Eating guinea pig in Ecuador

In Ecuador, guinea pig is more than a childhood pet...it's dinner.

With their big innocent eyes, cat-like whiskers and soft fluffy fur, guinea pigs make for great family pets.  But here, in the Andean mountains of Ecuador, guinea pigs aren’t treated as cuddly companions; they’re bred, boiled and deep-fried for dinner.

Guinea pig or Cuy as it is called in South America is a local delicacy that’s unique to the highlands of Peru, Bolivia and Ecuador.  Cuy is most often eaten for special occasions, an indigenous tradition that dates back hundreds of years to the Incan empire.

I was curious to learn more about this unusual cuisine, so I set out to the region of Otavalo, a two-hour drive from the capital city of Quito, to find out more.

I found myself in Peguche (a tiny village traditionally known for its weaving culture) to visit a typical Andean family.

Two elderly women shared this dimly-lit house, with only the basic of necessities between them.  What they lacked in material possessions, they made up for in over forty-odd guinea pigs.

The ladies shared a few fascinating facts about cuy: The origin of the word is onomatopoeia for the sound they make, a high-pitched, bird-like series of chirps.  Nearly every rural Indigenous home has at least one or two guinea pigs roaming around.  The amount of guinea pigs one owns is a symbol of social status and wealth.

Eating Guinea Pig in Ecuador

Cuy are not only used for food. They warm the house, keep the rats away and are used for medicinal purposes.  I’m told that local herbal doctors use cuy in their healing rituals.   In one ceremony, a shaman will rub the sick person in question with a black cuy for about 15 to 30 minutes, or until the guinea pig suffocates.  He then diagnoses the patient’s illness by cutting the animal in half and interpreting the malady according to animals’ spread out innards.

It is also believed that cuy carries positive energy when eaten.  A lover of all strange foods, I couldn’t help but want to try guinea pig for myself.  I found my way to the popular restaurant La Hornilla, one of ten restaurants in the tiny town of Chaltura that specializes in cuy.

Cuy is prepared differently across the highlands, but here in Chaltura, they deep-fry it multiple times at varying temperatures.  I watched as a cook tossed a de-furred, whitish/blue cuy carcass into a pan of sizzling hot oil.  The lifeless meat slinked into a deceptively hot vat of placid oil.  There’s nothing quite like the sight of a dead guinea pig in a deep fryer….disgusting!

Once sufficiently crispy, the cuy was served spread eagle on a plate.   Head, teeth and claws still attached, it didn’t look terribly appetizing but, having come this far, I had no choice but to dig in.  The meat was moist, tender and, like most things in this world, tasted just like chicken.  Having been deep-fried three times, its skin was extra crispy, leaving a heavy oil residue on my fingertips.

While the meat is a bit scarce and you really have to work for it, I have to admit – guinea pig is not that bad!  It likely won’t become part of my daily diet but it’s fun just to try it!  Sampling unusual local cuisines, be it foie gras, skewered-scorpion or deep fried cuy, can challenge food taboos.  It can expand the mind… and, at the very least, the taste buds.

Would you sample guinea pig?  Leave me a comment below!

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32 comments ↓

#1 ottsworld on 01.26.10 at 9:35 am

I actually had it in Peru and I agree – not much meat there, but what was there was pretty good! Now I use the story to scare my nieces!

#2 Travel Junkie Julia » Eating guinea pig in Ecuador | All TravelsTourism Infomations on 01.26.10 at 1:14 pm

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#3 Travel Junkie Julia » Eating guinea pig in Ecuador | Ecuador Today on 01.26.10 at 2:02 pm

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#4 juliadimon on 01.26.10 at 4:38 pm

ha ha! I'm sure your nieces are trying to keep you away from the family pets :)

#5 Doug on 01.27.10 at 6:22 am

I have to say in 29 years I have never read a post like this in the morning. :) Folks were eating rattle snake and turtle in SA a few years back, I didnt attempt. Weak stomach. Great description though!

#6 juliadimon on 01.27.10 at 8:02 am

Hi Doug,
Happy to hear I grossed you out :) does it make guinea pig sound appealing?

#7 VagabondMark on 01.27.10 at 3:44 pm

Had some in Cusco…no meat, good taste..
Keep up the great posts!!
The guinea originates from the Andean areas on South American, it was the Europeans who adopted them as pets!!! lol

http://anetamark.blogspot.com/
http://www.flickr.com/photos/anetamark/sets/

#8 juliadimon on 01.28.10 at 6:23 am

Thanks Mark! I had hamsters as a kid. Really no meat on those little guys :)

#9 Migration Mark on 01.29.10 at 2:50 am

Hey Julia,
Just recently discovered your great travel website/blog. I sampled a number of Cuy's in Ecuador and Peru and thought they were pretty decent tasting but overpriced compared to chicken or beef.
Interesting insights about the shaman and spreading of the innards to interpret a malady.

#10 juliadimon on 01.29.10 at 7:33 am

Thanks Mark! Cool that you liked cuy! it's an acquired taste :)

#11 Emily on 02.14.10 at 2:44 pm

That is so disgusting. Who in the world would want to eat such a weird thing!

#12 juliadimon on 02.15.10 at 12:06 pm

Guinea pig sure is a strange one :)

#13 Anja on 03.30.10 at 1:53 pm

I tried it in Peru and even though I'm a very open-minded eater, I couldn't handle it, at all. Had a few bites and ordered chicken instead.

#14 Maje Palarca on 03.30.10 at 8:10 pm

If ever I'll get the chance to eat one, I would always be reminded of my furry & friendly hamsters I had before. Gosh, but I might take a bite if it's not served as a whole.

#15 Pam Coté on 04.20.10 at 12:12 pm

I am reading this with my 28 Spanish 3 students at Elk Grove High School and they are soooooooooo grossed out!!!! Well, not all!!! Some want to try it and others are repulsed! We are researching Ecuador and finding out some very interesting things! Thanks for the info.

#16 jon on 07.16.10 at 3:15 pm

Still haven't worked up the nerve to try it here.. Thanks for the article!

http://savvyroundtheworld.wordpress.com/2010/07

#17 ohlamour on 08.04.10 at 10:52 am

A friend happened to mention to me how ecuadorians eat hamsters and guinea pigs and I had to search it online, of course. GROSSSSSSS!! but then i guess if you're raised a certain way, eating lets say, cat or bugs you'd find it to be normal.

Would I try it? Hell no!!!!! not while i can go to my local supermarkent and buy something at the meat department. When we turn into some post apocalyptic world without jack shit to eat, then maybe.

#18 ohlamour on 08.04.10 at 5:52 pm

A friend happened to mention to me how ecuadorians eat hamsters and guinea pigs and I had to search it online, of course. GROSSSSSSS!! but then i guess if you're raised a certain way, eating lets say, cat or bugs you'd find it to be normal.

Would I try it? Hell no!!!!! not while i can go to my local supermarkent and buy something at the meat department. When we turn into some post apocalyptic world without jack shit to eat, then maybe.

#19 GP eater on 08.31.10 at 3:20 pm

i m from ecuador and im not a indigenous but we don't eat hamsters only guinea pigs and the taste is rally good you have to try after talk

#20 Xyz on 09.05.10 at 6:30 pm

“the meat is a bit scarce”. That's probably going to be a problem to enjoy.

#21 Brad on 09.06.10 at 8:26 am

I just got back from Ecuador a couple of weeks ago. Cuy was actually much harder to find on a menu than I expected. Despite my best efforts I never did get a chance to try it. So disappointing! That was the only disappointing thing in Ecuador though. Such a gorgeous country with wonderful people. I'd go back anytime!

#22 Brad on 09.06.10 at 3:26 pm

I just got back from Ecuador a couple of weeks ago. Cuy was actually much harder to find on a menu than I expected. Despite my best efforts I never did get a chance to try it. So disappointing! That was the only disappointing thing in Ecuador though. Such a gorgeous country with wonderful people. I'd go back anytime!

#23 Jimwad on 04.12.11 at 10:14 am

I'm off to Peru in May to see my son and his wife who live in Cosco. I hope to be brave enough to sample cuy while I'm there.

#24 Jimwad on 04.12.11 at 5:14 pm

I'm off to Peru in May to see my son and his wife who live in Cosco. I hope to be brave enough to sample cuy while I'm there.

#25 Jimwad on 09.08.11 at 2:10 pm

Hi. I had my visit to Peru, it was great. Had cuy for my farewell meal. I agree with everything Julia says in the last two paragraphs – glad I tried it but don't think I will be in a rush to eat it again. It was the most expensive dish on the menu, but little meat on it. The dish I wouldn't eat again is ceviche – that led to 4 visits to hospital in the 7 weeks I was in Peru. I ended up with salmonella poisoning and a parasitic infestation – YUK.

#26 Itsbangin on 11.09.11 at 7:34 am

I just ate cuy the other day in Cuenca and it was slow roasted (not triple deep fried) and was delicious- as delicious as any chicken I have ever eaten!

#27 Katy042191 on 12.29.11 at 8:06 pm

Heck no! I love my guinea pig to pieces!

#28 Mele97 on 01.14.12 at 4:13 pm

i can't believe people eat these loving animals, i have two of my own, i would die if one of my guinea pigs got torn apart  like that, eww. I would fight for sammi and olivia's lives, god some people are crazy. I have a lot to say to those people. cute furry guinea pigs being eaten, i can't amagine.

#29 Flub on 02.02.12 at 11:10 pm

I want to eat your guinea pigs

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#31 Andrew on 06.16.12 at 7:10 am

I'll eat your guinea pig in pieces.

#32 Andrew on 06.16.12 at 2:10 pm

I'll eat your guinea pig in pieces.

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