Cuy – What’s a Cuy?
In my opinion, cuy looks like road kill served on a plate with chips.
This is not only my opinion, I heard an Australian tourist say, when presented with one of Peru’s national delicacies… “Looks like it was run over by a freakin’ truck!” (He was an Australian, he did not actually say ‘freakin”)
So what is cuy?
Cuy is a guinea pig.
Peru is famous for two dishes, cerviche and roast or fried cuy. The former I love, the latter I have never tried, and won’t.
Cuy is not only confined to Peru, but much of the Altiplano.
Could I bring myself to eat a guinea pig?
Eating roasted or fried guinea pig is an ancient tradition in parts of South America, and still common today. But in other parts of the world the rodents are cherished as cuddly, fluffy pals for children. How do you make the mental leap from cute pet to delicious meal?
As a committed carnivore I’m not in the habit of attaching personalities to the meat on my plate.
But this was a guinea pig, with four legs, a face and endearingly prominent front teeth. I used to have one as a pet.
My husband Jeremy and I were in a restaurant in southern Ecuador, where guinea pigs are regularly served up with potatoes and corn, and have been for thousands of years. Peru, Bolivia and parts of Colombia also do so.
We’d seen them being cultivated in a small rural home in Colombia, and impaled on thick rods before being roasted en masse in an Ecuadorian market. Eating traditional foods is a large part of the travel experience, so there was no way we would pass through the region without sampling this dish.
The roasted guinea pig – called cuy in South America – was brought to our table whole before being chopped into five pieces – four leg portions and the head.
I considered Jet, the tufty black guinea pig who was my first pet. He was forever getting lost and his antics were the subject of a story written by eight-year-old me, which won a local writing competition.
That he died in the care of friends while we were on holiday – overwhelmed by the car fumes in their garage – was one of those dramatic childhood turning points that I never really got over. Could I move on?