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Good eatin’!

12 March 2012

Half the fun in editing is the research.  My author, when faced with words new to him, had to write phonetically, and when a Mayan uses a Nahuatl word in speaking to a Bulgarian, sometimes I just have to flounder around til I figure it out… which becomes an education in itself.   What  I thought might be a local word for a chachalaca, the common jungle fowl of central America, was something else  entirely.

From Lacandon Journal (© 2012, Dimitar Krustev… to be published later this year by Editorial Mazatlán):

August 15, 1969 – Nueva Esperanza

In the afternoon I worked on a painting with another model. The work did not go well. I had not spent enough time with the Indians and did not “feel” them yet. The creative part of the day ended at 4 p.m. and Gary and I took a bath on the muddy edge of the river. I saw fantastic cloud formations in the north sky and thunder rumbled over the jungle.

The women made tortillas again. Then there was a flutter of paddles in the river and I heard mens’ voices. Carmita whispered “Kin” and told me that her husband was returning. In about 20 minutes the three Lacandones appeared behind the hut, with Kin carrying a wild boar and three turkeys and Chan Bor a tepezcuintle[1].

This was good news. The Indians had been eating tortillas for days and now they would have a feast. In the evening they lay in the hammocks and talked about the adventure of the day. As the women shelled corn under the light of burning wood ocote, a wood similar to the pine tree and highly saturated with oil, the Indians went to sleep about 9 p.m. Rain started around midnight…

August 17, 1969 – Nueva Esperanza, The Day of the Hunt

Last night as we gathered around the smoke from the kitchen fire to keep the bugs away, Carmita suddenly jumped up as if bitten by a wasp. She said something to me and pointed toward the ground. When I flashed a light down there I saw thousands of ants devouring hundreds of dead cockroaches. Based on their size, I judged the ants to be fire ants. I left for my tent as Carmita poured fire over the mess. During the night a sound awoke me and when I turned on the flashlight I saw cockroaches crawling over the walls of the tent.

In the morning the three Lacandones went hunting again. Before leaving, they announced that they would stay in the jungle overnight. When they returned the next day, they were loaded with three monkeys (mikos, as they call them) and one wild turkey. The sight of the dead monkeys, which looked so like humans, upset Gary.

The Indians offered us either turkey or monkey and we chose turkey. Kin Yuk said the monkeys have human blood.

The animals were butchered in the afternoon on the bank of the river where we usually bathed. On the way back from the river, … Kin lifted one of the monkeys to my nose and said “You should eat monkey. Very delicious.”

[1] Cuniculus paca, a large tropical rodent, usually weighing between 6 to 12 Kg.  Similar to the much smaller guinea pig, tepezcuintles and the closely related agoutis (genus Dasyprocta) are indiscriminately referred to as “Pacas” in English.  While commonly raised in captivity as food animals (Domestication and husbandry of the paca (Agouti paca), Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, 1995), farm-raised tepezcuintle is said to have an inferior taste to their wild cousins.

Decyphering the phonetic “pepesquintly” as “tepezcuintle” was the easy part.  Finding a Mexican recipe is harder.  I don’t think Cristina Potter (Mexico Cooks!) … who can hold her own with a kitchen-full of abuelas …has one for  jungle rat,  but they’re a regular part of Caribbean cuisine.  Trinidadian food writer, Felix Padilla (Simply Tini Cooking) has a nice Paca curry recipe.

Maybe Cristina’s got one for monkey.

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