Friday, June 10, 2011

A Cuy Adventure in Peru

If there is one lesson in life that I’ve learned as I’ve gotten older, it’s that you should try new things. Traveling is a great way to try new things and I did just that on my recent trip to Peru.

During the planning process, our group of four read about the local cuisine and we set our minds on trying guinea pig—or cuy (koo-ee) as it is known there. Little did we know, our guinea pig experience would end up being a traditional Peruvian celebration.

In Peru, the guinea pig is served for special occasions with the head of the cooked animal going to the person of honor. Since we were advised not to try guinea pig before our trip to Machu Picchu—because of the fatty, oily nature of the meat—we held off until our second to last night in Peru, which happened to be the birthday of one of our group members. The timing could not have been better.

Guinea pig must be ordered two to three hours in advance of the meal to insure the freshest meat. (Yes, what you are probably picturing right now is correct, they go to a market and catch a live one—or so we were told.) We were fortunate to make friends with a staff person from our group tour who called ahead and ordered the guinea pigs for us and set up other birthday arrangements to make the night extra special. She even came along for the party.
We ordered two to split between six people and given the pasta and stuffed pepper that came along with the pigs, it turned out to be the right amount of food for everyone. Once the pigs had been prepared they were brought to the table for their Kodak moment. Fully intact, we were all laughing nervously as we considered what we were about to eat. No backing out now though, once all the pictures had been taken, the pigs were taken back to the kitchen and cut up—making it much easier to eat.
The skin was cooked to a very crisp shell, the meat was indeed fatty and oily—very similar to duck meat—and there were lots of small bones to avoid. The meat was gamey like rabbit and tasted like no other meat we typically eat. It wasn’t a bad taste but doesn’t rank as one of our favorite meats either.
While in Peru we also tried alpaca meat. From the camel family, the alpaca is known for its soft fiber that is used to make knitted and woven items. The meat from the alpaca was tender and flavorful and when served in an elderberry sauce was one of our favorite meals on the trip. In the end, we probably preferred the alpaca over the guinea pig; although, the guinea pig celebration as a whole was difficult to top.
I’d highly recommend a trip to Peru and I would even recommend enjoying your own cuy experience while you’re there!

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