Many times I’ve been asked, usually in an indictive and opprobrious tone, how Peruvians like myself could devour such cute and helpless creatures. I can tell you that regardless of whether it’s a cultural issue or something that was borne out of necessity (gods know there are tons of those things running around the highlands of Peru), when done right, guinea pigs are delicious. That said, it took over 30 years for me to come to this conclusion and were it not for a life scarring experience in my youth, I guarantee that it would have happened sooner. If only, because it’s the Peruvian way.
I was about 6 years old and at my grandparent’s place in Huancayo, in the highlands of central Peru, on an exploring expedition when I discovered a secret room full of these things. Naturally, I deemed my expedition a success, called it a day and stuck around to get acquainted with my cuddly friends. It was great! It didn’t take too long before we were on a first name basis and what had started as a really boring day turned out to be so much fun. I couldn’t wait to hang out with my new buds again the following day.
My grandparent’s home was a massive place. They conducted their business, selling their farm produce, on the first floor while the rest of the family lived on the floors above. I don’t remember how many stories the building extended but it seemed to go on forever. Peru’s own Tower of Babel. We even had a whole floor set for ourselves in case we ever decided to leave the capital and abandon my mother’s side of the family for the coziness of the Peruvian Andes.
The secret room was in the patio on the 4th floor. When you entered the patio from the kitchen, the room would be not too far to your right. Across the kitchen door there was a large multi-purpose sink where they would wash clothes, dishes and skin and clean off cuys to get them ready for dinner.
I stood at the doorway for an eternity, watching the cook grab cuys from a pile to her right, remove their furry hide, slice them open, and pile them up to her left. The little guys never had a chance.
It was a massacre. Blood. Everywhere. The body count. Massive. That night, we had the whole family over for dinner and there was a clear view of the sink from the large kitchen table from which they ate. I took a pass on the food.
I passed plenty of opportunities to eat cuy since then, up until my most recent (read: only) trip back to Peru. I tried it twice. Once at a fancy Peruvian joint around the corner for the Plaza Mayor in Cuzco, picked out at random mostly due to its fanciness. The cuy was deep fried and mostly forgettable. Also very expensive. My second time was at a restaurant in Urubamba where I had lunch with some local friends. The cuy was grilled, incredibly delicious and comparatively cheap.
Today I’ve come to find that they are not only delicious but also more environmentally friendly than other meats. I can understand people’s apprehensiveness to consuming a cute little critter like this but since I’m over that phase of my life, I can feel even better about having cuy for dinner. Now I can move onto consuming other cute animals like chicklets and lambs and kittens.