Eating cuy (a.k.a. guinea pigs) in Peru

Posted on
Oct 20, 2011

"You killed my father ... prepare to die."

I was a vegetarian for 6 weeks when I was 19. It was a confusing, misguided time for me. I was dating a young man who didn’t eat meat, and, well … who hasn’t done something stupid for a boy? When he broke up with me, I treated myself to a dinner out: bacon-wrapped shrimp followed by a rack of baby-back ribs. I might have had a pork chop for dessert. I don’t really remember (it was, after all, ages ago).

The thing I realized as I nibbled on those ribs- or the thing I had started to realize at least (because I wouldn’t really get the message until I met Rand) is that you’ve got to be yourself, and you have to find someone who will love you for it. In my case, being myself involves eating meat. It’s not something that I hide from, it’s not something that I’m ashamed of.

I’ve understood from a tender young age what the consequences of my actions are. When I was four or five, I told my mother I wanted some of my aunt Maria’s chicken, and as we drove away from my auntie’s house, I saw her catching the bird in her front yard that we would later eat. Later, she brought it over to our house, cooked and cleaned and cut up, in an old margarine tub. I peeled back the lid and peaked inside and I understood: this was the chicken that I had seen running around before. Even the feet were in there, and this didn’t alarm me at all. In fact, they were favorite part.

There was no denying it: my desires had ended that chicken’s life. I had literally asked for it, and I had gotten it.

That’s how it went in my family. There was no pussy-footing the matter. My grandmother was constantly defrosting enormous blocks of meat which were threatening to overflow our freezer. She and my mother would cook up animal parts most Americans toss out. Pig’s feet. Snout. Tripe. I ate it all. There was no such thing as a vegetarian in my house. I had never even heard the word applied to a human until high school (before then, only certain animals could be vegetarian. Not people).

From snout to tail and everything in between, including entrails, I’ve eaten it. Over the years, I consumed a veritable Noah’s ark of creatures. Duck. Rabbit. Gator. Goat. Quail. Tiny baby squid and octopus. Caribou. Partridge. Elk. Kangaroo. And, most recently, guinea pig.

Yes, guinea pig. Or, as they are known in Peru, cuy.

They came right up to me and sniffed. "I can smell the corpse of my brother on your lips," one seemed to say.

Thanks to Anthony Bourdain, I knew before arriving in Peru that guinea pig was part of the traditional cuisine, especially in rural areas. The guinea pig originated in the Andes. And I did not think twice about eating one while I was there. When in Peru, eat like a Peruvian.

Yes, guinea pigs are often kept as pets in the states. But so are rabbits, and I eat those. And I eat loads of chicken – which was my mother’s pet of choice when she was a little girl (odd duck, that mom of mine).

Besides, my philosophy on meat-eating is pretty simple: you can’t be hypocritical. You can’t eat chicken breasts, individually packaged and sealed (so far removed from the animal it once was that you can almost pretend it was grown like a plant) and then refuse to eat meat on the bone. You can’t eat cheeseburgers and then turn up your nose at tripe. You don’t have to like everything, but if you eat meat, you have to at least be willing to try everything. It’s all or nothing (with exceptions, of course, for dietary restrictions and religious beliefs).

Plus, how can you say you visited a country until you eat the regional cuisine?

So I tried cuy. Twice no less. I ordered it at Cicciolina, an upscale Peruvian restaurant in Cuzco. I was slightly disappointed that the cuy came picked off the bone – it could have been any type of meat, really. Still, it was delicious. My dish had shredded guinea pig meat spiced with mint and apples, placed upon a terrine of mashed Andean potatoes.

Mmmmmm ... guinea pork.

The same entree after I dug into it a bit.

The dish was fantastic. Savory and sweet all at once. The acidity of the apples cut the potatoes and meat perfectly. The cuy itself was moist, sweet, and mild in flavor. It reminded me of shredded duck, or dark meat turkey. I found it wasn’t particularly gamey – guinea pigs aren’t the most active of animals, it seems.

We enjoyed that meal at Cicciolina so much, we went back a second time, and I ordered cuy again. This time it was roasted on the bone, atop a paella-style rice dish. It had less flavor that the other cuy I had tried, but the texture was fantastic – a crispy and crackly exterior and moist inside.

I ate the whole thing.

Did I think about the fuzzy animals that died in order for me to enjoy these meals? Absolutely. But it’s something I think about before I consume meat. It’s something I make myself think about. It’s my modern-day equivalent of watching my aunt catch that chicken. I know it was once alive, I know it’s dead, I know I’m the reason.

And I keep doing it. I try to honor the sacrifice the little creature made by making sure that the bones are picked clean, that the meal is enjoyed (though that probably brings them little comfort). I think about it and I appreciate it, but I don’t really feel guilty. At least, not enough to stop eating meat. Perhaps it’s wrong. But it’s who I was raised to be. It’s who I am.

And fortunately there’s someone who will love me for being exactly that.

Leave a Comment

  • I would try it if it showed up looking like that, when I was in Peru and a guy in our group ordered cuy it still looked like a guinea pig and having owned one as a child I just couldn’t do it. He was all splayed out on the plate and looked more like he’d been caught in a house fire than cooked for dinner. Loving your Peru stories and pictures (actually I enjoy all your posts!)

  • I totally see your point about not turning up your nose at any meat, but there is no way in hell I could ever eat dog or horse meat. I could do pretty much anything else (I think).

  • I would totally try guinea pig too! In fact your dish looks delicious haha. Glad to know I’m not the only one – I know most of my friends would call me “heartless”.

  • Colleen

    I don’t think I could. I only eat chicken and ground beef. Nothing against anyone who eats other meats, it’s just not for me.

  • Guinea pig? Sign me up. Especially for that first dish–it looks fantastic.

  • I wish they would have let you have the guinea pig hides. Jack could use some mittens.

  • Matthew

    Ever since seeing Anthony Bourdain and other people on the Travel Channel and places show them eating guinea pig, I think it would be pretty cool to eat one…. especially one that’s simply roasted on a stick. So, it’s awesome knowing that you went to Peru and gave it a shot.

  • Janine

    I’m very hesitant to try it. I passed on my chance last year in Ecuador. Seeing them stretched out and fried on a grill is not an appetizing sight to me. I eat meat, but I have found I rarely like pork and I don’t like duck. I have tried duck three to four times to come to this realization. I did like rabbit (the one time I tried it at Spinasse, but it was Spinasse, there I’d probably try anything. Okay, now I am just drooling remembering my meal at Spinasse.)

  • Christine

    I love how unashamed you are of your omnivorous eating habits. That cuy looks delish!

  • Vivek Kedia

    Being a vegetarian I am happy that i am not ending life of animals for food……

    • Everywhereist

      Yours is a noble life, Vivek. It’s not the one I choose, but I respect you for it (and because your comments on the blog are always so delighful).

  • I admire the fact that you know where you stand on this issue. I myself am so confused. I don’t want to cause any animal suffering but at the same time I apprecite that we are at the top of the food chain and can grow and kill and eat animals. In the beginning of this year I read a lot about the animal farm industry and decided to become vegetarian for ethical reasons. Sometimes I slip…like when my mom comes to visit and cooks a meat dish from my childhood. And I don’t feel guilty about it. So I guess I am right in the middle between vegan and an omnivore. I don’t like what the animal industry does to animals these days but at the same time, I will not torture myself over eating meat – if I want it I will have it and that’s just the natural order of things. And I am totally with you on trying local delicacies when travelling – food is such an important part of culture and is one of the best things about travelling the world.

  • Ooh Im not sure about guinea pig meat…although it is strangely tempting..

  • I have never been to Peru, but getting to South America some day remains a dream. I raise alpacas in northeast Ohio (and am not opposed to eating them – though I’ve never tried it). I wrote a blog post about cuy and ever since then, I’ve kinda wanted to try it. I would if it looked like it did on your plate!
    If interested:

    Thanks for sharing your cuy story!

  • While I mostly agree with your meat-eating policies, I have to say that my two gp’s are staring at me while I read this. My kids got them for me for Mother’s Day one year. So, I guess my one exception to the policy is this: I can’t eat anything I’ve named. I’m such a wimp….

    As far as your other point, I was 35 before I figured out the whole ‘be yourself’ thing. It’s way more fun, even if people look at you funny sometimes:)

  • On one of my semi-regular trips to Japan, I’m pretty sure I ate something that wasn’t all the way dead. When I got home I saw a PETA flyer on a light pole that read “Did your food have a face?” In my head I replied, “Yes, and it was delicious.”

  • Melanie

    Great entry. I am omnivorous as well. I try and eat meat in moderation and only buy from local farmers, but sometimes when I’m broke I get ground beef at Target. I can not tell a lie. We can only do what we can do. I like the idea of to each their own. Eat in a way that makes you able to look at yourself in the mirror in the morning and smile. That’s all that really matters.

    • Everywhereist

      Beautiful, inclusive, and wise. Thank you for such an amazing comment, Melanie. 🙂

      • Christine

        You stole the words straight out of my mouth Melanie. My husband is a vegetarian (I’m not) and hes also the cook in the house so therefore I dont eat meat too often but when I do its from local farmers. We even go as far as buying the animal by products like cheese and milk from certified humane farms but sometimes its just too expensive and you have to give in. It’s like you said though, you do what you can and as long as you feel good about yourself and feel healthy then its all good.

        Also, I’d like to point out that my husband isnt vegetarian b.c of how cute and cuddly the animals are, its because of how the factory farms are run here in America and how we over-consume our meat.
        We are huge travelers (hence, why I love reading this blog) and he has mentioned before that he would consider eating meat again in a country that is sustainable and healthy about the way they raise it.

        • Everywhereist

          Wow – your husband’s stance is totally amazing and admirable. I actually find a lot of factory farming practices deplorable, too, but I don’t have the same willpower he has (though I do try to buy local and organic when I can). Power to you guys!

  • arjune

    Good to know that an american woman pardon me for saying this, have the balls to eat the stuff that u eat.

  • I had cuy at a super sketch restaurant in Aguas Calientes – it came very much on the bone, as it was basically just butterflied and roasted, and it even still had a couple of teeth! Yours looks much more appetizing.

    I also love and agree with your stance on being aware of where your meat comes from. Well said!

  • I haven’t eaten cuy since I was a kid, although I live in Peru now. On the northern coast it is mostly seafood (do fish have a face?), but also chicken, beef, pig, and goat (seco de chivo).

    The hardest thing for me to eat was monkey. I remember back in the late 1950s walking into an Indian village in the upper Amazon region and seeing a monkey being smoked over the open fire. He had been skinned and that was about it (well, he had been killed also) and was splayed on some sticks and looked just like a little person.

    That was hard. I was hungry and ate. But it still haunts me. Yes, I would do it again.

    Not so hard were alligator tail, turtle eggs, and the turtle (did you know a turtle’s heart will keep beating for days if you put it in a glass of water?)

    The tastiest was probably wild boar, though, smoked over an open fire. Kept in the smoke, the meat will last indefinitely even in the hot, moist jungle.

    You may have read that Peru’s cuisine is now internationally recognized as super – don’t worry, most of the above is not part of that menu.

  • You know, I have to say, that looks tasty.

    Then again, I grew up in Texas, where things like possum, alligator, and turtle don’t raise too many eyebrows when they’re on the menu.

  • I’ll be praying for your soul, Geraldine, since I’m not sure God will let you into heaven after eating guinea pig. 😉

  • Christina

    My family is from Ecuador and we visit every few years. When I get the chance to go, I take that delightful chance to consume traditional food like guinea pig and cow tounge and more. I also take this chance to eat the amazingly delicious junk food like “RISCOS”, a bag of corn chips covered with scrumntious cheesy dust or a bright pink coloured pop called “MANZANA”. But it takes time to get use to Ecudorian food, it’s not like Canaidian food. Great posts!

  • Joy


  • Michelle

    I am a vegetarian actually and I found your post incredibly refreshing. I am the ‘type’ of vegetarian who does not criticize a person who eats meat as long as they don’t criticize me for not eating it. However, I definitely get annoyed when people refuse to accept that the packaged meat they buy at the supermarket really came from a living creature. They just almost refuse to accept where the end product really came from. Anyways, I just wanted to say that I really love your entire stance and attitude on your eating choices. I think it’s fantastic that you are proud of who you are and you definitely shouldn’t compromise that!

  • Pingback: 16 Peruvian foods (and drinks) you must try » The Everywhereist()

  • oh my i just puked in my mouth a little…a sign of a good blog! i do love your style!

  • Infinitestealth

    From Crocodile to Lion and many in between with lion meat being the worst and Musk Ox In Alaska running a close second. Takes an entire 24 hours to get rid of the smell in your mouth and the taste on your pallet, no matter what you use, no matter what you do. Be forewarned!. They call it musk Ox for a reason, Never again..Crocodile? Tough and tastless, not flavorful like Gator. Cuy? Just biding my time. No plans to visit Peru any time soon but if i do, I will eat it like the natives. Thats how i want it.

  • Randomly came across this when I was looking for a post to explain to my friend that Cuy is not weird in Peru. My cuy looked a little different:

  • Luis

    I just came back from Peru, Cuy is so delicious. I ate it at casona del inka restaurant, roasted, very tasted yummmyyy. I’ll try again if I have the opportunity.

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