back to Britain at some point?

6:51 PM  
Blogger minifig said...

No need to give warnings for us vegetarians. I don't mind looking at the picture of a cooked Guinea Pig any more than looking at all the other meat one sees on a day to day basis. I just think normal pigs are cute too...

6:55 AM  
Blogger paddington said...

Snowball - I guess you probably haven´t him. He is a reclusive cove - but at least now you can see where I get my ravishing good looks from (er, my mum?). I return to the UK - aaaagh! - next weekend. We shall have to catch up at Marxism (which looks mouth-watering this year - Zizek and Hatherley!!), if not before.

Minifig - I am persuaded by the arguments in favour of vegetarianism. I just like meat too much. This is an utterly reprehensible moral stance, I know. But I do approve of meat more when it looks like meat. A chicken breast from Tescos (an objectionable commodity if ever there was one) is so far removed from chicken-ness, that one can eat it without even considering the chicken. With a cuy, en cambio, at least you have a brief moral conundrum ..... before you tuck in anyway.

5:06 PM  
Blogger minifig said...

I agree with that actually. I find people who eat meat, but don't like the stuff that looks like an animal because it makes them feel squeamish pretty reprehensible.

7:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

There is a version of cerviche in Fiji in which a firm white fish is marinaded in lime juice and chilies for 24 hours and then finished off with a sauce of coconut milk and coriander. I can testify to the tastiness. Not so sure about the guinea-pig, though I am sure it is supposed to taste of chicken!!!(Doesn't everything)

3:23 PM  

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