A non-traditional food by most standards, guinea pigs are considered a special treat in areas of South America. Amy McPherson explains more, and lets the adventurous readers among us know how to prepare this dish.
Travel anywhere near the Andes in South America, whether you are in Peru, Ecuador or Bolivia, and you are likely to be served ‘cuy’, or guinea pigs, sometime during your stay. It is a delicacy saved only for special guests and occasions, and if you are ever offered cuy while dining with a local family (and unless you are vegetarian), do not turn it down. Consider it a privilege that the Andean communities are willing to share this precious source of meat with us. Try to overlook its name and think pigeon or rabbit. You’ll realize guinea pigs do make great menu items.
History of the ‘cuy’
Before we all start campaigning to animal welfare, consider this: South America’s Andeans have been farming guinea pigs for centuries. The ‘cuy’ comes from a pre-Colombian era and is considered food of the nobles. These little creatures are like the chickens, cows, goats, and pigs of our world; they are easy to farm in the harsh climates of their surroundings where what we consider as ‘normal’ farm stock would not survive. They also breed well, and provide important nutritional benefits for the people, whose diet mainly consists of corn, potatoes, rice and beans.
A family may have very little cuy or a lot of cuy running about in their family kitchen. They are fed on scraps of potatoes and beans dropped by the mother (or grandmother) when she is cooking up for the family. The number of cuy a family owns can indicate their social status in their community, and a family with a lot of cuy is often respected by their peers. When they don’t have important visitors, the family doesn’t tend to cook up a cuy feast. Guinea pigs are almost like insurance, and can be used to barter for other items or services when in emergency.
What to expect?
When you are served guinea pig, it is likely to be plated whole, with the head, the body and legs pointing up. As guinea pigs are quite small, they are served at a ratio of one per person. The locals savor the head the most, regarded as the most delicious part of the entire animal. Eating one can be a little fidgety, and if you have ever eaten pigeon you’ll understand that little animals come with little bones and you will have to get your fingers in there to find the meat. Don’t be afraid to use your hands and chew like no one is looking, because ladies, that is the way it’ll taste the best.
Cuy can be prepared in different ways, with each region of the Andes using a different recipe. The most common way of preparing a guinea pig is roasted with the local pepper in its mouth, served with a hot sauce. Another popular way is to deep fry the guinea pig whole, served with sauces on the side.
Preparing guinea pig
Do you want to give it a go? Here is a recipe for baked cuy with hot sauce:
- Guinea pigs, skinned
- dry toasted white corn, or if not available, purple corn, then pounded into powder
- potatoes cut into slices
- lots of minced garlic
- a few hot peppers, or more if you like it spicy, minced
- oil, enough to coat all your guinea pigs
- big pinch of salt, pepper and cumin seeds
1. Rub the guinea pigs with oil mixed with pepper, salt and cumin. Bake with medium heat until tender.
2. Boil up the potatoes to serve as a side.
3. For the sauce, use more oil and mix with the minced peppers, minced garlic and powdered corn. Add a cup of water and bring to boil.
4. Plate up the guinea pigs and potatoes and pour the sauce over. Serve.
It’s also possible to use the same recipe but to deep fry the guinea pigs instead.
Have you ever tried cuy? Will you attempt this recipe? Let us know in the comments below!