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Eating Pets in the Pueblito

ECUADOR | Tuesday, 3 June 2008 | Views [2363] | Comments [3]

My mother always says that she did not eat cuy when my parents were in Ecuador because my father wouldn’t let her.  Since my father isn’t anyone to allow my mother to do anything, this was always said in jest.  I do not know the real extent of her desire to try cuy since we North Americans are somewhere between curious and disgusted by the idea that guinea pigs are a food here in Ecuador, but I understand my father’s hesitance to partake in this particular cultural activity.  I personally equate guinea pigs both with 4th grade classroom pets and rodents.  I am not sure which association is stronger, but neither really compels me ingest the things.  Nonetheless, I came to Ecuador willing to try anything, and faithful as I am in the strength of my stomach, I figured I would eventually eat cuy.  Had I come here to live alone however, I am not positive I would have sought it out on my own.  However, because I live with Ecuadorians, am often a guest in their homes, and because cuy is considered quite the delicacy here, it became a fate I could not avoid.

            I had the pleasure (take that word lightly) of watching the entire preparation process the first time I ate cuy.  I was in Jima, a pueblocito an hour and a half outside of Cuenca with a group of other volunteers from around the country.  We were visiting a fellow volunteer who lives in this tiny, dirt-street lined town.  While it was impossible for our program to find a host family for the volunteer to live with, she does have a pseudo-host-family who owns one of the two restaurants and who feeds her.  We were in this restaurant soon after our arrival, and since Jima may have never before seen such a large group of gringos, a treat was in order.  So we followed our chef to her tiny kitchen and watched every step of preparing cuy from pulling the living guinea pig from the burlap sack, to the swift (and clearly oft-practiced) breaking of its neck, to the draining of the blood, the plucking of hair and the removal of the internal organs, to the placement on a stick to rotate above the fire.  (Please see my photo album for the gruesome graphics).

            A North American understanding of delicacy is yet another thing which does not translate directly into an Ecuadorian understanding.  For unlike escargot or caviar which are considered delicacies in the States for their rarity and cost, cuy is dirt cheap (that is to say, guinea pigs are dirt cheap, perhaps because they live in it) – they reproduce like, bunnies, I guess.  Rapidly, cost-effectively.  Cuy therefore, it seems to me, is more a delicacy for the labor it entails.  A labor of love.  A bloody, gut-extracting, hair-plucking labor, but a labor of love nonetheless.  From the killing to the last spin over the fire, it was more than two hours before our pets were ready to eat.  You have to respect the time commitment.

Served with motepillo – a dish with mote, a corn species you cannot have a meal in Cuenca without, and some cheese and spices – the cuy had thankfully at least been cut into pieces.  But that didn’t really make it that much easier to eat.  With tiny bones a tons of fat, the meat of cuy is relatively hard to get at – requiring both hands and no utensils – thus negating another Western conception that a delicacy should perhaps be eaten with refinement.  Despite the cliché, in reality cuy tasted an awful lot like chicken – only fattier.  Whenever I have expressed that opinion to an Ecuadorian, they agree but rebuttal with the idea that it therefore has more flavor.  And indeed, the weight I am gaining here seems to support this notion of fat and flavor going together (especially when you consider the Ecuadorian habit I have adopted of putting ketchup on rice – I still avoid the mayonnaise – since you need to add some sort of flavor . . .)

In the end I am glad I ate cuy, if only to see the somewhat shocked expressions of Ecuadorian faces when they hear I have tried their treasured national food.  Then again, I am therefore always subsequently required to feign enthusiasm for it – something which is not wholly honest because in the end, as pets or rodents or food, I am still not strongly compelled to eat guinea pigs.



Claire, love your story about cuy. We would love to taste cuy and new brunswick stew (squirrel) for comparison. We could substitute it for the squirrel.
Looking forward to reading your continued adventures in Ecuador! Love, Gram

  Abuela Eleanor Murphy Dec 21, 2008 1:51 PM


Yes, a wonderful story about cuy. The filmmaker I work with play with the cuy almost every day. I call him "mi cuy precioso" because he has an absolute talent for getting into things.

I had my first cuy at Riobamba, and I will eat cuy again too, less stressed about it than you, as I also like rabbit a LOT and the rodent distinction has to be lost to enjoy nice dutch roast rabbit on mutton. Then again, not your typical US food either.

I haven't had squirrel and only suspect I've had possum and not known. And oxtail soup is to die for.

Be brave with new foods. Life is a daily adventure!

Thanks for a great piece of work!

Bill Freeman

  William J. Freeman Sep 30, 2009 8:18 PM


Hey si note gusta el cuy entonces paraque estupido vas a ecuador mejor quedate donde vives y note agas el gringo pedazo de menso

  fabiano Nov 8, 2009 1:20 AM

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