Drinking frog juice, Arequipa, Peru
I feel like I’m about to drink Kermit.
I’m here in the small local market of Arequipa, a city in the south of Peru. Around me, Peruvians are doing their shopping at the crowded fruit stalls and the meat shops with more flies than feel hygienic. But I’ve walked right past them. There’s just one thing on my menu this afternoon – ‘jugo de rana’ as it’s called in Spanish. In English, it translates as ‘juice of the frog’.
The juice bar is towards the back of the market, a small red and white sign marks its location. There is nothing written in English, no tacky advertisements to attract foreigners, and no inflated prices. This is a little shop for locals and without fellow blogger Tammy (of Tammy and Chris on the Move) who is living in Arequipa at the moment, I would never have found out about it.
The drink they sell here is called frog juice because that is quite literally what it is. It’s made from frog. At least… that’s one of the ingredients (and more on that shortly). There is also a mixture of Andean plants that have been part of the diet of people here for centuries but are generally only found in health food stores in other countries. Things like chia, maca and coca.
And it’s this mixture of ingredients that makes a drink of frog juice so special in Peru. It’s considered to be an almost spiritual beverage – something that has been passed down through generations as long as can be remembered. People claim it has incredible curative properties and can be used to treat things like asthma, bronchitis and anaemia. It also apparently gives drinkers a natural energy boost. Oh, and it’s considered to be an aphrodisiac that boosts sex drive.
This is why the locals come here for their regular dose of the juice. And that’s why we, as foreigners, get a slightly odd look when we turn up at the stall. I’m sure we’re not the first tourists who have come to try such an oddity but I get the feeling that the man making the drinks doesn’t wanted to be treated as a novelty. We show him some respect and he offers to demonstrate how he creates his concoction.
This is the part where things get a bit ‘icky’.
The man opens up the lid of a large bucket and reaches in. Around his hand, dozens of small brown frogs hop around. He expertly wraps his fingers around one and pulls it out, closing the lid over the others. This is the little guy who I will Kermit murder for.
The frog, I hope, feels no pain. I console myself with this fact as I watch the man quickly and efficiently whack the animal’s head against the bench. An instant death in the most humane way possible. Luckily I hadn’t had time to give it a name.
The man then expertly skins the frog with his hands, peeling it in just seconds. The meat and the bones of the frog are then thrown into a pan and cooked for a minute until it’s no longer raw.
The blender is brought out next. Into it, the man puts the cooked frog meat and then pours in all the other ingredients – a brown slightly sludgy mix of local plants. This is the special blend of organic goodness of things like maca, chia and coca that gives the drink its body. Everything is blended up together until it looks like a smoothie. The final step is to pour this through a strainer into a glass so there are no bone fragments in what is presented to me over the counter.
Now is the moment of truth, as I lift the glass towards me and wrap my lips around the straw. I’m a bit hesitant – what is this going to taste like?
Well, I’m pleasantly surprised. The overriding taste is of maca, the root vegetable native to the high Andes of Peru that makes up the body of the drink. It tastes earthy and a bit malty. It’s hard – almost impossible – to taste anything that might resemble a frog, even if the liquid is the right colour for that.
Although the mixture has been blended, it’s not completely smooth and it’s a bit gluggy, like a thickshake. I can’t drink it too quickly but that’s not a problem. I feel like it’s something I should be taking my time with. So I sit here with Tammy and we sip at the drinks until they’re done, we thank the man for his patience, and we wander back out of the market into the streets of Arequipa.
As we walk along, I begin to notice some of the effects the frog juice drink is known for. I certainly have a lot of energy and I’m almost bouncing down the street a little. I find myself talking quickly and my heart is racing a little faster. It feels a bit like when you have had too much coffee… although a more organic version of that, if that makes sense. Perhaps it’s the coca in the drink (the product that cocaine is made from) or maybe it’s the combination of all the ingredients. Including the frog.
Poor Kermit may have not dominated the taste and may only have been a small part of the final drink, but I still drank him. I have to live with the knowledge I had a frog in my throat. Ribbit.