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January 26, 2011

Food for Thought: Guinea Pig for Dinner

Guinea Pig... It's what's for dinner. (Lisa Costantini)

When you hear the words guinea pig, your first thought probably isn’t boiled or deep-fried. But in South America guinea pig, or cuy as they call it, is more likely to be found on a menu than in a cage sipping from a water bottle. In the highlands of Peru, Bolivia, and Ecuador, guinea pigs are more than just what’s for dinner, too. Until they end up on the table they can be found running around under it, keeping the rats at bay, and warming up the house.

What was once only consumed by nobility continues to have a status of wealth associated with it. The more someone owns, the more wealth they are considered to have. Even Jesus Christ was a fan. If you ever visit the main cathedral in Cusco, look at the painting of the Last Supper: Christ and his disciples sit around a table where the main dish is a whole guinea pig. Since they are so small in size it is typical for a cuy to be cooked whole and served in its entirety—from ears to claws. But the good news is that they are considered to be high in protein and low in fat. And would you believe it, they taste just like chicken.

If you want to see for yourself, cuy is becoming more readily available in the U.S., even though Peruvians are eating it at an alarming rate: consuming more than 65 million guinea pigs a year. Better get it before it’s gone!

Lisa Costantini is a writer/editor currently traveling the world with her husband working on a project about sport and culture. More information can be found on their website at Lisa will be blogging from the road for us as she and her husband travel through Africa, Asia, South America, and Europe over the next several months.

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Related Topics: Culinary Travel · South America Travel


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During the 5 months I spent in Ecuador I had "cuy" several times and I liked it. A lot! The only thing that bugs me ist the fact that it really isn't a national specialty. Only indigenous families eat it and even then only on special occasions. Most of the Ecuadorians I met don't like it or never even tried it!
When i did a tour to the Quilotoa volcano with a local tour operator ( ) I had the chance to visit an indigenous familiy in their home and they shared their one-room-house with 3 dogs, 2 birds and round about 50 (!) guinea pigs.

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