There's a Guinea Pig On My Plate! Culture Shock for Dinner

Posted in: Cuenca Ecuador, Ecuador Food, Ecuador Travel

While we were researching Ecuador as a potential place to relocate, one of the customs that surprised us was that they ate Guinea pigs!

In Canada we had only ever seen Guinea pigs , being sold in pet stores, so we had never thought about eating them.

As we became serious about moving to Ecuador, more specifically Cuenca (a city in the Andes mountains) we started to dig a little deeper into the local customs. We found out that Guinea pig (“Cuy” in Spanish) is served on important occasions and as a meal for special guests. It’s among the more expensive dishes.

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Changing Perspectives

At first our daughter was not sure if she would like to try cuy, but once she understood that rejecting a local delicacy could cause disappointment and offense, she began to think differently about eating it.

We also helped her reason on it by looking at and talking about how cute chickens, cows and pigs are. It didn’t bother her in the least to eat them (we are big meat eaters) and how her feeling about them changed once they were all prepared on her plate. 

Talking about eating Guinea pig meat as if it were the same as eating chicken or cow meat helped Drew understand how customs help shape peoples everyday reality. In some parts of the world eating beef is unheard of, and in other parts of the world they eat dog and horse meat (including some places here in Ecuador). It’s all about how things are perceived as a person is growing up.

One of our favorite meals in Canada is lobster (and fish and chips). Years ago lobster was viewed as food that only poor people ate, and some people were embarrassed to be seen eating it. Now the view is the is just the opposite. Perception is a funny thing.

Getting Prepared to Eat Cuy

Looking up pictures on the internet helped as well. We hoped that if she saw pictures of Guinea pigs for sale at markets and being sold cooked and prepared on the street, she would be more prepared when she saw the real thing. Turns out we were right.

When we arrived and saw the cuy being sold on the street for the first time, Drew just said “oh look, they’re selling the Guinea pigs!” It was not that big of a deal to her.

The Day Arrives

We were soon invited over to a friends house and guess what they served us? Cuy! We knew what they were serving before we arrived, so we were all kind of looking forward to it. Our hostess cut them up and baked them in the oven. A friend that came with us said that she had eaten cuy a few different ways, but baked was definitely her favorite.

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guinea-pig-ecuador-cuy-prepared-meal-closeup

The meat was sweet and greasy, very much like duck meat. The cuy was served with rice, potatoes, avocado, choclo (corn) and cheese.

guinea-pig-ecuador-cuy-market-photo

We Did It!

It may sound funny, but I’m proud of our family for being adventurous and eating cuy. I liked the flavor of the cuy, and the rest of the meal was delicious! Some people find the head especially delicious. The little feet or paws are also a treat for some, they just pop them in whole and crunch them up.

Now when we meet new Ecuadorian friends they will often joke around about having us over for cuy. It seems they don’t think foreigners will eat it, but then when we say that “we had it and liked it!” they are kind of impressed.

I’ve only met a few people that said they didn’t like cuy. So if you are planing a trip to Ecuador, you may want to try eating Guinea pig as well.

Have you already tried it? Let us know by sharing your comments on this post.

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Meet the Author

Since moving to Ecuador in 2009, Dena and Bryan have made their living as bloggers. Dena is a partner at Storyteller Media, a content marketing company for Canadian travel brands. She is a contributor to Bryan Haines and is co-founder of Click Like This - a photo tutorial blog.

25 comments… add one
  • Paul Green Aug 7, 2016, 2:34 pm

    Dena,
    Nicely done. My wife and I went to a restaurant for our first cuy meal. We were welcomed graciously and shown around the kitchen and finally met the woman whose sole job it was to cook the cuy. We were impressed with the whole experience. Yes, it’s a rich meat. We split one (huge, by the way) cuy and it was plenty for us. Keep the fine writing coming. I hope you and your family come back to Azuay for a visit. I’d enjoy meeting you all.

  • Kami Chartier May 8, 2016, 1:26 am

    Dena,
    I don’t know if you remember me but this is Kami – I was there in Cuenca visiting Chad and Michele when you first moved down there. I have been scouring the internet to find the recipe for the potatoes that are served with the Cuy. I love them so much and still crave them – is there any way you could get the recipe and post it or send it to me??

    Thanks!

  • Cathy Apr 3, 2016, 12:55 pm

    I don’t eat rabbit and my very first childhood pet was a guinea pig. As much as I am looking forward to someday being in Equador, I don’t think I could do it.

  • Alanna Argudo Jun 9, 2015, 9:37 pm

    I’m actually half Ecuadorian, however I was always taught that “cuy” is only eaten in the inland of Ecuador, and my family is from the coast. However, I wouldn’t know how to politely say no, because I happen to be vegan, and any meat products make me nauseous. I would like to someday visit my family there, but reading this has caused me to question how I would handle the situation. However, I did enjoy the article. It is wonderful that you have such an adventurous family!

  • Shari Sep 11, 2013, 3:17 pm

    Hi! I lived in Ecuador for two years back in the late 80’s. I tried cuy once and although I didn’t hate it I can’t say I liked it either. During our time there we mostly cooked for ourselves so we didnt run into too many problems with food except for Easter time when our Ecuadorian friends insisted on bringing us seemingly endless bowls of Fanesca. My husband liked it but I couldn’t stand it at all. I did like Chaulafan and my all-time favourite things were the little loaves of white and chocolate bread that we bought in the little panaderias. Ecuador was also where I became acquainted with quinoa many years before it became a popular thing here.

  • Dani Jan 16, 2013, 2:11 pm

    How could you do this to such innocent, adorible animals? If this was normal in my country i would emigrate. I love animals and this is horrid for me. Just my oppinion but i think its sick.(no offence) (my oppinion)

    • Tara Petite Jan 16, 2013, 6:03 pm

      Well, it’s likely whichever country you currently live in practices regular consumption of some animals. And, this practice contributes to the suffering of innocent animals, as well. There are not too many places on Earth you can go where this is not the case. I have been vegetarian for a long time, and accept that each culture has its traditions, and food is a very integral part of these. As much as I’m not down with eating guinea pigs, you wouldn’t find me protesting in the streets; I just wouldn’t vote for it with my dollars. 🙂

  • Tara Oct 10, 2012, 9:33 pm

    We are a vegan family, and one of the things that attracts us to the idea of Ecuador is the abundance of fresh fruits and veggies. We do, however, worry about offending people with our dietary choices, but it’s something we wouldn’t be willing to compromise. Is there much of a vegetarian-consciousness there, or would we be dining alone a lot? 🙂

    • Bryan Haines Oct 11, 2012, 7:00 am

      Hi Tara – I don’t think you’ll offend people. I’ve never met an Ecuadorian vegan but people are very understanding and tolerant. Drew and I are both allergic to corn which means we can’t eat mote or motepillo – dietary staples in Cuenca. At friends homes or restaurants it’s easy to avoid an no one is bothered. You can find vegetarian pizzas and other dishes here.

  • Alena Sep 23, 2012, 5:08 pm

    No way. I’d have to forego that cultural experience. We are not obligated to do anything that is against our convictions, regardless of where we are. I feel if we explain our sensitivity against it and let any friends around us know, they can respect our needs and prepare something else. I’m tolerant of much but not something that really goes against the grain.

    Thanks. Alena.

  • Mark Aug 15, 2012, 10:57 am

    Good article. At least a couple of times over there when people got disgusted about the idea of eating a guinea pig I have seen Ecuadorians ask foreigners if they would eat a rabbit. The answer has been usually ‘yes’ and I think this is a great comparison because of the use of rabbit in English cuisine, a game animal for hunting in America and Canada and in even fancy French restaurants.

    For the record in spite of the fact I have eaten cuy a dozen times I still can’t eat the little paws or the head either.

  • Laurie Aug 2, 2012, 12:16 pm

    I’ve been to Ecuador twice and have cooked and ate Cuy both times. My Ecuador friends family was pretty impressed that the gringita would be willing to try it. Her aunt broke the foot off and handed it to me. I thought, when in Rome… It was like eating an over cooked thick, saltless potato chip. I have not been able to eat the head though. I don’t really like my food staring back at me.

  • Jill Aug 1, 2012, 1:26 pm

    Hi Dena;

    Our friends invited us to try cuy. We made a little fire in our back yard and roasted them on broom handles. I was a little grossed out by the preparation and more grossed out when they came inside and pulled a foot off and told me to try it. Not wanting to offend anyone I chewed up his poor little foot. I still can’t believe I did it. Then the meal came and I had a chance to taste the real meat. We found it had a nice flavour but it was really rich. I was glad I was served a thigh and not any other body part. My son (age 6) loved it and my daughter (age 9) could in no way be convinced to try it. Maybe next time.

    • Dena Haines Aug 4, 2012, 8:45 am

      Hey Jill,

      We found the meat really rich as well. By the size of them you would think you would need to eat one or two full Cuy just to fill up, but a thigh was enough for me as well.

      Good job eating the foot!

      Thanks

  • Don Aug 1, 2012, 10:21 am

    Yes Bryan, we have tried it and dont care for it. As others have said, it is a bit greasy and not much meat between the bones. We had it at a rather famous CUY resturant close to Mall Del Rio. Regards—Don

  • Peggy Aug 1, 2012, 9:30 am

    Our family has had a guinea pig, hamster and birds for pets and that makes it a little difficult to think of eating a pet…. but in time I might be able to try it.

  • Denise toepel Aug 1, 2012, 9:27 am

    Oh, I love the analogy you used for your child. we are relocating next May to Cuenca. We are adventurous in eating styles and look forward to cuy. We did the same for our 5 kiddos when we were offered Nigiri sushi made like a rose that was still moving when you ate it. Our new boss took us all out for dinner and we arrived at a Tokyo restaurant that had a very famous chef who could cut a fish and it sat in front of you with just the bones, head and tail moving with a bamboo stick through it too.
    I remember the looks on my children’s face as they tried to do the correct thing. To this day tho, theybdonprefer it cooked and non mobile!

    I explained before we got there some of what they could expect, but you and your family were a little luckier with the emersion process. Keep up the good work, sincerely love your articles.

    • Dena Haines Aug 4, 2012, 8:58 am

      Hi Denise,

      Wow, that tops our Cuy eating adventures! I’ve often wondered what I would do if I were faced with eating something that was still moving. Eating Cuy will be easy for your family 🙂

      Thanks for sharing your story! All the best with your relocation.

  • Kate Aug 1, 2012, 7:31 am

    We are going to Machu Picchu and the Galapagos later in the month. I’ve been trying to acclimate my husband to the idea of eating cuy but no luck. I’m a very adventurous diner and am looking forward to a new experience.

    • bichauchi Aug 1, 2012, 9:38 am

      You do not have to eat cuy if you do not want it, there is a lot of different styles of food in Ecuador to try, I am an Ecuadorian and never eaten cuy in my life, just the idea for me is disgusting.

      • Dena Haines Aug 4, 2012, 9:08 am

        Hi Kate,

        Bichauchi is right. It’s about what you are comfortable with. For our family it was alright, we were able to get used to the idea. But if it’s not something you can handle, it’s best not to force yourself.

        And it’s much different when you are at a restaurant or something and have different types of food to choose from. We were at a friends home and Cuy was the only choice. We don’t order Cuy when we eat out.

        There are many other delicious cultural foods to eat here in Ecuador. So have fun!

        Thanks for commenting 🙂

  • David Akins Aug 1, 2012, 7:22 am

    Bryan,
    I couldn’t get Karen to try it. I am an old Marine and look at meat as another form of protien. It doesn’t matter what the meat as long as it is cooked good. Gary Gaither and I tried the cuy last month at the Coopera in San Juanqin. There was not much meat to it, and as you said, it was a bit greasy.

    David

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