The bright red and green signboard on the cobblestone sidewalk in front of La Casita de Victoria read ”cuy al palo.” My Spanish may be rudimentary, but the object speared on a wooden stick and suspended over an open fire looked like a plump, toothy rat with no tail. At this roadside food stand and many others like it in rural Peru, the house specialty is roasted guinea pig to go.
It’s estimated that indigenous people in the Andes Mountains have been eating domesticated cuy (pronounced “kwee”) since 5000 BC. It’s such a part of the culture that a 1753 painting of the last supper in Cusco’s Cathedral Basilica shows Jesus and his disciples with cuy as the main course. Peru even has a cuy holiday. Día Nacional del Cuy is celebrated on the second Friday of October with festivals and fairs across the country.
But if you grew up in the West like me, chances are you’ve only encountered these furry critters as a pocket pet.