It is common to spot cute and furry little guinea pigs in kids’ bedrooms with all the love being showered on them. In Peru however you’ll find them served hot across restaurants and at street food corners. Let us take a look at how guinea pigs came to become so popular in Peru, and how they continue to be eaten with relish across the country.
Guinea pigs known as cuyes among locals occupy an important place among Andean people. The rural community living in the Andes used to eat guinea pigs on special occasions. Gradually as Andean people migrated to Lima, guinea pigs percolated into mainstream Peruvian cuisine. Guinea pigs, fed on corn and alfalfa, have high nutritional value due to high protein and low fat content. No wonder over 65 million guinea pigs are consumed in Peru every year.
These brown and white critters have long been part of Peruvian cuisine ever since Inca Empire even though some archaeologists suggest their domestication as a food source dates back to as early as 5000 B.C. It is said that Incas used to sacrifice 1000 guinea pigs and 100 llamas every July to protect their crop from floods and famine. And common people used to dry out guinea pig skin to use it in soups and stews.
As the demand for guinea pigs is rising, many urban and rural farmers have started to farm guinea pigs leading them out of poverty. Apart from local demand, cuyes are in huge demand in various South American countries like Bolivia, Columbia, and Ecuador. Expats living in the US too are finding it hard to stay without their favorite cuyes. Today guinea pigs are exported to various South American restaurants across the US. Though most North Americans are hesitant to eat guinea pigs while their children play with them, it wouldn’t be long when that hesitation disappears.
Cooked guinea pig often served whole grilled or deep fried with teeth and claws may seem repulsive at first sight. However, you’ll find Peruvians savor it. Locals love to experiment with it and come up with new recipes for people who find it difficult to bear the sight of whole cooked guinea pigs. One such recipe is where bones are removed before being extensively cooked and pressed for a couple of hours to give it a sweet juicy flavor with crispy skin.
If you come across guinea pigs served during your train journey on the way to Machu Pichu, go ahead and taste it.