Turns Out, Roasted Guinea Pig Is Delicious
Delicious? Yes. Enjoyable? No.
Time To Read: 5 mins | April 10, 2017
I probably could have just Googled, “eat Peruvian delicacy cuy Cusco” — ‘cuy’ being the traditional dish in question, and Cusco as the city I was staying in.
But that seemed way less fun than, “EAT GUINEA PIG CUSCO” typed aggressively in all caps, so I searched that instead.
Much like the rest of my life, this wasn’t something I planned on. But the week previous, while riding in an overcrowded egg-smelling shuttle bus, we’d driven through a small village that was famous for their roasted guinea pig. The town’s so popular for the dish, the women legitimately stand roadside and wave the dead & pre-skewered rodents at you. Because that’s considered tempting here.
They’re bigger than the little guys you keep in cages stateside, and have been eaten in this part of South America since, well, ever. Some estimates say 65 million of the wee lil pigs get snacked on down here every year.
They’re so entrenched in the culture that in Cusco’s most famous cathedral, there’s a painting of the Last Supper – guess what they’re eating for dinner?
All that said, amongst the locals, guinea pigs are most definitely reserved for special occasions. But this is a budding tourist region, and there’s a lot of curious, twisted gringos – me — who want to dine on their neighbor’s kid’s pets. So it’s not uncommon for restaurants to prepare an overpriced rodent on demand.
Unfortunately, I couldn’t get back to the charming bloodthirsty town I’d passed before, so I had to track down a spot close to my apartment. Hence the Googling (totally a verb).
I’d found a spot a half dozen blocks away from my apartment, but before I got to wherever TripAdvisor had recommended, I passed a shop front that had ‘cuy’ — the local verbiage for my future lunch — on a posterboard. Also outside the restaurant was a pleasant looking man; middle aged, smiling, well-dressed – clearly an owner playing host while his dining room was slow.
We chatted for half a minute. The price was what I was told to expect, the wait (45 minutes) matched my research, and he assured me he’d roast my pig, “extra special for you sir.” Which I’m very confident he’s never said before in his life.
So I accepted the offer, then left the restaurant to take some extremely mediocre pictures. When I returned an hour later, I sat down to the crispy hat-wearing rat you saw at the top of this page.
Let me go ahead and spoil the rest of this story: yes; it was delicious; no, I didn’t enjoy it.
The experience started off negative because, initially, I wasn’t allowed to eat it. Apparently when this dish is brought out for tourists, they don’t expect the average Joe to know how to carve a rodent. So they deliver the guinea pig whole only so that you can take your pictures. Then the chef takes it back to the kitchen to quarter it herself.
For me, this ruins the charm. I have a well-documented hate of selfie culture; most of that disgust stems from how inorganic it all is. Once something’s obviously staged, the magic disappears. Being told that my personalized roasted pig had only been given to me in this manner so I could take pictures, frankly, tainted the rest of it.
What’s more, as much as I’m famously merciful to baby goats, I grew up in the south. My dad used to abandon me in the garage to clean 50+ quail after a day’s hunting using nothing but a pair of Play-Skool scissors; I know how to dismember my meat. But being treated like… well, like they probably have to treat most Americans, also put me off my meal.
You’re wondering what it tasted like, I’m sure. The closest comparison is duck; gamey dark meat with plenty of flavor to stand on it’s own. It was genuinely delicious – but I can’t claim to have fully enjoyed it.
As with far more concepts than most people appreciate, presentation matters.
photo: is it not obvious? and yes, i took the hat home with me. cusco, peru