The Dooce has a hysterically funny website where she talks about the trials and tribulations of being a mom in Utah. I love reading her stuff. She got some flak recently for joking that Koreans eat dog meat. She brought this up to her babysitter, whose boyfriend was picking her up – and who happens to be Peruvian. He mentioned the concept of eating cuy. This inspired me, naturally, to bring up my two experiences involving this fine Peruvian delicacy – neither of which, oddly enough, occurred when I was actually living there.
The first incident took place when I was visiting Lima when I was about 12 or so. (I moved when I was 14.) We were out in La Molina somewhere, back when La Molina was actually considered the boonies, at a parrillada. The waiter came over and gave us menus. I knew some fledgling Spanish at the time, but nothing major. Feeling adventurous, I decided to ask my aunt Elsa to recommend something I had not tried before.
“Have you ever had cuy?” she asked.
“No,” said I.
“Well, try it.”
I ordered. My cousin Monica, who is two years younger than me, looked at me as if I had two heads. “Do you know what cuy is?” she asked.
“No, but your mother says it’s good.”
She turns to my mother. “Tía Alicia, ¿cómo se dice ‘cuy’ en ingles?”
My mother turns to me without expression and says, “Guinea pig.”
Adventurous I am, but not quite that much when I was 12. I changed my order to a steak and was the happier for it.
Many years later, in graduate school at Michigan, I am now teaching elementary Spanish. Peru was only brought up in our textbook twice: once in the section that shows the map and tells you that a Peruvian is a peruano and a Mexican is a mexicano, etc.; and once in a sidebar during the food unit. So when we got to the food unit, I could only guess what was coming. I walked into class and the class confronted me.
"So profe, what does cuy taste like?" someone asks.
Little brats. "I don't know."
“But the book says Peruvians eat guinea pig.”
“Yes, I am aware of this.”
“And you say you’re Peruvian.”
“Yes, I am.”
“But the book has to be true. So something’s fishy here.”
I explained to them that cuy is a delicacy, and one usually prepared in the Andes, not from the coastal city of Lima. And indeed, it’s one of the pricier dishes at the tourist restaurants around Cuzco. So no, I hadn’t tried it yet.
“But,” I promised, “the next time I go to Cuzco, I promise to eat some cuy and take some pictures. And if you’re interested, come find my office in a year and we’ll talk about it.”
Sure enough, on my research trip in 1998, six friends came down over Thanksgiving and we all went to Cuzco. And one night, I ordered the cuy with roasted potatoes. Which they brought out for pictures first – complete with a little hat made out of a tomato and a sprig of parsley, and with a carrot in his mouth. Then they brought it back to the kitchen to cut it up.
And I’d love to say it tasted like something else, but it tastes exactly like dark meat chicken. Savory. Mmm.