Tuesday, May 29, 2007

orenji on the road: eating cuy in lima

Guinea pigs are a staple of Peruvian cuisine. Originally domesticated in the Andes, due to the small amounts of space necessary to raise them, the rapid reproduction rates, and their high-protein meat, guinea pigs (or "cuy" as they are called) are still eaten to this day. In fact, they are so much a part of Peruvian culture, the cathedral in Cusco, Peru contains a large painting (painted in the European style of the time, but by local artists) depicting the 12 disciples of Christ eating cuy at the last supper!

Once used primarily for ceremonial purposes, guinea pig is now served regularly in homes and restaurants alike. Cuy is baked, fried, stewed, and made into soup or casseroles. Our experience with guinea pig (pictured to the left) was 'cuy al horno'-- roasted, served with potatoes, local salad, and some corn and chili pepper fritters.

The cuy we ate was stuffed with a local herb prior to roasting-- huacatay. Huacatay is sometimes known as Peruvian mint, although it is more closely related to the marigold flower. While this herb is most often ground up to make a rub or paste, in the cases of our cuy, the whole herb was used to fill the body cavity prior to roasting, giving the meat a deliciously refreshing taste.

The guinea pig, as you can see from the photos above, is served whole (quartered), with the head (and claws) still on. The meat itself was rather thin, stringy, and earthy, much like the dark meat on a chicken or duck-- but enjoyable nonetheless.
Below, a picture of a typical "cuy pen" where tomorrow night's dinner might come from!

We experienced a number of other local foods, including alpaca, local potatoes, large-kerneled white corn, local fresh cheeses, and fruits while in Peru. More importantly, perhaps, we tried many local beverages as well. We will discuss some of these in our next 'orenji on the road' blog!

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