When they won't tell you what it is before you eat it, you know it's something a lot of people wouldn't want to eat.
This has happened to me with lung, tongue, brain, liver, intestine, and blood sausage. If it weren't for the fact that ants and tiny dried fish look exactly like what they are, I'm sure people would have avoided identifying those for me as well.
Most recently, on a trip to buy the lovely bamboo shade (which turned out to be about the equivalent of simply tinting my bedroom window sepia and letting everyone see in anyway), my friend and I stopped for lunch at Condado. The restaurant, open on the front with lawn chair sidewalk seating and a view of the striped umbrella on the avocado cart where we picked up our squash-sized avocado, offered the plato corriente that we were hankering after. To order one of these lunches is to get sort of the plate of the day, which will come first with soup, ajiaco, and juice freshly squeezed from lulo or lemon if you're lucky, and then a plate of rice, beans, and meat, and maybe some vegetables or fried plantains.
We passed the llaneros in their aprons and mustaches, adjusting the meat over their tented grills, and a grin spread across my friend's face. "I want you to try something," he said.
"Okay, what is it?"
"Just something," he said.
At the table, he began to tell me about the many different types of water-dwelling animals Colombia has, and I began to suspect I would be eating salamander, or perhaps alligator. And I was thinking that salamander would be harder to swallow. Figuratively.
Some of these many species, he said, are sold on the black market for food, which lead me to believe that some are facing extinction.
"How did you know you could get the meat here?" I asked.
"I heard them talking when we came in," he said, tapping his ear, apparently the one that led him to his illicit discovery.
When our plates arrived, I was relieved to see that the slabs of meat were big as milanesas, flat steaks. I cut into it, and placed the warm flesh in my mouth.
It was salty.
About the texture of tender steak or perhaps pork, with crispy edges.
My friend watched me.
"Do you like it?"
I made sure to finish chewing and swallowed before I asked, "What is it?"
He took a bite. "Have you ever heard of capybara?"
I nodded. He nodded.
"You basically just ate a giant rat."
I nodded. I checked in with my stomach. All okay. Checked in with my conscience. Slightly queasy. But it was already there on my plate. I couldn't save what was already dead.
That night, we had the leftovers for dinner.