Saturday, November 29, 2008

Cuy (guinea pig)

Some regions are known for a particular dish and some dishes are known only to a particular region, lacking the global appeal to cross cultural and geographical borders. I make no mystery of my fascination with indulging in these isolated delicacies and one such oddity was repeatedly brought to my attention in our plans to visit Peru and hike to Machu Picchu: cuy, also known to local pet shops as guinea pig.


Long before you brought Mr. Tweetypoo home from Petsmart for a life of squeaking, eating, and crapping on the carpet, the Andean peoples were domesticating guinea pigs for the explicit purpose of eating them. Originally used in ceremonial meals, cuy was eventually adopted as an acceptable food for any occasion calling for the consumption of rodents. Peruvians we met expressed a great appreciation for guinea pig meat but it is a bit pricey and therefore not regularly consumed by the common populous. However, there are still an estimated 65 million guinea pigs being eaten each year and these can't all be attributed to tourists looking to spice up their lackluster lives by eating weird food, like I do regularly.

Eating a guinea pig was priority number two for the trip (priority number one was making it to Machu Picchu in one piece), so the night before we embarked upon our hike I visited a local establishment that specializes in all things cuy.

Most restaurants will actually require you to order cuy a day in advance and put down a deposit to prove your sincerity which is typically 10 soles out of the average 50 soles for the dish (with a 3:1 soles to dollar exchange rate). The most common and traditional preparation is called cuy al horno, meaning roasted guinea pig. Here's the shocker, it's brought to you whole. There's no denying the fact that you're eating a guinea pig when it is lying there complete with tooth and nail, near intact sans fur.

Lacking certain mental components that would cause a normal human being to become nauseated at the mere sight of this fetid feast, I was completely unfazed by the scene laid before me (I blame it, along with my many other deficiencies, upon the multiple instances of blunt force trauma to the head in my developing years). Still, I tried to be dignified about the whole process and attacked the rat thing with my knife and fork, much to the amusement of the staff. Thick skin and meager amounts of flesh made this tactic difficult.

"When dissecting animals, I usually use a scalpel," I remarked to the sole English speaking waitress.

"You're supposed to eat it with your hands," she said in a tone that sounded so genuinely nice that it couldn't have been anything but mockery.

But eating it with my hands didn't make the process any better because, to be completely honest, the taste of this creature was absolutely disgusting.

cuy face

Ever eaten rabbit? It's delicious and I hope to eat it again someday soon and include it in this self-indulgent set of literary and journalistic abominations. Ever eaten snails? I have and didn't particularly enjoy the experience due to the overbearing bitter component in the flavor. Well, take that bitter component and marinate an emaciated rabbit in it and you can begin to imagine the flavor of guinea pig. I'm ashamed to admit that for a few days following this adventure I became overwhelmingly nauseated at the mere mention of cuy, far more nauseated than I was during the actual consumption of the foul creature.

So I gave up, leaving most of the flesh untouched, and instead focused on the tasty stuffed peppers traditionally served as side items, without which I would have starved that night.

Far be it from me to dissuade anyone from sampling any delicacy (that doesn't have some horrid environmental consequence) so I leave it entirely up to you. Take a good look at that face and ask yourself if you can actually stomach eating something that both looks and tastes this bad.


David said...

amazing tale (or tail?)...
the rictus looks remarkably like that of the cooked rat... don't ask...

but tell me, how did it smell?

01001111 said...

Thanks for the kind words.

The smell, as I remember it was a bit sweet and similar to in character to well cooked turkey neck if you could remove that very distinct turkey note.

And how does rat taste?