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The Kirwan Twins Adventures We've finally graduated, so we're setting off for three months to backpack around India, Cambodia, Vietnam and Thailand before entering the "real world."

Eating Scrumple

ECUADOR | Thursday, 11 October 2007 | Views [957] | Comments [3]

This house specialty this evening is cuy.  Translation: guinea pig.  Tonight I have the pleasure of dining with Vicente and his family.  They've placed me at the head of the table and by now I'm well aware of what to expect.  As I was helping Vicente's mother, Marcia, peel potatoes in the kitchen, I spotted the stupefied face of a large rodent peering out from a cast iron pot.  Vicente, however, has assured me that his family does not serve cuy whole as they do in the Peruvian Andes.  Likewise I've informed him that he better make sure I will only be served the most minute of portions just for a mere dabble in culinary exploration. 

Unfortunately, this wish did not reach his family who in their hospitable glory served me a heaping plate of rice, salad, potatoes, and the formidable cuy.  My portion was by far the largest half-cuy at the table.  I glared at Vicente, signaling with bulging eyes to switch our plates when no one was looking.  Apparently, watching a gringita eat her first cuy left me without a chance to trade plates, and so I was left to flounder in my anxiety.  Surreptitiously, I poked at the severed corpse, legs jabbing at the air tensely in its final battle. 

As I concentrated on my potatoes, I thought of our pet Scrumple and its mate Cookie (or was it Oreo?).  We had thought they were sisters, but were pleasantly surprised by their first litter of babies, followed by a second, third, and so forth.  What a lucrative trade we would have had if our fellow Americans indulged in this critter.  After all, they say guinea pig is the healthiest meat given that they are strictly grazing animals.  For me, however, this was like entertaining the idea of eating my dog, Toby, in Vietnam.  It was not going to happen. 

Alas, it must happen.  I could not dismiss the kind gesture of this family.  I decided to observe this situation as practice for the cuy I would inevitably be offered in farming communities during fieldwork.  As a foreigner seeking an inlet into their communities, I would have to accept their offerings.  My heart was pounding and I felt slightly drunk, though I had only sipped on a fresh tomate de arbol juice.  I thought my apprehension might surge forth through my windpipe in the form of a hearty laugh, but with all my might I quelled my nerves, and tucked in…

Hey!  This isn't so bad.  If I don’t mind saying so myself, it's actually quite tasty.  A bit like pig?  No wait I have it!  Duck?  For a fairly strict vegetarian of five years, my comparisons were a bit faulty, but in short, it was savory.  I was particularly excited to discover that there was little meat to be found amidst the dainty ribs and crispy skin.  Eying Vicente's remains of skin and bone, I decided it was ok to forego my skin as well.

Immediately, from the other end of the table Vicente's father inquired how I was enjoying my meal.  Having only joined us at the start of the meal, and not while we were preparing, his father was unaware of my Spanish-speaking abilities.  Through Vicente, he asked "would I like more juice," to which I would lob back "no thank you," and then back through Vicente "pass her a napkin," lob back "gracias," and so forth.  This continued right up until my plate was virtually picked clean, at which point he asked, "did she like the cuy" to which I nodded overly-enthusiastically at Vicente, which he conveyed to his father.  "But she didn't really eat it" he retorted amusingly. 

I decided to react with a more direct response that would bypass Vicente and the flowerpot blocking my view of his father.  Curbing around the centerpiece, I countered; "I didn't eat it?!  I most certainly did eat it!  It was rico, muy rico!"  Abashed and astounded by my sudden burst of passion and, lo and behold, español, his father acquiesced to my appreciation.  He offered me a mug of colada (a hot, oatmeal-based drink flavored with fresh fruit and cinnamon), and his family and I sat around the table washing down memories of cuy with a veggie-friendly beverage.

The next day, following a workshop in the indigenous community of La Vaqueria (near Colta), we were served cuy.  At this point an expert, I gobbled it down before tackling the incredible stack of potatoes, only to discover that my co-worker Sonia had carried with her a plastic bag for "leftovers."  In the absence of a community member, in went the potatoes that wouldn’t fit in our bellies.  Although my compañeros had eagerly swallowed their cuy as well, I couldn’t help staring somberly at the contents of the bag, and envisioning my little leg of cuy mingled in with the potatoes.

Tags: Food & eating



This made me sick to think about! You ate Scrumple!! Seriously, though.

  dkirwan Oct 11, 2007 9:16 AM


That's my girl!! The Culinary Adventurer. Well done, gringita!

  Fenella Oct 11, 2007 12:30 PM


Don't feel bad. I ate chicken today. And yesterday. And the day before that... bratwurst. What's spinach?

  Brenda Oct 11, 2007 1:45 PM

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