Braving Cuy.

By BobbyRica | March 30, 2012

cuy1

I was five hours away from coming back to the States when my friend Rodrigo insistently told me that I have one more IMPORTANT thing to do. I knew instantly what he was talking about. It had been something I had been putting off for the past two months while here in Peru. I’ve walked its sandy terrains of the desert. I’ve swam its warm beaches. I (attempted to) climb the peaks of Macchu Picchu. But there had been the only thing that I had been wary of doing. I had been dreading it since I set foot here. It may have been the Kryptonite for such an accomplished adventurer like myself. It was to taste what other foreigners only gawked at. And with good reason. It was a plate of freshly roasted guinea pigs. Or cuy as the natives call it.

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I thought I was able to elude having to chow down on cuy. But my cigar chomping friend wouldn’t want me to miss the chance of savoring its rodent goodness. Guinea pig, like alpaca, is a staple meat raised in many households especially at the Andes. The meat Rodrigo tells me is quite bony. The popular way of preparing cuy is by baking it on a stone oven. But most people prefer roasting them critters on a spit. Cuy de cochon is served, horror upon horrors, whole. The natives savor the head, so it’s left on.

Now that it was lunchtime, and we were walking along a busy mercado in Lima on a weekend. Rodrigo took the chance for me to do this bit. “It’s something you have GOT to do before you leave.” smiles my cigar aficionado friend. I was contemplating strangling him and then making a run for it. But alas, I was too chicken shit to do such a thing.

cotacachi-cooking-cuy

We soon headed to a busy area which somehow served as the food court of the market. All sorts of steaming hot food were on sale. People were trying to get a seat as they barked orders at the waitresses, who were then frantically scribbling orders on their little pads. Other waitresses looked like they were memorizing orders as their spoken. It was fascinating watching them work.

Rodrigo led me to a smaller artery of the main path. We then stepped into an eatery where rows of wooden tables and stools were occupied by people are hungrily sniffing down what looked like the brothers and sisters of my nephew’s pet gerbil.

Rodrigo smiled and raised his arms in triumph. “THIS is the place!” A Peruvian woman, who was smiling at Rodrigo and then at me, approached us. Rodrigo muttered our orders and we were led to the remaining two seats. People were chattering everywhere as the sound of Peruvian music played at the distance. If it weren’t for the cuy, I sure felt at home!

guineapigeats

Rodrigo was smacking his lips in anticipation. I was quiet, but smiling nervously. My friend sensed my uneasiness so he tried entertaining me with stories about this place. But I wasn’t in the mood to listen. I kept seeing a bunch of guinea pigs in cages moaning and groaning. Doom painted in their eyes as skewers are thrust into their small wailing mouths.

Minutes later, I smelled something good wafting in the air. It smelled of garlic, onion and something peppery. No sooner did I savor the smell had I realized that it was my last meal in Peru. It was roasted cuy.

The waitress smiled wide as she slid two plates of cuy on the table accompanied by two cold bottles of Inca Cola. I looked at the travesty right before me. On a huge plate was a barbecued guinea pig with its head intact. Its claws frozen midair. It’s face in a rictus of pain. Before I had more time to breathe it all in, Rodrigo was already digging into the cuy.

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“Eat!”, Rodrigo demanded in between bites. I could see the people around us giving me a bemused look.

I took the burnt rodent on both ends, saying a prayer to the Andean gods. I closed my eyes as I sank my teeth on the midsection. I was expecting horrible! I was expecting disgusting! But as soon as I started chewing, I realized it tasted like chicken — a pleasant, gamy chicken. It even tasted like oily pheasant. I was shaking with glee. I dare say it’s quite agreeable! I was surprised how tasty it was.

Rodrigo saw I was enjoying myself and an hour later, we had finished off two more roasted cuy. After all the fuss I made, cuy turned out to be a revelation.

As we made our way back to the airport, I was laughing at myself. There was nothing wrong with cooking guinea pig. It may not look visibly appealing on a plate. But by God, I can consume one more on a good day! But maybe not in front of my American friends.

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