I always have ONE rule when it comes to food: Never eat anything that I would consider for a pet. Eating Cuy in Cusco, you know that cute little guinea pig you loved as a 4th grader, just imagine him served up on a stick. Well, that was my one exception to the NO PETS for dinner rule. I’m from Ecuador so I’d heard stories about people in South America that eat guinea pig. Ugh, so gross, right!? Look at the faces on these little guys. Does that really look like dinner?
Ok, it did take my entire time in Peru to finally have enough balls to try some Cuy. During my pitstop in Cusco before my journey to Machu Picchu, I noticed tons of restaurants serving up Guinea Pig. You have to understand that Cuy is as common to eat in Peru, as it is for Americans to eat chicken or fish. Probably because it is such an easy animal to harvest and you can keep them in a cage in the kitchen.
Driving through the tiny villages, you would see women on the side of the road selling cuy on a stick. You know, just like the guy serving up bacon wrapped hot dogs cooked on a pan outside the club in the middle of the night. That was my “F It” moment. There’s no way you can be in another country and NOT fully throw yourself into the culture. If this is what the fine people of Peru eat daily, then I had to try it. Actually after a while, we got excited about tasting it! On the way back from a tour of the Sacred Valley, our stomachs started grumbling and that folks, was the start of our hunt for Peru’s favorite street meat. We told our guide to pull the van over and find the best spot to satisfy our virgin palettes. Of course, the restaurant with the cute guinea pig statue was the winner!
By the time we got to the grill, it was all fun and games. And they even let us pick our own cuy, but once this little guy is cooked, they all look the same. Fifteen bucks later and my grilled cuy was served al fresco with a side of boiled potatoes. Interestingly enough, this was actually one of my most expensive meals in Cusco. Our tour guide reminded me, that this American pet is considered a delicacy in Peru.
The cuey is roasted on a stick and stuffed with different herbs that make it smell incredible. The meat is almost buttery and the after taste is very strong and distinct. When I had a bite of the meat that was seasoned it was absolutely delicious. I could taste the rosemary and various herbs they use to cook the meat. Now let me also clarify, the parts of the cuy that weren’t seasoned, took a lot more effort to eat. I left the best for last, the skin! Unfortunately, cuy skin isn’t as easy to eat as chicharron. I don’t know how people do it, but I could not bite through that skin! It was literally like chewing on a piece of leather.
Word of advice, have an Inka Kola ready to wash down that strange taste in your mouth. By the way, as soon as we were done with our taste test, our tour guide devoured the rest of the Cuy. I guess it really is an acquired taste. I left there knowing I wouldn’t be going into my local pet store to buy a guinea pig for the next family BBQ. That was a one time adventure, and now every time I walk into a pet store, I do feel a little guilty when I walk by the guinea pig cage.