I’ll make no bones about it, I’m very safe when it comes to food. Although really that’s the complete opposite of what I should be doing, making no bones about it, because that’s all Peru’s hairy little friends really are, bone. Guinea pig, or cuy to the locals, is a national delicacy in Peru, and while I was in the country I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to try it out myself…
Arequipa’s lovely central square, fronted on one side by it’s impressive cathedral, sits nicely situated in front of an incredible backdrop with snow-capped volcanoes in the background. The other three sides sit before endless shops and restaurants, the latter all promising to deliver the best local dish that Peru’s second city has to offer. “Cuy? Cuy Señor?”
Ask yourself, what noise does a guinea pig make? Apparently, cuy is more onomatopoeic than it first lets on. Cuy, the Peruvian name for a guinea pig, is also the sound a guinea pig makes. Cuy is being shouted at me by a dozen waiters holding menus on the edge of Arequipa’s lovely central square, each lending themselves to some sort of human-guinea pig hybrid. “Cuy? Cuy Señor?” It just so happens, on this day of all days, I am indeed interested in trying some cuy.
‘They eat guinea pigs in Peru’
That seems to be one of those weird bits of knowledge that’s somehow more widespread than you’d expect it to be. Although despite knowing this fact, you’ve never really thought about it any further than that. You’ve never wondered why they do it, you’ve never wondered what it tastes like. You find yourself in Peru and think about eating one, you think ‘this will one day make excellent dinner table talk’.
Ok maybe that last one is just me for now.
“Si por favor,” I am having some cuy. I’ve just picked a random restaurant there. I did have a quick scout of the menu, but it turns out my knowledge of how a guinea pig should taste is actually, nowhere to be seen. I’m led up some stairs and now I’m sitting on a balcony looking out onto Arequipa’s lovely central square, lit up. A perfect setting. Cuy ordered. Beer ordered. Is that going down too fast? Yes. Does that mean I’m nervous? Yes.
Guinea pig and beer. I’m not quite used to this. As it comes out beer takes a backseat. Guinea pig and beer has become guinea pig and potatoes, interesting, before I’ve even picked up my knife and fork the experience has surpassed what I was expecting. The thing about ordering a guinea pig to eat in Peru, is that it quite literally comes out as a guinea pig. Head, teeth, eyes. Split in half just for good measure. A self-proclaimed fussy eater has long left his comfort zone. I dig in.
‘You wouldn’t get this with a chicken’
What comes to mind straight away is how difficult this thing is to cut. I’m thinking about how some of my best friends had guinea pigs as pets when they were younger and I’m now hacking one to absolute bits.
I’ve managed to a rip a sliver of meat away from the bone, it goes down with a more familiar friend in the potato. Wow it’s chewy. Think of the chewiest thing you’ve ever eaten, and multiply it by the number of times you’ve read cuy in the post, and add on the number of times I hope you’ve repeated that word in your head while you’ve been reading it. Cuy, cuy, cuy. Chew, chew chew.
It tastes very similar to chicken, for me. I render the whole experience slightly pointless. Only slightly because I’ve removed the curiosity that only developed when I got to Peru, never before, remember. It’s just that it doesn’t take an intense arm workout to hack apart a chicken.
The guinea pig has got inside my head. A self-proclaimed fussy eater is what I am, and it’s told. I’ve fretted and fretted through eating this thing, and it’s actually all culminated in quite simply a very bland tasting meal. I’ve overthought the entire process. I’ve speeded through this meal, for the reason that you, guinea pig, got inside my head. Out of respect, I will refrain from eating yours.
Hardly any meat. The meat that is there is chewy (understatement). It still has eyeballs and I feel like they’re looking at me. I still believe taking on the little guy is a victory in itself and I’d like to think I speak for other fussy eaters out there. But was that guinea pig a tasty and filling meal? Was that an enjoyable experience? Maybe I should have just had some chips.
Excellent dinner table talk, though.