No trip to the Andes would be complete without trying cuy, a traditional Andean dish better known in the grade school classrooms across America as guinea pig. There are a few different ways cuy can be prepared, oven roasted and fried are the most popular ways, and it seems to be something that is eaten on special occasions like a Sunday afternoon out with the family. Where we have brunch in the US, Cusqueñas have cuy.
We decided that if we were going to eat cuy we wanted to do it up like the locals and go just outside of Cusco to a town called Tipón that is renowned for its wealth of cuy restaurants. As soon as we stepped off the bus we were bombarded by women in aprons asking us if we were hungry for lunch. We chose a random lady and followed her up a dirt road to her family’s house where she sat us in some plastic chairs under a shade umbrella and brought us bottles of Coke and beer. The table had an amazing view down into the valley on one side and up towards some rolling hills on the other and was situated next to the domed clay oven where dozens of little guinea pigs were to meet their maker that day. The little animals were stuffed with a special local herb called huaycatay, baked whole in the oven, and served alongside stuffed peppers, noodles, and potatoes. The only thing that was a little disconcerting about the dish was the way the cuy was actually presented on the plate. The crispy little rodent is laying hairless on its side with its paws curled, nails still attached, and its teeth showing through a maniacal smile that has been frozen onto its face in death. They don’t taste bad, they are a little greasier and gamier than chicken, and much more flavorful. It just seemed to me to be a lot of work to eat for what little meat can be picked off of its tiny carcass.
The family who served us was very nice and the grandma and grandson were proud to show us the guinea pig cage when we asked if we could see it. It was their responsibility to raise the animals and the mom and granddaughter did most of the prep work and cooking for the Sunday rush. By the time we were leaving, the front yard restaurant had filled up with hungry families. It was a great little excursion and a fun way to try cuy.