After a recent photography trip to Ecuador, I was disappointed to have missed out eating their national dish, guinea pig. So given the chance to once again try this unique local cuisine in Peru, I jumped at the opportunity. Better yet, our Peruvian cab driver let me know the Ecuadorians do not know how to properly prepare guinea pig like the Peruvians do … lucky me!
Lamay, Peru – Home of the BBQ Guinea Pig
Fortunately, the guinea pig is high in protein, low in cholesterol and when bought at a roadside grill, low in cost. The town of Lamay in the Sacred Valley of Peru is known for its many guinea pig eateries, called cuyerias. I hesitate to call them restaurants as they are mainly outdoor family affairs with picnic tables. You also will not find them reviewed in TripAdvisor. However, I have submitted the Cuyeria Gladis in Lamay to TripAdvisor to get the reviews started. Obviously, Gladis will receive five stars from me. There are no large signs advertising these individual restaurants. Instead, the chef who is busy cooking the guinea pig at the side of the road, shakes several hot, ready to eat guinea pigs on a stick at the cars as they drive by. Driving into town you know you are in for something very special when you are greeted by a 30 foot tall guinea pig at each end of the main road.
We enjoyed our prior week cab ride from Cusco to Ollantaytambo with Jaime the taxi driver so much, we hired him again for the reverse trip. We opted for yet another five hour tour. Lacking in English, Jaime was not about to try to convey we stop for cuy, or guinea pig, any more than was my wife. So it was up to me to take the bull by the horns, or guinea pig by the ears, to stop and have guinea pig for lunch. At the first restaurant stop I simply took a few photos of the chef and cooking guinea pigs. Then I realized it is much like eating haggis in Scotland. When will I have such a great opportunity again?
Economics of Guinea Pig
The rise in popularity of guinea pig is helping many a Peruvian family out of poverty. They are cheap to acquire, cheap to raise and quite prolific. High-end restaurants in Lima and Cusco offer them to the inquisitive tourist for a high-end price.
While in Peru, seeing women carrying large bundles of green grass on their backs perplexed me. Turns out they had just come from a field and chopped some naturally growing grass as cheap food for their guinea pigs.
The guinea pig has been eaten in the Andes region for many thousands of years. Only after the Spanish conquered the region and sent some guinea pigs back home were they viewed as pets. A key to raising them for food or eating them is to not look these fuzz balls in the eyes.
When In Lamay, Eat at Cuyeria Gladis
Off goes Gladis, serving yet another fortunate customer. The process seems to have partially cooked guinea pigs in the BBQ area and then finish off the cooking with some intense heat when ordered. The dish is served with some additional spices, potatoes and a tamale. Gladis deserves five TripAdvisor stars just for putting up with me and my camera.
A close-up view of the critical extra spices and flavoring hanging out of the guinea pig’s gut. The ovens are very elaborate and custom-made for guinea pig cooking with many cooking stick holders, warming and cooking areas.
Fancier city restaurants will first de-bone the guinea pig and serve it pressed and flattened without the head. Seems to me it would look a lot like roadkill at that point. That is not the way the locals do it. Including the head with the meal also gives first timers something to play with and also a good photo prop.
Happily posing with the guinea pig head.
This was the preparation and cutting up of the pig. I have reached a point of no return now. I just bought my first guinea pig.
People will ask, “What did it taste like?” I’m not one to be able to describe how guinea pig tastes. I do not even know how to describe how a hot dog tastes compared to a hamburger. How could I know if the great taste was due to the spices or the actual guinea pig? Either way, it was a wonderful travel experience and meal. If for some reason I needed to select between visiting Machu Picchu again or returning to Gladis for guinea pig, it would be an easy choice.
Eating with Jaime, our taxi driver. He has guinea pig periodically, but mostly on special occasions. This was my special occasion.