Friday, December 28, 2012

Crunchy, salty, fatty.

We take the long and scenic route around Cuzco, passing through towns and by ruins we don't have time to explore. There's a lot more traffic down here in the valley, and it begins to rain lightly. We've been ahead of the rain all day, pointing to it in the distance and joking that our fellow travellers will get drenched unless they stay indoors. Near Tipon, on the southern outskirts of the city, the rain tapers off so when we pull up to a tiny, unassumng eatery we don't need our forgotten umbrellas.

On the porch in front of the dining room there are two ovens going, and trays of pre-roasted guinea pig waiting for us to pick one out. One big one, or two small? Two small or one big? One big one. That one there. The man pops it into the oven and we take our seats.
It's a plain place, nothing to make you stop here instead of elsewhere. Linoleum and rickety chairs, dim lights. The women's toilet runs so badly you don't have to flush, and the hand dryer is broken.
There's a small yard between the dining room and the bathrooms, filled with flowers and a children's swingset. The house is adjoining and it seems there's just the one kitchen, family and restaurant.

Our beast arrives sizzling hot, with spaghetti and potatos and a stuffed pepper on the side. The man quickly chops it up with a cleaver as soon as we have properly admired it. The belly has been stuffed with herbs, and the thick skin rubbed with salt before roasting. The crispy skin is especially good, and the tender, fatty meat is a little like duck, though not so finely grained. It's the tiny bones everywhere that are less pleasant, for those of us who don't just crunch them like JB. They bring us more napkins to deal with the grease running down our wrists, and finally our beer.

Even Inge, who was going to pass on the GP, enjoys it. We all agree it was well worth the trip. The last pieces are passed around, and JB gets the head. Anybody want the other eye, he asks? As we finish, the owner brings over a shotglass and a bottle of local anise liqueur, which we pass around with delight. For a moment we forget we are a finger-wipe kind of crowd, and drink from the lone glass without hesitation. Why not? This stuff is proof enough to kill anything dangerous...

We get back to the hotel just after 7, time enough for a quick wash and a short rest before going out for our fancy dinner. It's a good thing I took that morning stroll for 2 or 3 photos of Cuzco, because I won't be getting another chance. We imagined we'd be back by 5!

Cicciolina (isn't that the name of that Italian porn star who went into politics, rather successfully? Indeed.) in Cuzco is a modern restaurant that could be anywhere in the western world. Quite different from our snacking-spot. Euro-California-Asian fusion food and decor. You only know you're in South America from the near lack of European labels on the wine list, and the guinea pig confit or alpaca carpaccio among the main courses.
Nobody orders a starter, much to the relief of those of us who are not yet finished digesting lunch, but we go all-out on the main courses and dessert. It is indeed nice food. What's missing is something special, something to make you appreciate being in a foreign land with its own cuisine. Our snack was great – we had a ball participating in something really local, something non-transplantable. Dinner is good, but we will do this again, soon. Stepping out the door to walk back to the hotel it's like returning to Cuzco, as if we had left it for a moment.
I think our guides must have recommended this place to us because to them it is so unusual. It's their idea of what we expect from a nice restaurant, which I guess it is if we were at home.
The group makes an early evening of it, and we arrange wake-up knocks (no phones in the rooms) at 5 or 5:30. Lucio will pick us up at ten to 6 to catch our 7:40 flight back to Lima.

No comments: