Taste the local pig

Eat cuy in Ecuador


Any self-respecting Bucket List demands one get a taste of the exotic. We could go with termites or snake to deep fried hairy spiders, but we’ll start with a popular household pet. Fried guinea pig, also known as cuy, is a delicacy in Ecuador. It is enjoyed much like a Thanksgiving Day turkey, on special occasions, and at great expense. Peeling away the rodent’s crispy skin, I’m disappointed to find there’s not much meat on the bone. It strings onto my fork like melted orthodontic elastics. Guinea pig tastes like chicken, as so many things do. Eating cuy makes for an unforgettable experience, and a particularly delicious story to tell at dinner parties. I’d suggest waiting until after dessert.

Length of Trip : Lunch or dinner.

Cost :
Deep-fried in three pots, expect to pay around US$13-17 for a full guinea pig, served with potato fries or salad.

Best time to go : Year-round

Wheelchair friendly : Yes

Family friendly : Maybe bring some rice cakes for the younger ones.

Where to eat :
Cotacachi, a mountain town about two-hours drive from Quito, is well known for their cuy. I visited a popular restaurant called La Hornilla, which has a guinea pig mascot. You can find cuy served in traditional restaurants throughout the country.

Official Site :
Visit Ecuador

Where to Stay :
You can hear ghosts wandering the night in the 300-year-old Hacienda Pinsaqui, located near Otavalo in the Ecuadorean highlands. Simon Bolivar, Latin America’s most famous liberator, spent a few nights here, deciding the fate of the continent. Surrounded by mountains and stables, this traditional hacienda is awash in legends and history. A photo of Frieda Khalo sits on the wall, along with trophies won over the years by the owner’s pedigree horses. The dining room is heated by a massive, blackened fireplace, the ceilings high, the corridors wide. Rooms are decorated with antiques, heated by woodstoves, and a hot water bottle placed nightly in each guest’s bed. When the huge courtyard trees blow in the wind at midnight, you truly feel you’re sleeping in the bosom of the country’s history.

Getting There :
There are buses leaving every half hour between Quito and Cotacachi. The mountain town, popular with expats, is your access to Otavalo, which is famous for its weekend craft markets and crater lakes.

Note from Robin :
Guinea pigs, it should be noted, are neither from Guinea, nor a pig. It is a domesticated rodent that originates from the Andes, and has long been cultivated as a food source. Europeans brought them back as pets as early as the sixteenth century, and that’s when creatures known locally as cavy, cuy or cuyo took on the moniker of guinea pigs. Pigs, because someone at some point thought they looked like one, and Guinea, because in those days, any exotic creature in Europe simply had to come from the land of Guinea - as exotic a place as medieval idiots could imagine. At least that is one theory. Nobody truly knows why the rodent got its unusual name, but we do know they are effective as human substitutes in medical trials, and look much like a deep fried rat when served with salad in the town of Cotacachi.