Peru: Your Guide To Eating Cute, Cuddly Things

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Let me just start by saying that when I was a kid, I had Guinea pigs as pets. Those Guinea pigs had babies. Those babies then had babies with their parents. Those babies had an odd number of limbs.

Regardless of my pet’s incestuous behavior, I loved them. When my mom finally decided that it was time for my furry friends to find a new home, I put them into the basket of my tricycle and hit the open alley in a feeble attempt to keep them.

I say this so you don’t think I’m an insensitive, animal-hating monster. But I am hungry. And when I was in Peru, I was very, very hungry. I arrived in Lima after a 27-hour bus saga that began in the boarder town of Tacna.  This was before I had gotten the memo about never taking a bus ride longer than a full earth rotation.

The eternal, air conditioner-less ride gave me plenty of time to know my neighbors in scent and personality. Sitting next to me was Javier. He was traveling with a load of cargo he had purchased in Chile for his store in Lima. He offered me the couch in his home for my four-day layover in Lima. I found out too late in my previous lodging that I was the only one in the hotel staying for three days, not three hours. The sounds of solicited sex had kept me up at night and I was eager to avoid making the same mistake. I accepted his offer gladly.

My four days spent with Javier, his older brother and six nieces ended up being some of the best of my 6-month trip through Latin America. They took me to the zoo, a fountain park, and in general made me feel a welcome guest. I still keep in touch with them.

During my stay I happened to touch on the topic of “cuy,” or Guinea pig consumption, a popular Peruvian dish. I made no secret about my desire to try this before leaving for Colombia, my next destination. “Well then,” Javier’s sister-in-law told me, “for your final meal, we will all have cuy.”

Some Will Be Taken, Some Will Be Left

And on my last day we ate cuy. Nothing was left to the imagination. A few hours before the dinnertime meal, Javier’s nieces brought out a small cage with more than a dozen Guinea pigs nervously trying to appear invisible.

“Choose your dinner,” they told me. “Try to pick the fattest one.”

Here, I would like to remind you that we have already established I am not a monster. But, when they brought out the cage, I suddenly felt all-powerful. And hungry. I was so, so hungry. I felt the hunger of a starving god. And in my hands was the destiny of a dozens. Some would live to see another day. One would soon be on my plate.

Carefully, I held each to the light. Living in a cloistered cage, their existence was surely not as happy as the cushy, incest-loving Guinea pigs I had had as a boy. They all looked as if they had accepted their fate and place in the food chain. They had been born, and had found this life overrated. Their last wish was to go out in a delicious bang.

There are two ways to deal with a situation like this. You can get all ethical and shy away from it, or you can embrace it. Ethics would leave you hungry. And so I embraced a particularly overweight cuy, and several hours later was complimenting the cook on a cuy well-done. They served it with potatoes, and it tasted like bliss. The cuy’s life was not in vain.

In the developed world, we shy away from the fact that our Big Macs used to be an animal on Old Macdonald’s farm. But this is an escapist symptom. If you choose to eat meat, as I do, then make the choice in full comprehension of what this involves. And don’t forget the salt.

Cuy For You

If you are as hungry as I was, and live near a pet store, here is a cuy recipe from Lynn Levin of The Smart Set. Buen Provecho!

You will need:

  • one clean guinea pig
  • onion
  • ground chili pepper and ground red chili pepper (both very spicy)
  • cooking oil
  • parsley
  • oregano
  • mint
  • huaycatay (an herb that tastes and smells like a blend of black mint and marigold)
  • walnuts
  • salt
  • butter.

The recipe, obviously not one for the beginning cook, instructs you to open the guinea pig ventrally, then to salt and drain it. After salting and draining, remove the organs and intestines, but do not wash the cuy anymore.

Parboil the innards separately, then pierce them and dress them with onion, chili pepper, and oil. In another container, prepare a finely chopped mixture of the parsley, mint, oregano, huaycatay, walnuts, and salt. Combine the mixture with the cooked organs and intestines and stuff all that back into the body cavity of the guinea pig. Coat the guinea pig with butter and ground red pepper. Place the critter in a roasting pan and cook it in the oven “until it’s done.”

By Luke Armstrong


About the Author

LukeArmstrongLuke Maguire Armstrong lives in Guatemala directing the humanitarian aid organization, Nuestros Ahijados. His book of poetry, iPoems for the Dolphins to Click Home About (available for sale on is especially enjoyed by people who “don’t read poetry.” (@lukespartacus)

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