Guinea pigs and cats. Seriously.
The first time I walked past a restaurant in Peru that advertised guinea pig, I disregarded it as one of those funny translation mistakes that sometimes sneak into menus like additives. But no, dear children, the animals that you have as pets at home and of whom you don’t notice when your parents replace them after they die, end up on the plate in Peru.
And not in any sanitized or genteel way, but with heads and hooves.
As you may see from the photos, this is no emergency meal for poor farmers stuck in the mountains. There are expensive restaurants offering this barbarity.
If the chef runs out of guinea pigs, he snatches a cat. “Why not a cow?” you are wondering, but you forget that in Hispanic countries, cows are needed for bullfights.
Because cats have a stronger lobby, they are at least hacked to unrecognizability and served like a goulash. Allegedly you can also find barbecued cat.
Admittedly, the cat food is limited in time and place. Each year in September there is the “Festival Comegato” in Cañete. Of course, like everything in Latin America, it serves to honor some virgin saint.
But the guinea pigs you can get anywhere and all year round.
Finally to something positive: rocoto relleno is, as I thought, stuffed pepper with melted cheese on top. It is pretty much the spiciest food I ever ate. Spicy, but good. Extremely good. It is also filled with meat, but at least you don’t recognize some cute legs or innocent eyes.
My assumption that this was bell pepper was confirmed by the same size, color and texture. The spiciness was due to some crazy spices, I guessed. So I went to the market to buy one kilogram of rocoto and prepared a salad with it, spicing it up lavishly with onions and pepper. Bell pepper alone might be healthy, but lame.
My mouth exploded! It was like eating fire. First, I thought that the onions had been damn spicy, but it was the bell pepper. Or rather the bell-peppery plant, which is fittingly called tree chili and which I as a European of course had never heard of before. During this research, I learned something else. You are aware of the problem that any debate about which food is more spicy suffers from subjective perceptions? Help is near in the form of the Scoville scale, which measures the pungency of peppers. Normal chillies have between 100 and 1000 Scoville points. A jalapeño, already the limit of what most people can bear, has between 3500 and 10,000 points. And the rocoto, which I cheerily snipped into my salad? Between 30,000 and 250,000.
If you ever get your hands on that vegetable, try it! Or even better, take it to some dinner party to innocently add to the salad. That’s gonna be a fun evening. But please hide your guinea pig when your Peruvian friends are coming over.