How To Eat a Guinea Pig

First stumbling block

Does your child have a guinea pig, hamster, or gerbil for a pet? If so, this article may not be for you.

Like trying different foods?

Then, this blog, my friend, is for you.

On the menu today is….

Freshly roasted guinea pig.

Where are you?

Cuenca, Ecuador, in the mountains

Preparation of the guinea pig before serving in the restaurant.
Guinea pigs before and during roasting. The guinea pigs are de-furred and gutted prior to roasting. The roasting takes just over an hour.

I dare you!

“Try it!” he urges.

My husband invites a squirming me to sample roasted guinea pig (el cuy—pronounced kwee) in a specialized restaurant in Cuenca, Ecuador.  A local insists we cannot leave Cuenca until we enjoy their favourite meal passed down from the Inca.  For those who consider the guinea pig a pet, a visit to the Guajibamba restaurant is not advised.

Earthquake barometers

The Inca used guinea pigs in ways other than food.  Sensitive little mammals, the small creatures were kept inside indigenous homes because they acted as warning bells, detecting earthquakes before they actually happened.  When an earthquake was imminent, the little pigs ran around randomly squealing; people recognized their bizarre behaviour as a warning. Immediately, they left their homes.

Andean shaman passes a live guinea pig over this patient to make a diagnosis.
Andean shaman passes a live guinea pig over this patient to make a diagnosis. The pig, once sacrificed, is then dissected and the organs examined to complete the diagnosis.

Health barometers

Medicinally, the local shaman also used the guinea pig as a healing source. Holding the rodent in his hands while chanting, he passed the animal over and around the patient, exorcising the evil spirit and sickness from the body. After the treatment, the rodent was killed and gutted.

Inca x-ray

Our guide explained the shaman ‘then read the rodent’s internal organs’. He could tell from its black colour which of the patient’s internal organs were affected. 

The process served as an Inca x-ray.

The guinea meat tasted like  gamey chicken and was quite edible.
Roasted cuy (guinea pig) – ready to eat! Note the crispy ears. The guinea pig tasted like gamey chicken. It is a good source of protein with low cholesterol.

Culinary experience – eat the roasted guinea pig

Guinea pig meat is apparently healthy: high in protein, low in cholesterol and easy to digest.  Still, looking on your plate at the spit- roasted creature with bared fangs and paws sticking straight up in the air is a bit disconcerting. 

Book in advance

You must book a reservation in advance since a fresh guinea pig takes at least one hour to roast.  The dish is served with boiled potatoes, hard-boiled eggs, corn and a hot sauce.

“Be sure to eat the crunchy skin!” our companion tells us.  “Especially the crispy ears.”

Crispy Ears

After a few bites, my husband finds his roasted guinea pig, including the liver, palatable, even delicioso.  And before he gets a chance, I reach over, break off and finish those crispy crackling ears.

Travelled:  January, 2011

See other posts from Ecuador

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