Cuy

Those of you who have ever bonded with a pet guinea pig are advised to read no further.

A local specialty in Cusco, and other Andean regions in Peru, Colombia and Equador, is cuy, roasted guinea pig, and the manner by which it is served is not for the faint hearted.

Appearing whole, lying prostrate on a plate, eyes and ears visible, teeth bared, legs splayed out behind it, often in the company of potatoes and vegies, diners are left with little doubt as to what they are eating – although depending on quality and how it is served, cuy can sometimes look like a rat that’s just chewed on a high voltage power cable.

It tastes… like chicken, with a bit of pork and rabbit mixed in. Not bad really, if you can get over appearances. Many travellers, in fact, have come to develop quite a love of its crispy skin.

Guinea pigs reproduce like rabbits, so perhaps that explains the taste resemblance. High in protein and low in fat and cholesterol, they are bred easily (and rapidly) in urban environments, so it makes sense to eat them. It’s certainly not just a tourist thing; ordinary Peruvians eat millions of the things each year. They are so popular, and have been for so long, that a painting of the Last Supper in the main cathedral in Cusco shows Christ and his disciples with a plate of cuy in front of them – see it for yourself. Cuy even features significantly in certain modern day religious festivals.

If there is any place to try cuy, it’s Cusco. With restaurants trying to out-do each other as they vie for the tourist dollar, the quality of culinary offerings, on the whole, is high. And the best place for cuy is definitely Kusikuy, at Suécia 339. But if you don’t think you can handle the traditional presentation and you’re willing to pay for fine dining, the ever-popular Cicciolina offers causa tibia de cuy, shredded guinea pig on caramelized apple with mashed yellow potatoes, olive oil, lime and yellow aji pepper.

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