Wednesday, October 3, 2012

I Ate a Guinea Pig!

In Peru, guinea pigs are a local delicacy, hence it seemed they should be  part of our Peru experience. So we made lab rats of ourselves by ordering ´cuy al horno´ (baked in a pizza style oven) in a cuyeria the other day.

They´re served with the head and articulated little feet attached, mouth agape, rodent teeth front and center top and bottom, and don´t forget those ears. Once we had verified their identity and admired the presentation, the man with the big knife whacked ours into more manageable pieces. Then we were left us in relative peace, aside from the cultural burden of eating a childhood pet.
Chewy, crispy, fatty skin: Doug liked that. Not too meaty, a bit of gnawing bones at times. Not quite red meat, rather, pinkish and mild tasting. The gut cavity had been stuffed with mint or something like it, which gave a nice flavor and left me thinking of lamb more than anything else.
Some interior 'corazonita' had been stuffed with potato hash and ??? and was served separately, like turkey dressing, or mini-haggis. And that´s about it for the eating experience. Maybe more than you wanted to know.
But wait! There´s more! We found our cuyeria in a cluster of about eight along the highway near an archaelogical site we were visiting (Tipon). Why so many right here? we enquired, but the answer was unsatisfactory: ´a special zone´. So where are all the guinea pigs now, I asked, thinking maybe they were in a giant cage or barn like chickens, but no, they were just 'in another house' to keep the restaurant clean and free of flies.

Many families keep their own guinea pigs - we´ve often seen them loose on the kitchen floor in rural areas (sleeping cozily under the oven they´ll be cooked in). They make a compact and economical source of protein in the cities too.  Even at the very elegant Santa Catalina nunnery in Arequipa they had a back room for cuy. And there´s always some campesina along the street selling alfalfa or other grass to feed them. They also eat fruit and vegetable scraps.

 To kill a cuy for dinner, the preferred method is 'estrangulo', with a wringing-the-neck graphic. Sounds like what grandma used to do with the chicken. The fur is pulled off with the help of warm water. The guts and later the scraps go to the pigs. Yes, that´s what she said. The rest is 'basura', trash, hence the flies.
Also I´ve read that the currently available species, which is native to Peru, has been so thoroughly domesticated that it no longer survives in the wild; that the domesticators, the Incas, also used the animals in medical treatments and diagnosis (you could say we do the same today). And, there´s a movement afoot to bring them to the US as food. They´re tasty enough, but probably the fourth-graders who have one as a classroom mascot won't want to eat them.

As I was digesting my cuy experience, I was wondering if I could or would or should eat a dog. Perhaps, somewhere in southeast Asia, I already have. It´s more likely, however, that I´ll move, if not fully toward vegetarianism, at least away from such 'charismatic' species. Wax moth grubs, anyone?

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