The Guyanas: Of Rum and Armadillo

Food and drink are important, and it is equally important to keep one’s mind open to new and exciting taste treats; the Guyanas are no stranger to eclectic meats, and there are several restaurants around happy to serve the unsuspecting Cochou-bwa, Pakira, Tatou and the suchlike. So clutching what was left of my taste buds, I ordered a combination dish and, it being in St. Laurent du Moroni, and thus France, could wash it all down with a most agreeable bottle of Bordeaux.

Cochou-bwa seems to refer to a smallish wild boar; Pakira I was reliably informed was “Pakira” leaving considerable doubt about its provenance, and Tatou was translated simply as Armadillo.

Not that I needed a great deal of explanation as its rather tough exterior was a dead giveaway; however an armadillo roasted, opened with care and accompanied by some jungle greenery, it proved to be a highlight. I shall try and instruct my local butcher in Winnipeg, but I doubt that I will succeed.

Armadillo oddly, does not taste like chicken. Odd only because folks routinely describe any sort of unknown foods as tasting “rather like chicken”. I have heard this of a wide variety of mammals, some slightly fowl-like fish, insects and the more select parts of otherwise normal animal foods. Armadillo, however, belongs firmly in the pork family.

Its flavour, sweet, rich and extremely tender, was delightful, surprising and interrupted only by the waiter’s insistence that my bottle of claret was insufficient to bring out the true succulence of the armadillo.

Rum was required for this.

Now rum is a catch-all phrase, in much the same way that “vodka” is a word that covers all manner of ghastly distilling experiments as well as some rather nice stuff. French Guyanan rum comes often in a rather mean looking bottle, made by the local “rhum co-operative”, and sold for very few euros indeed. Usually poured over a couple of pulverised limes, and a touch of fresh cane sugar, the concoction, a “ti punch” is really rather pleasant if not sophisticated.

But as a dinner tipple to wash down the roasted armadillo, I was not sure. I thought long and hard about the inevitable headache, and finally took the plunge; it has to be said that the sweetness of the meat did balance the sugary character of rum; the volumes required to be a dinner tipple, however, were beyond even me.

However, the rums available throughout the region are of rather high standards. In particular the El Dorado family of Guyanan rums offer some spectacular single distillate products, aged in small batches and offering a very distinctive flavour. They use original stills, some as old as 200 years, which may not sounds extreme in the world of old-world spirits, but for the Caribbean, these stills are unique.

Suriname too offers some fine sipping rum. In particular, I believe, the Borgoe 82, blended and sold by Suriname Alcoholic Beverages NV is the finest. It is smooth, almost too smooth for those who enjoy a little bite from their rum, but a marvellous long and slightly caramel impression will bring a smile to the most jaded face.

However, I would still to rum before (and after dinner) and a gentle Bordeaux to wash down the armadillo.