At this time last year, I ate a Guinea Pig. In Peru.
Before I get to the story, I want to digress on the topic of our food choices. A discussion on eating bugs came up in our Food Writing course at George Brown. The idea that we are repelled from eating cockroaches or crickets because of how they look. Our instructor, Bert Archer, pointed out the at some point in our history, someone decided to eat a lobster, shrimp, crab. All are similarly ugly but are now part of a regular omnivore diet.
However, let us look at the opposite. What if the animal is too cute to eat?
Really!!! How can you look at them and say to yourself, I am going to have you for lunch. Eat Guinea pig? Not many people can, based on the reaction to my Facebook post.
However, in Peru, they are part of the culinary tradition going back hundreds of years. They are small enough that they can be raised in a house. When I was in Peru, our tour guide took us to a 500 year old Inca home. He introduced us to the family who lived there.
In the back, he showed us the Guinea pig “farm”. Each household raises Guinea Pigs for food, to sell and for holiday celebration feasts. People in the neighbourhood will gather at the square. There will be BBQs lined up. People bring their Guinea Pig contribution to the party. After all, they are much easier to raise than sheep or cows.
There is only 1 male. It keeps aggression down and controls the population. Our guide grabbed a bunch of stalks to feed them. It was party time for the pigs.
Arequipa, Peru is known as the White City. It is built from the white volcanic stone found in the area. After touring the city, we went to Zingaro Restaurant for lunch. The menu was excellent but, sure enough, there was a choice of deep fried or grilled Guinea Pig. It was a “when in Rome..” moment. I went for the deep fried. I met the cook who was going to prepare it. He assured me it was a good choice of protein and I would not be disappointed.
I was planning on going to Gaston Acurio’s Chi Cha restaurant. Gaston is a famous chef and was instrumental in bringing Peruvian cuisine to the world stage. However it was closed for renovations. So I went to Zingaro’s on the recommendation of our tour guide. Zingaro restaurant was a reasonable substitute for ChiCha. In high altitudes, you have a large lunch and small dinner. Ceviche is the national dish – raw fish in citrus. Here is a traditional to the left and chili pepper sauce on the right.
In the native Quecha language, the Guinea Pig is called “Cuy” which resembles the sound it makes.
Historically, the Cuy has been an integral part of the Peruvian/Inca culture. At the famous historic site Machu Picchu, near the Temple of the Condor, is a wide flat area. Thousands of Guinea Pig bones were found there, indicating it was a farm area where they were raised.
In the Cathedral of Cusco in the city of Cusco there is a painting of The Last Supper from the 1700’s. Take a look at what is being served.
I went to Peru to explore a new culture, reflect on the history, art, architecture and cuisine of a country I knew nothing about. The Guinea Pig was part of that learning experience.
To end off the evening in Arequipa, I made a reservation at Zig Zag. It was recommended by the chef at Zingaro. They gave me the table at the front so I could watch the people. I figured I was exploring new foods so went for a light appetizer of Alpaca. It is one of the healthiest meats because of the low cholesterol. Dijon mustard sauce. Causa – which is a mashed potato square. this one was filled with asparagus.
I read in the restaurant’s brochure that the staircase was designed by Gustov Eiffel – he who designed the Eiffel Tower. A little bit of Paris in Arequipa, Peru. The waitress graciously offered to take my photo.