Meet the cuy: A tasty and sustainable Andean delicacy
3 January 2020
Around the world, good food comes in exotic forms and from unexpected sources. In Andean cuisine, one of the more curious and different dishes served in Cusco is cuy, or guinea pig.
However, if you are vegan or strict vegetarian, we might suggest you stop right here. Skip reading this article- maybe by now you’ve already decided to do so. That’s no problem, but first, please remember than there is a plethora of excellent vegetarian food in Cusco, everything from hearty Andean corn and delicious potato dishes, to great veggie pizza, and Cusco has several top-notch vegetarian restaurants.
If you do eat meat and have a of bit adventurous streak for tasting new delicacies, while in Peru you won’t want to miss trying a meal of cuy, a traditional Inca food that is quite tasty, certainly unique and environmentally sustainable.
An Inca delicacy
For at least 2,500 years, since long before the time of the Incas, guinea pigs (Cavia porcellus), native to the Andes, have been domesticated in the region, raised as a food source, prepared in a number of ways, and often eaten as a special treat.
Cuy is raised and eaten across the Andes, from Ecuador to Peru and Bolivia. Cuy hair is also used to make clothing, just as with some species of rabbits. They are even used in Andean ritual healing ceremonies. Production is in the tens of millions- they are not in any way endangered.
Cuy are raised in many traditional Andean homes, and the little critters live much of their lives as household pets- well-fed and pampered. Then, the day comes when they are destined for the oven.
That might seem very strange or even barbarous to pet owners from the “developed” world. But please consider this- those household cuy have lived good lives, and as food they are returning the favor by feeding Andean people.
Cuy are very nutritious- they are about 20% pure protein, and high in Omega-3 oil, with very little fat. They are not injected with antibiotics or chemicals. They provide pure, healthy meat. If you occasionally enjoy eating a beef hamburger, roast beef, chicken or Thanksgiving turkey (all probably processed and full of antibiotics and other chemical additives), you likely are eating much less healthy meat.
And you probably have never personally known and cared for the animal protein source you eat in the careful same way that Andean families raise theIr household cuy.
Cuy are entirely herbivores, and don’t need much plant food to thrive. The best cuy I ever tasted was raised by native Andean farmers and fed almost entirely on organic wheat and barley sprouts.
And although it was an exotic meal that I might not always choose- well, it really was tender and delicious, a really tasty treat. I’ve eaten cuy chactado, pan braised with a crispy skin, also cuy on a spit roasted over a wood fire, and both were excellent!
My main points are these- 1) most humans do eat some type of animal protein; 2) more people are turning toward an animal-free diet, and while I admire and congratulate that choice and would like to get there, for most of us it’s not easy; 3) as the climate crisis worsens, it’s evident that more sustainable sources of food and especially of protein are needed.
Environmentally speaking, beef production is terrible, the very worst choice for the global climate. Cuy is a sustainable option; 4) eating cuy is a long-standing Andean tradition, for good reasons- it’s one of the tastiest, most sustainable forms of animal protein available to Andean people (alpaca meat is another excellent option).
More advantages- Cuy can be raised sustainably. In raising cuy, no forest is lost, a priority for conservation of the Amazon rainforest. There is no need for massive grain production and water use.
And unlike commercial beef or pork production, there is very little suffering- they can be raised entirely cruelty-free, with plenty of uncrowded space in large cages, and eating a good natural diet throughout their lives.
So, there you have it- cuy is a sustainable source of animal protein that has been produced by native Andean people for centuries. You might want to taste it, or you might not.
Either way, a trip to Cusco to experience its beautiful mountain landscapes and rich native culture is something you should not miss, And Andean Lodges is here to plan your trip and to host you on outstanding treks and tours to Ausangate and other destinations in Cusco.
Please contact us at andeanlodegs.com to find out more, we’ll be very happy to help you plan your adventurous journey in Peru!