Years back when I went to los llanos y met my first chigüiros. What an adorable little critter. There was a pretty big pen full of them and they had a large man-made pond so they could wade around. They also make an adorable little noise when you get close to them and pet their thick-haired backs. Those endearing little animals had a friend in me instantly.
Back then I don’t think I even knew people ate them. A few years after that I heard that in some places people ate them during lent because they weren’t considered “meat”. This due to the fact that they spend so much time in water (here’s to stretching the facts so you can break the rules of religious dietary customs!)
Last week I had the opportunity to visit El Motorista and barbarically scarf down a plate full of chigüiro meat with my bare hands- sorry fellas but you guys taste gooood!
Juanma, Roberto and I showed up, ordered and paid up front at the window. Next we proceeded to the pick-up window right next to where the “chef” was carefully preparing the meat over a big fire pit with a sort of conical shaped cage over it (Note: all of this takes place in open air right next to a fairly busy, dusty and polluted road). Here he puts the thin flanks of meat onto the cage and watches over it until it has reached perfection – crisp and colored on the outside and moist and tender on the inside. Cleanliness is not an issue at this place, so if you are easily put-off by, um, filth then don’t bother. Our meat was marinating in a bucket with a few flies here and there but nothing to be concerned about. The bucket was the same kind you would find with a mop in it – your standard plastic bucket with a handle and all. As far as I am concerned it very successfully doubles as a marinating container – as long as that is ALL it is ever used for.
The “chef” flings meet up towards the pick-up window where there is a little plastic tray with cooked meat already heaped onto it. I think the pick-up dude and the “chef” were having a bit of a tif because at one stage “chef” flung a piece pretty raw looking meat up to the counter. They shared a few cross words and fortunately no one was hurt. The raw piece of meat was safely returned to the “chef” to finish being cooked and later feed another hungry diner.
The guy at the pick-up window proceeds to roughly chop up approximately 3 hunks of meat. I didn’t know why he did this at first until we sat down and Juanma informed me, with a smirk on his face, that utensils were not to be used. “Look around” he said. “You see anyone using a fork and knife?” Um, no I don’t – let us dig in, shall we? So , with bare hands we tucked into our respective piles of meat. The reason behind roughly chopping up the meat became clear as day. The meat itself is very, very tender but having it slightly chopped helps you tear it apart into more bite size pieces. There really is something special about eating with your hands. Like in Sri Lanka and India and now El Motorista – things just taste better. Maybe it has something to do with feeling the texture and the moisture of your food. You have the opportunity to become a little more intimate with your meal and that, I think, is a very good thing.
The side dishes consist of arepa, platano maduro (ripe plantain) and papa salada (boiled, salted potatoes) – all were very good. All in all I thought it was delicious and quite an experience. I didn’t get sick which is always a plus when dining at such establishments with less than hygenic standards. I would definitely go back for more cute furry animals.
Here is some info on the little tasty critters:
“Durante el periodo de cuaresma, el roedor más grande del mundo, sufre una fuerte presión, pues la iglesia católica acepta el consumo de su carne durante la Semana Santa.”
Ayuda a la alimentación de peces por la materia orgánica de sus deposiciones.
Está en peligro en varias regiones por la caza para el consumo de su carne y la destrucción de su hábitat.