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Before Europeans decided to make these little guys family pets, the ancient tribes of the Andes put these little fellows to a debatably better use. The Guinea Pig, or Cuy (KOO-ee) played an important role in religious ceremonies, medicinal practices, and at family gatherings over dinner table.

Cuy not only served as a good source of protein, but they were also used in medicinal practices. According to legend, when a member of the community became sick, the medicine man would sift for the Black Guinea Pig and take it to the bedside of the patient. He would then rub the animal along the body of the sick person, kill it and slice it open to be dissected. Whichever organs in the Cuy appeared black, or dark in color marked the area which was infected in the patient. This ritual is still practiced by the people of the mountains, according to popular belief.

Ceramic pots from the Moche People of  La Huaca del Sol y de la Luna demonstrate they were bred as a source of food cerca 100 A.D.

Traditionally, Cuy were kept underneath the floor boards of the kitchen and would graze on alfalfa in the garden until they were selected, slaughtered and prepared for lunch.

So what’s all the hype? The animal is a very efficient food source. After working through the guilt of devouring such a sweet furry little friend, the idea of consuming the meat makes perfect sense. Cuy is high in protein and low in cholesterol. They reproduce faster than most other livestock, and eat a simple diet of alfalfa, and herbs.

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Today, Cuy is most consumed in the campos of the Sierra. It is most commonly found in the Sacred Valley of Cusco where the tradition started thousands of years ago.

Flavor Profile: Gamey Chicken

To Enjoy: Have at it with your hands as you would an order of wings. This is completely acceptable if dining in the central market or in a fancy restaurant.

Insider Tips:

Do not make eye contact. Cuy is served whole, dig in quickly before you allow yourself to empathize with the little guy.

Watch out for the bones. they are small and can be difficult to separate from the meat.

Sauce it up! Peruvian cuisine comes with a lot of sauce, Cuy is usually served over a bed of potatoes with Huacatay sauce, or a flavorful peanut sauce. The pairing is  don’t cut yourself short.

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