Cuy is a traditional dish – a delicacy – in Ecuador. And yes, cuy are guinea pigs. In this post, I share my experience visiting a cuy farm and eating fresh roasted cuy. I also share my thoughts on adapting to new cultures.
Culture. What’s the first thing you think of when you hear that word?
Perhaps your first thought is of your culture, whatever that might be. Or maybe you think of something you saw on the television about different and exotic locations.
Whatever it might be, every country has its own story and its own culture. Some are relatively soft which makes it easy to adapt to them. Others may appear strange to us and difficult for us to adjust to them. There may be some stark differences between our culture and the one we may be trying to adapt to – whether that be their music, people, or food.
In this post, we will talk about one of the culinary features of Ecuador. The specific delicacy that we had was made for us by a friend that owns his own business that specializes in this particular dish.
A Cultural Note: Open Mind Required
Before I keep telling you this story, I’d like to clear some things up. A lot of people think of ‘developing’ or ‘third-world’ countries as poor, filthy, and uneducated.
Of course, there are areas that are not beautiful and polished, but that can be said of anywhere in the world. Every town, city, and country has it’s poor and unkempt areas. But Ecuador is wonderful and beautiful.
Some foreigners think that just because someone can’t speak their language, that somehow makes them unintelligent. This is obviously not my opinion; I find the idea offensive; after all, we are the ones that can’t speak the language of the country.
If anything, we’re the dumb ones for not learning their language. We are in their country. We need to adapt to, and respect, their culture.
We can surely imagine how bad it would feel if someone came to our country and treated us all like idiots: making fun of our culture, our food, or the way we talk. And when we don’t understand something they just yell it louder at us in their language (as if that would help).
Believe it or not, I have witnessed foreigners doing these things to the people in Ecuador. So please remember that these people are the same as us, and have much to teach us about the importance that family and spirituality should have in our lives.
Eating Guinea Pig in Ecuador
How to Eat Guinea Pig in Ecuador
Getting back to my story, my friends had a barn behind their house. And (drumroll… 🙂 ), the barn was filled with guinea pigs! They were very healthy and well cared for.
Like any animal stable, I was expecting a rather unpleasant smell. But his barn didn’t have much of a bad odor at all. Instead, it has a rather pleasant smell of alfalfa and hay. There are large pens for the guinea pigs, where they seemed quite happy. The pregnant ones are about as big as footballs!
When guinea pigs get frightened, they make a chirping noise and huddle together in big groups. They are adorable.
Now, you might be thinking that I’m a monster – looking at these cute, defenceless animals and then having them killed in cold blood. I find it amusing that people can look at chicks and calves and find them sweet and then eat chicken nuggets or a burger with no problem whatsoever, but think that guinea pigs are somehow an exception.
They are just like any other farm animal: raised for meat in clean conditions and killed humanely.
The cuy is not a very meaty animal, so you'll need to pick it up to easily eat the meat.
Wait, You Did What?!
After they gave us a tour of their property, including the house, barn, and alfalfa fields, it was time for lunch.
I love animals and don’t think I could have watched them kill or clean the guinea pigs, so they already had them prepped and ready.
A guinea pig is cooked whole on a spit with a metal pole through their middle over hot coals. They are then brushed with butter and spices to make them taste amazing!
I’m not a fanatic; I do find that they look a bit gross while they’re being cooked. However, they taste AMAZING!
That’s right… I ate a guinea pig. Multiple guinea pigs, actually.
The guinea pig is a bit like Ecuador's version of lobster, served whole with a few side dishes. A guinea pig is served with amazing potatoes that have a delicious mayonnaise sauce, avocado, and tomato or pico de gallo.
The meat is a bit greasy but delicious. I’ve never had duck or rabbit, but my parents say that’s what it tastes like.
I find a guinea pig to be less gross than lobster; I have difficulty simultaneously cleaning and eating something. I don’t believe I should be eating something that still has it’s guts leaking out. Bleeecchh…
A Note On Common Sense
If someone offers you guinea pig and you don’t think you can try it, do your absolute best to be kind and respectful to your host because guinea pig is a real delicacy and very expensive by local standards, so it means that your friends think a lot of you. However, I strongly suggest trying it!
The meal was amazing, and we had some good laughs with our friends. Something to remember while traveling abroad is that while most people do have high hygiene standards, some don’t. Just like anywhere else, there are restaurants with good reputations and restaurants with bad reputations.
So ask around before you try your first guinea pig to make sure you get the best experience.
Also, just use common sense. This is not an insult to your intelligence; some people become naive while traveling and do things that they never would normally. Make sure people are always coming and going from the restaurant, so you know their food is fresh.
Something to be aware of is that while a lot of the guinea pigs are killed how we might consider ‘normal,’ some are ended by bashing their heads against a rock (I know, it’s sad and hard to imagine, but it is how the custom has developed for generations). This means that there is an unusual amount of blood in the meat. A lot of people think that it tastes better blood-free, so ask the restaurant first.
The family that we had it from kill their guinea pigs ‘normally,’ so they have little to no blood left in the meat. Many people have told them that they like the meat much better than some of the other local places to buy a guinea pig.
Also, in Ecuador, guinea pigs are referred to as cuy, so keep that in mind when you order.
We had a beautiful day with this family and we enjoyed a fantastic meal! I hope you get to try guinea pig some day and that you can bring yourselves to have an open mind about it. I admit I was a bit squeamish the first time I tried it, but it is entirely worth it! Have fun in your travels.
Two Roast Cuy Please – Do You Deliver?
Before I conclude, I want to share a few shots from cuy we ordered-in. Yup – we called in an order for 2 roast cuy – complete with all the fixings and it was delivered to our house.
The next section is by Dena Haines, about our first time eating cuy.
There's a Guinea Pig On My Plate! Culture Shock for Dinner
While we were researching Ecuador as a potential place to relocate, one of the customs that surprised us was that they ate Guinea pigs!
In Canada we had only ever seen Guinea pigs , being sold in pet stores, so we had never thought about eating them.
Guinea Pig for Dinner! Our First Time
As we became serious about moving to Ecuador, more specifically Cuenca (a city in the Andes mountains) we started to dig a little deeper into the local customs.
We found out that Guinea pig (“Cuy” in Spanish) is served on important occasions and as a meal for special guests. It's among the more expensive dishes.
At first our daughter was not sure if she would like to try cuy, but once she understood that rejecting a local delicacy could cause disappointment and offense, she began to think differently about eating it.
We also helped her reason on it by looking at and talking about how cute chickens, cows and pigs are. It didn't bother her in the least to eat them (we are big meat eaters) and how her feeling about them changed once they were all prepared on her plate.
Talking about eating Guinea pig meat as if it were the same as eating chicken or cow meat helped Drew understand how customs help shape people's everyday reality.
In some parts of the world eating beef is unheard of, and in other parts of the world, they eat dog and horse meat (including some places here in Ecuador). It's all about how things are perceived as a person is growing up.
One of our favorite meals in Canada is lobster (and fish and chips). Years ago lobster was viewed as food that only poor people ate, and some people were embarrassed to be seen eating it. Now the view is the is just the opposite.
Perception is a funny thing.
Getting Prepared to Eat Cuy
Looking up pictures on the internet helped as well. We hoped that if she saw pictures of Guinea pigs for sale at markets and being sold cooked and prepared on the street, she would be more prepared when she saw the real thing. Turns out we were right.
When we arrived and saw the cuy being sold on the street for the first time, Drew just said “oh look, they're selling the Guinea pigs!” It was not that big of a deal to her.
We were soon invited over to a friends house and guess what they served us? Cuy! We knew what they were serving before we arrived, so we were all kind of looking forward to it.
Our hostess cut them up and baked them in the oven. A friend that came with us said that she had eaten cuy a few different ways, but baked was definitely her favorite.
The meat was sweet and greasy, very much like duck meat. The cuy was served with rice, potatoes, avocado, choclo (corn) and cheese.
We Did It!
It may sound funny, but I'm proud of our family for being adventurous and eating cuy. I liked the flavor of the cuy, and the rest of the meal was delicious! Some people find the head especially delicious. The little feet or paws are also a treat for some, they just pop them in whole and crunch them up.
Now when we meet new Ecuadorian friends they will often joke around about having us over for cuy. It seems they don't think foreigners will eat it, but then when we say that “we had it and liked it!” they are kind of impressed.
I've only met a few people that said they didn't like cuy. So if you are planning a trip to Ecuador, you may want to try eating Guinea pig as well.
Hungry for more?
Want more amazing Ecuador food? See what other amazing dishes are served there.
Will you try cuy in Ecuador? Have you tried it? Join me in the comments – and let me know all about it!