Small game is a staple in the diet of both mestizo and indigenous peoples in the Upper Amazon. Frequently hunted mammals include large rodents, such as agouti (Dasyprocta fuliginosa) and capybara (Hydrochaeris hydrochaeris); monkeys, especially howler monkeys (Alouatta seniculus) and spider monkeys (Ateles belzebuth); peccary, including huangana, white-lipped peccary (Tayassu pecari), and sajino, collared peccary (Tayassu tajacu); sachavaca, tapir (Tapirus terrestris); and gray and red brocket deer (Mazama spp.). Most hunting for small game is done with a 16-gauge shotgun.
|Agouti (Dasyprocta fuliginosa) with edible brain and tongue|
Once gutted, the entire animal is thrown onto a fire. When the hair has been singed, any remaining hair is removed by scraping. Mestizo hunters may then roast the game over a small fire, which can be quite palatable, especially when flavored with albaca, wild basil (Ocimum micranthum), or ajosacha, wild garlic (Mansoa alliacea), which has the additional advantage, hunters believe, of disguising human scent. With some plátano, plantain (Musa paradisiaca), roasted on the fire; some chonta, palm heart; and some huito fruit (Genipa americana) for desert, roast large rodent can be a treat. "You cannot go hungry in the jungle," Moises told me.
In indigenous villages, on the other hand, the carcass is chopped indiscriminately into pieces, put into a pot of boiling water, and boiled like crazy. This is not gourmet cooking. I tried to introduce the Shapra Indians to the idea of a nicely trimmed monkey roast, but they were disinterested. They preferred just to boil the bejeezus out of their meat.
Other small game — birds, tortoises, caimans — is treated pretty much the same way: inedible parts, such as feathers and shells, are removed; everything else is chopped up and boiled. Attractive feathers are kept for making crowns and jewelry; other inedible parts are thrown away.
Once, when I and a few friends lived among the Shapra and Candoshi Indians, we were eating boiled monkey soup. A friend of mine dipped in, pulled out a wrinkled pale piece of meat, and handed it to me. "Please tell me this is not the asshole," my friend said. I looked at it. I sniffed it. "Yup," I said. "That's the asshole." We discreetly discarded that piece of meat.
|The complete one-pot jungle kitchen, with wooden paddle for stirring the soup|
Suri, the grubs of palm beetles (Rhynchophorus palmarum), are such a special treat that I discuss them separately here. Fishing, especially with the fish poison barbasco (Lonchocarpus urucu), will get a blog post of its own.
I would really enjoy hearing other people's stories of jungle cuisine — with recipes, if possible.