If you’ve ever visited a foreign country and gotten a taste of the local cultures, then you may have experienced some of the seemingly strange food traditions therein. What we see as normal to eat in America may not be normal in another country, and vice versa. This is certainly true if you’ve ever had the chance to visit Ecuador, where a little animal we like to call the guinea pig is a highly regarded source of meat for meals.
That’s right. I’m sure some of you pet owners may be squirming in your seats as you read this. Since guinea pigs are a really common domestic pet in America, it may seem odd or even cruel that this animal is a customary delicacy in Ecuador. But to Ecuadorians, the cooking and eating of guinea pigs is both traditional and second nature.
In Ecuador, guinea pigs are actually referred to as cuy, which is word for the animal in the indigenous language of Kichwa. And I know what you’re thinking. No, Ecuadorians do not have some cruel predisposition to kill and eat guinea pigs when there are plenty of other meat-providing animals around. But what you may not know is that guinea pigs didn’t become a staple food in Ecuador until many years had passed in history. Initially, guinea pigs were eaten because historically, meat from cows was unattainable due to the lack of cows in the country.
So, since guinea pigs were there, they were eaten. It was simply a matter of survival, and even at that, only for those who could manage to get their hands on one.
Nowadays, however, it’s customary to try a spit-roasted guinea pig if you’re visiting Ecuador. There are many places to try it locally, and if you do, it’s recommended to eat it only if prepared over a spit. Just like similar meats, like pork or chicken, it needs to be prepared well.
If you can get over the idea that you’re eating a furry friend, and let yourself believe you are merely taking part in a cultural custom, then you may consider trying some cuy yourself. Head towards the Andean mountains of Ecuador or near a farm where they are bred for eating purposes, and you can try your hand at this prepared meal. And try not to be alarmed by the look of it. Some forms of preparation for guinea pig involve leaving the hair on, and when you get the finished product, you’ll be looking at a roasted, crispy version of the entire animal – head, ears, toes, mouth, and all.
I think it’s possible that you can put the idea aside that you’re eating what we consider a domestic pet in America, then you can stomach the little critter for a night. Unless of course you’re a guinea pig parent! In that case, you may want to plan your vacation accordingly and visit another country.
Ecuador has a lot to offer in terms of signature foods. Don’t miss out! Try some cuy.