After weeks or months of adventure travel on a backpacker budget, sometimes it’s nice to treat yourself to a meal at a highly rated restaurant.
Two important and basic needs any backpacker in Peru has, are something affordable and nice to eat and a good place to party hardy from time to time. Peru excels in both aspects in many ways, with a lively party scene at night and culinary highlights throughout the day.
As everywhere else in the diverse Peruvian landscape, the food changes with the geography. As different crops become limited and others more abundant, you’ll find a variety of culinary delights unmatched anywhere else in the world. Backpacking to and from is of course the best way to go about it.
No matter where you go in the world, a person needs to eat! Hence, the questions quickly turns into; how is the food in Lima, is it spicy at all, what should I avoid, is everything clean and fresh and what to do when the food decides to turn on you?
You’re already traveling as a backpacker in one of the culinary capitals of the world. Peru’s food is touted as some of the most culturally diverse on the planet, and journeying from the north to south, east and west is one of the best ways to experience this gastronomic wonder.
Peru is renowned for its gastronomic capacity to please backpackers and travellers alike. As a cheap traveller who likes to prepare, you’re interested in finding out about food quality in the country. It is true that sanitary standards are lower here than in the Western world, a reflection of not just lower education in certain areas, but mainly as a lack of resources to control it all.
The Lonely Planet describes Tarapoto as “a sweltering jungle metropolis”. While it is a bit far from being a metropolis, this is definitely a hot vestige of the vast Peruvian jungle. Whether you have been traveling in the cool Northern highlands, or along the coast which is cold during our summer months, or perhaps just finished trekking in Huaraz, Tarapoto is a welcome change in climate where you can finally put on some shorts and get an ice-cream of an exotic flavour (granadilla? guanávana? chirimoya? — it’s your pick!).
Perhaps you’ll be walking down the street in Lima, after checking into your hostel, backpack load set down in your dorm room. Perhaps you’ll pass by a market and see the cute little furry guinea pigs in a cage trampling over one another. You’ll think, “oh, how cute!” However, here in Peru Guinea Pigs are not kept as pets-they’re eaten.
Now, I know what you’re thinking-that it’s a shame that such furry cuties are skewed up for the split. You might have had a guinea pig as a pet when you were younger, or perhaps you’ve seen one of those “cute animal wheels” videos, where they stick their soft pink noses into the camera. All of this previous history will make you aggressively anti-guinea pig cuisine, if you let it.
Though, none of your history with this animal has anything to do with the fact that here, guinea pig is a delicacy. You’ll find the meat on sticks, fried and chucked in with chifa rice chaufa, or marinated in some delicate sauce that’ll make your mouth water.
If you’ve eaten rabbit, guinea pig is not much different. You will be happy to know that the meat is high in protein, and low in fat and cholesterol. Indeed, part of the effort you’ll have to put forth to eat it might include tearing it off of the bony carcass.
Guinea pig comes from Peru in the first place, so it was a mark of cuisine before it was a pet. Of course, for you vegetarians out there, it might be neither. Unfortunately this is not the article for you, so it’s best to turn away now. And as for those who aren’t convinced, you should know that Peru exports a new breed of “super guinea pig” to Europe, the US and Japan. Yes, it’s for eating.
So, should you eat the guinea pig or not? As long as you’re in Peru, there’s nothing strange about the act. Guinea pigs have been cooked for centuries, and were once sacrificed to the Incan gods. In a morphological coincidence, you might see depictions of The Last Supper with the players eating roasted guinea pig!
If you’re someone who likes to try something new, then this is for you. Otherwise, just try not to look the guineas in their hollowed out eye sockets!