The Rooster's Head In The Soup

Lonely Planet Magazine India|January 2019

The Rooster's Head In The Soup

In deepest Peru, a traveller is warmly welcomed into a family home and faces the dilemma of how to show appreciation for a rather terrifying dish.

Tim Cahill

DO YOU EAT THE THING OR WHAT?

It’s a rooster’s head and it’s floating in the soup. You are in a dirt-floored hut, a two-room adobe family home up in what is called the Eyebrow of the Jungle, the Ceja de Selva, in the cloud forests of Peru. The Peruvian family has allowed you to camp on their little farm and now they’ve invited you to dinner. Out comes the first dish. It’s a yellow soup. And there’s a rooster’s head floating in it. Skeletal thing: no skin or eyeballs. Nothing inside the cranial cavity at all.

That was the first time I asked myself the question most travellers are presented with at one time or another: are they making fun of me, or is the rooster’s head really given to the honoured guest? Back then, I spent some moments wrestling with the implications. Assumption #1: they are, in fact, making fun of me. OK. What’s the worst that can happen? I chomp down on the fragile bones of the skull and everyone bursts out laughing. I can generally salvage that situation by simply laughing right along with everyone else. They might think I’m an imbecile, but no one is going to be insulted.

Now assume that the rooster’s head is, in fact, a local delicacy. If you treat it as a joke, there is a good chance you will alienate your hosts. You absolutely do not want to alienate your hosts. Not up here in the Eyebrow of the Jungle where the trails are steep and sometimes lead to a crumbling precipice over a 5,000-foot drop. You don’t want to alienate your hosts if you need them to tell you where the pre-Columbian ruins are. You don’t want to alienate your hosts if you are going to camp in their vicinity for several days because you are, in fact, genuinely interested in the local culture. Finally, you don’t want to alienate them because refusing a delicacy might be a mortal insult, to be avenged with machetes. Probably not, but why take the chance? Let them laugh instead.

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January 2019