Last year, Peruvian authorities declared the second Friday of each October to be National Guinea Pig Day. Representatives from the Ministry of Agriculture (MINAGRI) explained, “We’ve decided to establish National Cuy Day on the merit of the importance of the care and raising of the animal, its genetic richness that contributes to family economies, and, above all, its contribution to food and nutritional safety.”
You may be surprised to hear that 11 tons of cuy meat were exported last year, 90% of which went to the United States.
Long a staple of Andean cuisine, guinea pig (cuy) has traditionally been reared by families, and their consumption is considered a special event suitable for birthdays and festivals. The high protein, low fat meat is slightly gamey and often compared to rabbit.
The most traditional way to enjoy cuy is stuffed with herbs and roasted in a clay oven, or chactado, split open, flattened, and fried. Tipón, a small town just outside of Cusco, dedicates itself almost entirely to the preparation of roasted cuy for locals and travelers in Cusco. Meanwhile, Arequipa is considered the mecca for cuy chactado.
These traditional preparations can be daunting for travelers, however. The guinea pig is served whole, and it’s hard to find pure meat on the little animal. This is no problem for locals, who consume all parts of the animal, sucking the morsels off of the bones. Luckily, new “fusion” options allow you to easily check cuy off your travel to-do list: High-end restaurants in Lima offer options like cuy ravioli and small portions of “Peking guinea pig”, while more casual innovations include cuy burgers and nuggets.
Cuy figures prominently during Cusco’s Corpus Christi celebrations, where it’s the centerpiece of Chiriuchu, the event’s traditional dish. While the saints of Cusco process in all their finery in the Plaza de Armas (Cusco’s main square), the Chiriuchu festival pops up in Plaza San Francisco two blocks away. Meanwhile, the town of Huacho holds its own festival in July, just before Fiestas Patrias. There, not only are a variety of guinea pig dishes prepared, but there is also the guinea pig fashion show and the guinea pig races.
How will the cities of Peru choose to celebrate their first National Guinea Pig Day? We don’t know yet, but now that it’s been announced, the different municipalities will surely be making plans in the coming weeks on how they will mark the occasion.
Can’t stomach the idea of eating an animal considered a pet in many other countries? For animal lovers and vegetarians, there’s always the gentler option: guinea pig candy.