When I was a child, my parents would always take me to Harp’s, the local pet store, after a leisurely Saturday brunch at the Bob Evan’s Restaurant.
Looking back on it now, I think the promise of visiting the animals was just a sneaky bribe to cajole me into eating the horrible food at Bob Evans. Nevertheless, I cleaned my plate and sat (relatively) patiently until it was time to go see the animals. I loved the giant Boa Constrictor (who never sold), the puppies, the kittens, the bird section, and the walls of exotic fish. The one thing I could never stand though was the guinea pig pen. Ugh. Nasty smelly little things twitching their noses and chasing each other around in circles with no real purpose in life. Why would I want such a thing for a pet? After all, they didn’t really seem to like to be held. Surely there had to be a better way to make use of these little rodents, I thought …
… and in Peru, they’ve done exactly that. Guinea pigs are anything but a household pet in the Andes, and they hold quite a prominent position in the society. This is strikingly evident when many of the religious paintings throughout Peru, including a scene depicting Jesus’s last supper with his disciples, invoke the guinea pig. In this case, Jesus broke bread and ate guinea pig with his disciples! The guinea pig was one of the Inca’s only icons that was not forbidden by the invading Spaniards.
Guinea pigs are actually indigenous to Peru, and have played a key role in the region for centuries. Known as “cuy,” they have served as religious sacrifices as well as a staple of the Andean diet. Even today, they serve as an important source of protein for rural communities. Yes — they eat guinea pig in Peru! In fact, it is estimated that Peruvians consume around 65 million guinea pigs each year! I figure some of that consumption has to come from curious travelers, though, right?
So after eating Alpaca meat in Cusco and Puno, we just had to try the guinea pig while we were in Arequipa — a city known for its spicy cuisine!
Although the taste is not that bad, it is quite the struggle to pull off what little meat there is on the bones. It’s also difficult to come to terms with the fact that you’re eating a little rodent — one that is often kept as a pet in Western cultures. And the fact that they serve it with the skull, teeth poking out, certainly doesn’t help it go down any easier.
Regardless of whether or not you think you would ever eat Cuy in Peru, it is still important to understand its significance to the culture and the religious traditions of the people.
Have you ever tried Cuy? What’s your verdict?
What other unconventional delicacies have you sampled around the world?