Tag Archive | Food

Cuentos del Cuy (Guinea Pig Tales)

We first locked eyes in northern Peru. I was a wanderer, a traveler, free to kick my feet on the dusty streets of the market. He was behind bars, desolate and longing for the freedom that I simply took for granted.

cuy market

And then, just days later, I found myself roaming the majestic hilltop of Kuelap, home to the ancient Chachapoya, or ‘cloud-people’, who resisted the bloodthirsty Inca for centuries. There, at the foot of their crumbling circular dwellings, lay tiny tunnels where the Chachapoya kept his ancestors enslaved below their beds.

kuelap guinea run

kuelap 4

lostworld - kuelap-7 2

Then, at last, we embraced. A friend and I were famished from a hike to a secluded waterfall, and took shelter in plastic chairs on the dirt floor of a small restaurant. It was the grandmotherly owner/chef/waitress who tossed him onto our table. He landed gracefully.

He was more beautiful than I had expected, but also smaller and slimmer, more rat than cat. I gently caressed his back for a few moments — but he, knowing his fate and that of millennia of his ancestors in these mountains, swiftly tap-danced his way to the edge of the table. The señora threw a weathered hand over his loin and returned our friend to the kitchen.

cuy on table

That evening saw the end of our Peruvian affair. I’d like to think I was motivated more by history than hunger. After all, without the Eurasian staples of chicken, cow, and pig, what other domesticated sources of protein did the pre-Colombian Andes have? It fell to this petite creature (with the help of llamas and alpacas) to feed entire civilizations from modern-day Chile to Colombia. So who was I to reject savoring a piece of history, fried with a side of cheesy potatoes?

fried cuy
eating the cuy head

Maybe I should have.  Bland and bony, it’s hard to picture him providing much pleasure or protein to the Incan legions who conquered the Andes and then defended them against the Spanish. I liked him better alive.

Postscript: We met again on the streets of Bogotá, Colombia. I, to my credit, was less cruel this time. I gambled 1,000 pesos that he would enter the purple box. He entered the red one.

cuy race


A (Statistical) Travel Snapshot – SOUTH AMERICA

2012:  Six months in Colombia and five months backpacking through South America.

How does one sum a year abroad?

I threw it all into one big list when I got back from Asia.  Here it goes with South America.

Colombia • Peru • Argentina
Ecuador • Chile • Uruguay

Los Angeles -> Bogotá -> Cali -> Tumaco -> Medellin -> Rionegro -> Florencia -> Caquetá countryside -> Tuluá -> Buenaventura -> Golfo Tortugas -> Cartagena -> Villa de Leyva -> Santa Marta -> Tayrona -> San Gil -> Bogotá -> Quito -> Canoa -> Montañita -> Guayaquil -> Máncora -> Zorritos -> Chiclayo -> Chachapoyas -> Kuelap -> Gocta/San Pablo -> Trujillo -> Huanchaco -> Lima -> Ica -> Huacachina -> Nazca -> Andahuaylas -> Pacucha -> Pampachiri -> Bosque de Piedras -> Abancay -> Cuzco -> Aguas Calientes -> Machu Picchu -> Puno -> Lake Titicaca -> Arequipa -> Arica -> Iquique -> San Pedro de Atacama -> La Serena -> Santiago -> Valparaiso -> Viña del Mar -> El Yeco -> Buenos Aires -> Bariloche -> El Bolsón -> Lago Puelo -> Mendoza -> Maipu -> Mina Clavere -> Nono -> Córdoba -> Puerto Iguazu -> Iguazu Falls -> Rosario -> Colonia -> Montevideo -> Punta del Este -> La Barra -> Piriapolis -> Montevideo -> Los Angeles.

Colombian  Venezuelan  Filipino  German  Austrian  French  Australian  American  Canadian  Peruvian  Ecuadorian  Chilean  Belgian  Danish  Dutch  English  Scottish  Finnish  Italian  Spanish  Croatian  Bosnian  Irish  Icelandic  Mexican  Japanese  Argentinian  Brazilian  [Basque]  [Quebecois]  Uruguayan  Paraguayan  Portuguese  Swiss  Ukrainian  Israeli  Malaysian  Costa Rican  Chinese

Airplanes: Dozens while working in Colombia, none afterward.
Boats: 8
Buses: I’d like to forget.
Trains: Are there any in South America?
Road Trips: 3
Bicycles: 3

13 different parts of the Andes.
Beaches: 19 (20 if you include an Argentinian river beach)

Things lost/stolen/magically vanished:

Frisbee.  Camera.  Swim trunks.  Towel.
Weight lost/stolen/magically vanished: 10 lbs.
Stomach issues: Lots.
Mosquitos killed with hotel bibles: 137.

Toucans. Llamas. Guinea Pigs. Birds with, um, blue feet. That big strange rodent that runs around Iguazu Falls.

Mumford and Sons – “Babel”
Noah and the Whale – “Last Night on Earth”
Jorge Drexler – Various
Kele Goodwin – “Hymns”
Passion Pit – “Gossamer”
Radical Face – “Family Tree”
Gustavo Santaolla – “Diarios de Motocicleta”

Irish singalongs with Irishmen in Huacachina
Teaching Peruvian kids in Chachapoyas
Playing with indigenous instruments in Argentina


Oktoberfest in a beer-hall in Lima
Halloween in hostels and streets and bars in Cuzco
Thanksgiving with a real turkey in Santiago
Christmas with vegetarian food and gifts and la novia in the cold Andes of Argentina
New Years with local wine and besos from the novia in Mendoza

Fried large-butted ants (Colombia)
Fried guinea pig (Peru)


Fresh fish with coconut sauce (Pacific coast Colombia)
Ceviche (Peru)
Fru-fru Peruvian-Japanese fusion restaurants (Lima)
Fruit I’ve never heard of (Colombia)

Pisco sours (better in Peru than in Chile, sorry!)
Coca tea (Peru)
Red wine (Chile)
Canelazo (Colombia)
Any juice in Colombia (try: Guanabana, Maracuyá, and Lulo for starters)

Colombia AGAIN? – Answers II

…continued from Answers I.

transmilenioAre you happy there this time?

Last year I was enjoying life as always, but I wasn’t in love with Bogotá, and things just didn’t feel right.  This year I’m happy here.

Last year, hanging out with hitmen and army units for work was depressing.  This year, hanging out with smiling Colombians and eccentric expats is great.

Last year, working for a TV network (and a very challenging project) was stressful.  This year, well, I start working as a teacher in 3 days, so we’ll see.

Last year, living in a wealthy neighborhood, life was comfy and safe (and had great pricey Asian-fusion food!), but it was bland.  This year I’m living in the Candelaria.


The Candelaria is the historic district of Bogotá.  Think: Latin American edginess + European cobblestoniness + San Francisco hilliness + San Francisco homelessness + San Francisco funkiness.

I’m digging it.  It’s walkable, filled with students and young professionals and travelers, has random activities and art popping up on every corner, and offers me a plethora of food/drink options.

Last year I was bitter at the food options in Bogotá (fried and little flavor).

This year: daily binges of savory Argentinian empanadas, Colombian coffee, Swiss curry pastries, organic garden-grown daily dishes, and meats marinated in tangy sauces made from local fruits like uchuva and lulo.

And it’s cheap.

Like this, for $4.00:


Quinoa salad with Amazon chilis, squash soup, salmon, fresh-squeezed juices from fruits you’ve never heard of, yam, coconut desserts…

I love these streets.


The Ugliest Best Food I’ve Ever Had – MALAYSIA

Let’s face it: mushy brown food is just not appetizing.  Likewise for anchovy-topped papaya, or burnt-looking noodles, or grilled animals whose heads and innards have been left intact for your gluttonous pleasure.

But trust me on this.  Go to Malaysia.  These things are gastronomically orgasmic.

If you need to, close your eyes. Try anything they slop onto your plate.

And if you need to, take a peek at the history of the place.  A peninsula in Southeast Asia, with centuries of Indians and Chinese washing up on shore, and scores of meddling Europeans anchoring at its ports for a plundering, a barter, or a few wars over spices —  I think tells you all.  This place is a culinary Frankenstein.

What follows is a picture of every meal I had in Malaysia (a travel-nerd habit I’ve recently picked up):

Ten days of yum.



A (Statistical) Travel Snapshot – ASIA

Three months in Asia flew by, and I’ll never forget its sights, tastes, adventures and people.  But how do you sum up an entire experience?  What words do you choose?  What stories do you tell?

Here’s a shot at trying to digest a whole trip through pages of scribbled notes and tally marks at the back of a travel journal.
(I copied this journal idea from traveler extraordinaire Cressida Stolp.  Gracias, tia.)

(Japan – airport only)
South Korea
(Hong Kong – kind of only sort of counts as separate “country”)

Lake Forest -> Los Angeles -> (Tokyo) -> Seoul -> Phnom Penh -> Siem Reap -> Angkor Wat -> Phnom Krom -> Phnom Penh -> Saigon -> Cu Chi -> Nha Trang -> Hanoi -> Halong Bay -> Hanoi -> Guangzhou -> Hong Kong -> Shenzhen -> Shanghai -> Suzhou -> Hangzhou -> Tunxi ->Huang Shan -> Tangkou -> Wuhan -> Yichang -> Xi’an -> Beijing -> Kuala Lumpur -> Mersing -> Tioman -> Melaka -> Penang -> Hat Yai -> Krabi -> Railay -> Ton Sai -> Ao Nang -> Suruthani -> Had Rin -> Had Yuan -> Had Thien -> Had Yuan -> Had Rin -> Suruthani -> Bangkok -> (KL)-> (Taipei) -> Los Angeles -> Lake Forest.

South Korean   •   Serbian   •   Japanese   •   American   •   Cambodian   •   English   •   Swiss   •   Swedish   •   French   •   German   •   Canadian   •   Scottish   •   Welsh   •   Dutch   •   Vietnamese   •   Kiwi   •   Australian   •   Indonesian   •   Irish   •   Danish   •   Czech   •   Norwegian   •   Mexican   •   Israeli   •   Iranian   •   Spanish   •   Trinidadian   •   Indian   •   Singaporean   •   Argentinian   •   Russian   •   Senegalese   •   Algerian   •   Yemeni   •   Sri Lankan   •   Polish   •   North Irish   •   Maltese   •   Austrian   •   Thai •   Chilean   •   Paraguayan  •  and Filipino!

Planes: 5
Trains: 7 (non-subway)
Buses: 15
Boats: 14
Motos and Tuk Tuks:  Countless.

Museums: 5
Beaches: 10
Rivers (swim or boat):  3
Lakes:  3

Octopus on a stick   (Japan)
Red Ants w/ Beef     (Cambodia)
Duck Embryo    (Vietnam)
Frog Legs    (Vietnam)
Jellyfish   (Vietnam)

Indian sweet milk tea
Te Tarik   (Malaysian sweet milk tea tossed in the air)
Banh Xeo  (Vietnamese burrito)
Chinese eggplant
Sweet and sour pork  (It’s better than in the states!  I swear!)
Bamboo stirfry with pork
Kung Pao chicken  (Better than Panda Express!)
Uighur lamb dishes  (Muslims make the best food in China)
Thai curries  (All)
Fruit shakes  (Any)
Malay spicy chicken   (Delish!)
Malay 3-taste fish  (I think the three tastes are sweet, spicy, and sour?)
Nasi lemak  (Malaysian rice, peppers, anchovies wrapped in banana leaf for like 30 cents.  Obsessed.)

This, from Shanghai:

This one, in Hong Kong:

Hangovers: Many
Pairs of Sandals Stolen by Close Friends: 1
Weirdest Nookie Locale: A crowded boat
Stuff Stolen From Me:  iPod speakers.
Wicked Sunburns: 2