Thursday, September 10, 2009

On Dog, Guinea Pig and Real Pig (Not you, AB)

Persons with reservations about the practice of eating dog in Asia are probably not tinfoil hat-wearing PETA regulars, vegans or even anti-red meat. Their often expressed concerns are that a creature nature intended as a pet and a friend is ending up on someone's dinner table. But what if they had it backward?

Dogs are the descendents of wolves, and according to a recent New York Times Article, a new study of dogs worldwide suggests that wolves may have first been domesticated for their meat. The study, performed by a team of geneticists at the Royal Institute of Technology in Sweden lays out the story. Based on samples of mitochondrial DNA from dogs all over the world, all dogs appear to have come from a common lineage, and that lineage appears to have originated in (where else?) South China more than 10,000 years ago. Timing and other factors (including lack of a plausible alternative motive, I suppose) suggest that the purpose of muzzling, caging and breeding wolves was for meat for the dinner table, or whatever they ate on in those days.

Continuing the subject of edible pets (or pettable edibles, if you will), I blogged sometime ago about a modest proposal for Peru to export cuy, a.k.a. guinea pig, to China. Cuy is a delicacy in Peruvian cuisine, the country is currently producing more than they can eat and, as I explained, introducing the delights of cuy to China would partly repay Peru's culinary debt to China. This blog post, which included a picture of a cutie of a guinea pig, drew an avalanche of comments (well, four at last count). One of these comments is worth repeating here:

I'm an American married to a Peruvian living in China. I love cuy and would be ecstatic if I could order one off a menu here in China!!!

My wife's grandmother raised her own cuy (so she could feed them only the best) until she passed away, and they tasted amazing.

Incidentally, my wife and I run two small restaurants ( for tourists here in the foothills of Tibet, and we serve a sampling of Peruvian dishes. I would add cuy to the menu tomorrow if we could find any!

Eugene, the author of the comment and his Peruvian wife Cindy operate their restuarants in Xiahe and Langmusi. According to their website, their menu offers:

Chicken Quesadillas
Homemade French Fries
Pizza w/ lots of Cheese
Spaghetti Bolognese
Lomo Saltado
Bistec a lo Pobre
(Peruvian Style Steak)
... & Tons of Local Dishes

Next time you're in Xiahe or Langmusi stop in and yak it up with Eugene and Cindy to and let me know if cuy has made it to the Himalayas yet. Even if not, enjoy the rare opportunity of enjoying lomo saltado with your momos.

As for the "real pig" in the title to this blog post, it has to do with Anthony Bourdain, and no, I'm not calling him a pig.

As I noted in an earlier post, Lao Liang's Xi'an Ming Chi at the Golden Mall in Flushing was to be included in Anthony Bourdain's No Reservations TV series on September 7, and as promised, I monitored Bourdain's visit on the edge of my seat. Before I comment on the subject, I need to do some penitence.

In the past I've been anything but a Bourdain fan, for reasons that are no longer important, and have not been shy about letting people know it. However, after watching the Outer Boroughs episode, and before it (once I found out where the Travel Channel was on my cable dial) the 2009 San Francisco episode, I have decided that AB is, at this stage of his and my lives, a mensch, and that we are really soulmates. The politics of food have become as polarized as electoral politics these days, and Anthony and I happen to sit on the same part of the foodie spectrum, the place for real people who like real food (note the lower case initials), distant from foodies who breathe correctness and gorge on labels like "sustainable," "organic," and "humane," which have no direct relationship to tastiness. What I once thought was Bourdain's schtick has become a stick to beat Alice Waters with, and I like that.

So where does the pig come in? Overall, I thought the New York Outer Boroughs segment was excellent, and happy to see Bourdain enjoying the well-known "lamb burger" (roujiamo) at Xi'an Ming Chi and giving Lao Liang's place some strokes. The only nit I would pick was that he didn't have time to try anything a little more out there, such as the notorious "lamb face salad," which you can take as literally as you like. However, Lao Liang was up against another stall in the Golden Mall which featured a bounty of golden fried pig offal, and who could blame Anthony Bourdain from being seduced and, er, pigging out on those before he even reached Lao Liang's stall?


David said...

As for guinea pigs being introduced to China, it's already been done. In Shanghai 1986, during a morning stroll through a local food market, I came across a vendor with blue plastic tubs of live guinea pigs right next to the guys selling eels and quail (?). Customers were buying one or two at a time and I'm pretty sure they weren't going home to be pets.

Anonymous said...

Do you know a good restaurant in NYC to order cuy? I'd like to try it, but I've never seen it to order.

KirkK said...

Hey Gary - I've had Cuy a couple of times, and can tell you it can be either muy delicioso, or very bad depending on how the Cuy was raised. A lot of the Cuy that goes to restaurants for the tourist trade is raised using feed, some of which have some rather untraditional (and somewhat dubious) origins, and the end product was fishy, greasy, tough, and not very good eats. On the other hand, I've had slow roasted Cuy, made with Cuy that was fed the traditional alfalfa diet, and while it was not as large and plump as the restaurant cuy, it was amazingly good; all dark meat with a laquered skin that rivaled great roasted pork.