One of Peru’s most famous dishes is not exactly a conventional one – at least not by North American standards. Here, though, Cuy (guinea pig) has been a staple in the Andean diet for around 5,000 years. Long before they were considered cute fluffy pets, they were raised in the Andes for food.
While gourmet chefs have spruced up the original recipes and are now adding their own flare to the dish, Cuy is generally roasted whole, with the head, teeth, ears, and other parts left intact. They are doused in salt and garlic to crisp up the skin. You can find them being sold as “street meat” on sticks in areas surrounding the Sacred Valley, but many restaurants in Cusco and a few in Lima also serve the dish. For Peruvians, Cuy is a dish served on special occasions, not part of the everyday menu anymore. But with the influx of tourists over the last decade, many restaurants keep Cuy on the menu for those curious travellers to taste. It’s generally one of the most expensive items on the menu, costing anywhere from 40-70 soles ($15-28 USD).
I like trying local dishes while travelling, but this one was harder than most. Growing up, I had pet guinea pigs named Fuzz and Magic, and seeing the little face still intact on this Cuy dish definitely made me feel guilty for taking a bite. If you can get your head around it and forget what you are eating, the crispy skin tastes a lot like fried chicken.
I certainly won’t be making this dish a regular, but if you are in Peru, it’s definitely a must-try!