Conveniently sporting rows of white spots along its side to make it easier to hunt, the paca practically screams “devour me.” Central Americans listened; the rich meat of paca (also called conejo pintado) is so coveted that the species is protected in some parts of the region.
After being templed out in Tikal, Guatemala, quell your hiker’s hunger with slabs of flame-grilled paca at nearby restaurants, where it goes by the regal-sounding name tepezcuintle.
Wine Pairing: The boldness and dark fruit of a tempranillo will play well with the richness of paca without smothering it in tannins.
While the bayou of Louisiana has recently had to battle hurricanes and spilled oil, another force threatens to chew up the delta from the bottom up: nutria.
These terrier-sized rodents, originally imported into America for their fur, have since been busy devouring vegetation that forms the bayou. They bring a particularly insidious destruction upon New Orleans, that of destabilizing levees with their relentless burrowing.
Lower in fat and higher in protein than beef, the nutria, a clean herbivore (see the pattern here?), seems to offer us a plan for its own eradication on a silver platter. Unfortunately, New Orleans restaurants rarely serve this invasive species thanks to the rodent stigma. Chef Louis Brown at Oceana Grill has been one of the only recent culinary patriots, sautéing nutria for the Food Network’s “Freakiest Foods” earlier this year.
Back in the nutria’s home turf of Uruguay, the rodent’s meat, white and lean, is considered tasty instead of freaky. Nutria carpaccio, sourced from farmed nutria, arrives at your table with a sprinkling of lemon juice, parmesan and cracked peppercorns at Restaurant La Yerra in Montevideo’s Mercado del Puerto.
If you prefer your rodent braised, nutria appears on the specials menu at Restaurant DePutaMadre when Chef Marcelo Falero can procure the meat. His nutria smothered in a beer sauce is served with freshly grated parmesan for adding an element of richness to the lean, bite-sized cuts; I recommend it to fans of rabbit and frog’s legs.
For aspiring chefs of rodent cuisine, Slow Food member Elizabeth Rodriguez of Punta del Diablo restaurant El Camaron Alegre teaches a culinary class on working with nutria when it is in season.
Wine Pairing: For nutria in a beer sauce, a dry Alsatian pinot blanc is a solid partner (an amber brew works too). Wash down nutria carpaccio with a dry champagne or cava. A well-chilled albariño will work in a pinch.
If you thought that was oddly entertaining, you might also want to check out 11 Weird Japanese Foods or perhaps Three Bizarre Food and Sex Combinations for Your Next Dinner Party. Or there’s always the MatadorNights classic Dog Meat and Rooster Balls: the 10 Most Exotic Asian Foods.
If reading about regular food is more your speed, may we also suggest MatadorNetwork’s Food Travel Focus Page? That’s where you can imagine it before you eat it and remember it after the fact.