Yes, of course I ate guinea pig in Peru.
Before I talk about whether guinea pig – locally known as cuy – is good eating or not, I should talk a little bit about Peruvian pizza.
It is horrible.
I thought pizza was one of those things that’s pretty much impossible to mess up. I mean, even bad pizza, even frozen pizza, is secretly kind of good – I even enjoyed the Domino’s pizza with “Chinese” toppings I had in New Delhi. And if I’ve ever heard of a situation where pizza could go wrong, it was international chain pizza halfway around the world from its natural setting, topped with items not found in Italy, the USA, or even China.
But Peruvian pizza gives a whole new meaning to the word “ick.” I don’t know where they missed the memo on this – it’s flat dough baked crispy with some sort of sauce, lots of cheese, and pretty much any topping you can think of, from pineapple to clams. How can you fuck it up? Peru can fuck it up.
OK, now that we have that squared away. Cuy Pizza.
After two previous run-ins with horrid Peruvian pies, I found myself in a quaint little gourmet restaurant in San Blas, my favorite neighborhood in Cusco. A gigantic wood-burning oven filled about a third of the space. Maybe this pizza would be different – maybe this time I would only be burned by glorious melty cheese, and not my hopes and dreams. Looking over the menu, my eye caught the word “cuy” on the list of custom pizzas.
I had been meaning to try guinea pig during my trip, but every time I’d seen it available it was extremely expensive and needed to be ordered a day in advance. One cannot simply drop into a Peruvian restaurant and order cuy, the way one can order beef or chicken. Because it’s a tourist gimmick. As far as I can tell, locals only eat cuy at certain holidays; it reminded me a little bit of the Alligator Sauce Picante I’m familiar with from Louisiana. Alligator is not an everyday food – it’s a tourist food and a food to be sampled once every few years at a quirky little festival somewhere in the remote reaches of the swamp.
But I’m a food and travel writer. How can I come to Peru and pass up the most famous local delicacy, simply because it’s expensive and touristy? Macchu Picchu was expensive and touristy, and I loved it. Cuy pizza seemed like a good compromise – if it was as horrible as it had the potential to be, I’d only be out $5. So I ordered it.
The oven was fired up, and soon my guinea pig pizza arrived. It looked somewhat like actual pizza. The crust was cooked through and had a bit of char. The cheese was clearly of the shredded variety, and it was actually melted on the pizza. All good signs. And it was liberally decorated with little bites of meat which looked to have been fried in their own fat. Nice.
The cuy itself tasted, honestly, like pretty much any meat that had been fried up to the point of deliciousness. Reminiscent of rabbit, or maybe of the nutria I once ate in gumbo (long story). But definitely good. And it worked on the pizza – it was something I could see being offered at Motorino or Keste, if those restaurants had access to food-grade guinea pig.
So, guinea pig. Enjoyed. What bizarre animal should I try next? Let me know in the comments.
*This post originally appeared on my bestie Valerie Whitney’s blog, Brooklyn Nom.*