I Tussled with a Guinea Pig, and It Won - Peru's Food Scene
Would you like to know what a rubber chicken tastes like? I doubt anyone has ever attempted to eat one of those novelty gag items, but I bet it would taste quite similar to the guinea pig I ordered during my recent visit to Peru. I am not one of those bizarre food aficionados. I will never eat skewered tarantulas or raw sheep testicles, but I was brave enough to order this highly-popular Peruvian specialty. Bottom line: I wish I hadn't.
I don't know how this restaurant prepared my meal, but I do know that it was nearly impossible to eat. My knife barely made a dent so I used both my hands to pull, stretch, and puncture the skin with all the strength I could muster. Do you remember playing with one of those pliable dolls as a kid? Imagine doing that with a pig that had zero "stretch" whatsoever.
I almost yelled, "Ayuda!" several times, but didn't want to alarm the wait staff with my cries for help. So I sat there repeatedly pulling until I was able to make a tiny incision. The result of my efforts? A finger-full of cartilage. Ew. So my starving self simply ate the garnish surrounding the pig, which was still laying spread eagle across my plate. I immediately ordered a pisco sour to soften the horrible assault to my palate and ultimately forget this dining mishap.
What happened? To be fair, I told my tour guide the following day, and she said that guinea pig is typically crispy and easy to tear. She further commented that my pig was probably an "old one". Ah, okay. That makes me feel so much better. Sarcasm intended. I guess if I had to do it all over again, I would accompany one of the locals to a trusted establishment and have them sample it first. At least the cook covered the head and feet, so I wouldn't have to see my guinea pig smirking at me during our 5-minute food fight.
Now that I have shared this unfortunate taste test with fellow food fanatics, let's move onto more successful Peruvian dishes that I inhaled over the course of several days.
I am huge fan of Lomo Saltado - a mouth-watering Peruvian dish that I could easily eat once a week. I'm one of those carnivores who devours red meat, so this flavorful dish satisfies my cavewoman-like cravings. Who wouldn't love stir-fried beef, onions, and tomatoes simmered in soy sauce and other spices? This savory entree is typically served with fried potatoes (Peru's version of french fries) and white rice. Definitely a must have for those who are on the fence when presented with so many awesome food choices.
Alpaca: You can find this meat option on most restaurant menus throughout Peru. My favorite surprisingly came in carpaccio form (thinly sliced and raw), but there were other notable options including grilled alpaca paired with red wine and cognac sauce or anticucho de alpaca with chili sauce and garlic. Alpaca is slighter tougher than I'm used to, but it is definitely a favorite among locals and tourists. Recommended places include: Tulipan's (Puno), Hacienda Puno Hotel Restaurant (Puno), and Tunupa Restaurant (Sacred Valley).
Lima's Renowned Cuisine
I couldn't wait to sample authentic Peruvian cuisine, especially in Lima where the food scene rivals that of many gastronomically-respected cities such as Lyon.
You can't visit Lima without first ordering ceviche, an essential Peruvian staple. Mezze Cafe in Miraflores serves "ceviche shots" in these cool goblets. This appetizer trio was enough to feed at least 2 to 3 people. Thank goodness I worked up an appetite by hitting several tourist sites (Kennedy Park, Larco Mar, Huaca Pucllana, and the Indian Market) beforehand.
Larco Mar is a restaurant/shopping haven that sits along the edge of Avenue Larco in bustling Miraflores. There are many seaside restaurants to choose from, but I gravitated towards PoPuLar, which had an incredibly inviting vibe. Their mixed seafood ceviche was absolutely delightful. It's definitely common to see kernels of Peruvian corn sprinkled in as well.
Have you ever tried eating an enormous Amazonian snail? I don't typically eat escargot the size of my fist, but Amaz sources ingredients directly from the Amazon. So I said, "What the heck", especially since this gastropod mollusc was sautéed with chorizo and peppers - two of my favorite food accompaniments.
As big as this snail was, it wasn't enough for dinner so I also paired it with a half order of fresh tuna, passion fruit, achiote, avocado, and ear mushrooms.
Amaz is so unique that it was dubbed one of the "Top 50 Best Restaurants in the World" by Diner's Club International. Staying in Mira Flores? If so, reserve a table at this hotspot or walk in at 5:30pm since you'll easily have your pick of seating options.
Dining with the Taquelinos Tribe on Lake Titicaca - Best Meal Hands Down
Sometimes the best meal is a home cooked one, especially when it's served and prepared by Taquile Island residents (pre-Incan descendants). The menu was simple, yet absolutely delicious.
Lunch was served al fresco at the home of a local Taquileno family. We ate quinoa soup, deep-fried crisps (don't know the official name since I was too busy stuffing these into my mouth) freshwater trout, and rice. Coca tea capped off our meal to mitigate adverse effects resulting from extremely high Peruvian altitudes. Tequile Island is roughly 13,000 feet above sea level so it was slightly challenging to navigate the hillside to reach our lunch spot. I could hear the labored breathing of an ultra-marathoner behind me so even the most physically fit is at risk for altitude-related issues.
Ode to the Pisco Sour
My go to drink is typically the Old Fashioned, but Pisco sour is definitely a close runner up. Of course, I had to order it with most of my meals since it's more satisfying when paired with authentic Peruvian cuisine. There are variations depending on which South American country you're visiting, but the base recipe usually includes Pisco liqueur, lime (or lemon) juice, simple syrup, and egg white.
Vino Caliente is Mucho Caliente
One last recommendation for wine aficionados. Vino Caliente is essentially hot mulled red wine simmered with sugar, citrus (lemon or orange), and other spices including anis and cinnamon. My last day in Peru warranted a soothing beverage on a very cold winter day, and this one definitely hit the right spot.
Although my post started on a sour note, I don't want to dissuade visitors from trying out this Peruvian specialty. My one bad experience doesn't mean that you'll have one as well so make sure to research restaurants with glowing reviews beforehand to avoid similar dining snafus.
Overall, my foodie experiences were extremely favorable as I toured Lima, Cusco, The Sacred Valley of the Incas, and Puno. My advice? Be brave and order starters, entrees, or desserts you don't typically find elsewhere. When will you ever have the opportunity to tussle with a guinea pig? Win or lose, it was one of the highlights of my Peruvian trek since I can definitely laugh about it now.
On that note, I leave you with a video segment that should have prevented me from ordering guinea pig altogether. Lesson learned.
*Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”