Peru, Lake Titicaca, Puno
Food, Restaurant, Culture
My niece keeps a couple of plump, furry guinea pigs in a big cage in her room. She feeds them carrots. They make cute squeaky noises back at her.
That's all I could think of when cuy (pronounced KWEE), the traditional indigenous dish of much of Andean South America, was served to me in a pleasant little restaurant in Puno, Peru. Cuy, you see, is guinea pig.
Fried, stewed or roasted, served with rice or potatoes, or most often both, cuy is a delicacy reserved for special occasions or special visitors. It's served in traditional restaurants throughout the Andes and a favorite among the Quechua Indians of Peru and Bolivia.
As a traveler yearning to experience and explore all the local culture had to offer, to Cuy or not to Cuy, that was the question.
I'm a big believer in traveling globally and eating locally. But this poor little cuy was served up whole, stripped of his fur, gutted, fried and splayed out on the plate looking up at me. I just couldn't do it. I couldn't bring a fork anywhere near this rodent. I couldn't eat my niece's pets.
I pushed it around the plate. I picked at the potatoes. I pushed the cuy around the plate again. I enjoyed the vegetable-laden quinoa soup. I pushed the cuy around the plate until it looked away from me. I drank a lot of beer. I pushed the cuy around the plate some more.
My travel and dinner companions were trying much harder than I was. They cut into the little beasts. They didn't personally know any guinea pigs like I did. They could do it guilt-free. They picked meat off of little bones and chewed. They were cheered by the band and waiters.
They tell me it had no taste. It was kind of tough, a little greasy and flavored with too much salt. I'll take their word for it.
Keep an open mind, culinarily speaking.
Puno is the jumping off place on Lake Titicaca to go see the reed islands.
Watch out for pickpockets.