As a child, I was never allowed a pet Guinea Pig. Anything remotely “rodent-like” was not deemed a pet, and therefore, was forbidden in our house. I never really minded that, because Guinea pigs weren’t that cool anyway, and they sort of freaked me out.
Despite the lack of love for Guinea Pigs in my childhood, I still was a little unsure of what to make of Peru’s greatest delicacy…Cuy.
Guinea pigs, or their Quechuan name cuy, originated from the Andes, native to Peru. However, the Peruvians are far from calling cuy pets. Cute, furry, little guinea pigs just so happen to be Peru’s national delicacy, usually being the most expensive thing on the menu, and a real celebratory treat for Peruvians.
Having been aware of this delicacy from my travels up through Argentina and Bolivia, I had promised (myself and people at home) that I would not return home without having eaten Guinea pig. At this point, I was unaware of how Peruvians usually serve their cuy: whole.
During the time of Cusco’s Inti Raymi festival, there was a large food festival in the streets; showcasing the best of Peru’s cuisine at street food prices.
Wandering in between the food stalls, eager to get tasting, I found myself surrounded by Guinea pigs. I don’t really know how else to describe the displays of Guinea pigs, other than vulgar.
There they were, standing on their hind legs together in a pyramid, shiny and crispy, with vegetables stuffed into their little open mouths.
I went home that day with a sticky donut in hand, rather than a stomach full of cuy.
Three weeks later, in the mountainous city of Huancayo, with one week left to go in Peru, it was time to get over my fears, and try the Peruvian delight. We were volunteering, we were living with the locals, we were trying cuy.
Three of us decided to head to a more tourist-friendly restaurant to order Guinea pig. We’d eaten great food there already, so surely the cuy would be too. I was actually quite excited! I’d got over the spectacle now, and was ready to get back to being a proper carnivore.
Deep fried Guinea pig, spread-eagled on a bed of potatoes. Barely any meat on it at all, bearing in mind that we paid a hefty price (comparatively) for it, we were a little underwhelmed.
But how did it taste? To me, it tasted a lot like pork, and I’m not just saying that either. Unfortunately it was quite greasy, but other than that, it wasn’t all that bad. It was a very flavoursome meat, with a soft moist texture, but it was mainly all skin and bone!
The original Andean delicacy of Guinea pig can now be found all over Peru. It is enjoyed fried, roasted or grilled. Perhaps roasted would have been better.
As with any dish that is unusual in our culture, whether it’s grasshoppers in Thailand, fertilised duck-eggs in Vietnam, or kangaroo in Australia, if you’re a food-orientated carnivore like me, your curiosity will usually get the better of you.
I wouldn’t tell anyone not to try Peruvian Guinea pig. All in all, my experience of eating cuy was a good one. But then again, I never had a pet Guinea pig…and there’s no way that I’d order deep-fried dog.