Craving Cuy – The Peruvian Guinea Pig

 

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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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Top five Peruvian wonder fruits

Peru is a storehouse of some of the most delicous, exotic, and nourishing fruits. With over 3800 species of Potatoes, the land harvests thousands of varieties of plants whose flavors will knock your socks off if you know which ones to chose. Here is a list of my top five favorite.

  1. Chirimoya

IMG_4982I absolutely love the Chirimoya. This delicious fruit ranks close behind the Lucuma in my book, and is never to be passed up in visiting the market. The Dinosaur Pear – as I like to call it – can be found all over supermarkets, mercado centrals, and fruit carts along the side of the road. Not to be confused with its twin, the guanabana, this guy is packed full of nutrients and works wonders post work out, or hike through the Incan Trail.

Flavor Profile: Mango goodness meets ripe canned pear with a creamy custard like finish.

How to chose: The browner, the better. Like a banana, the fruit will taste sweeter the more brown the outside seems.

How to eat: Cut in slices from top to bottom as you would an apple, and eat each slice as you would that of a watermelon. Each seed is surrounded by the meat of the fruit, so you will find yourself biting off sections formed around the seed.

2. Tuna

IMG_4936IMG_5141I had at least two or three Tuna each day. They are a delicious watery sweet and flowery fruit. It is great for hydration, and the morning after a night at the club.

How to chose: The darker purple the better. These babies carry the same pigment as our beloved beet. The darker the fruit, the more the pigment, the more nutritious it is and the better it tastes.

How to eat: I highly suggest asking the fruit stand tender to peel it for you. The Tuna is a Cactus, so it comes with a warning. If you’re feeling brave, using a dishtowel, hold the pear in the middle, and cut the top and bottom off. Slide the knife vertically down the fruit to cut the leathery peel and slowly pull apart the peel.

3. Lucuma

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I cannot begin to explain my love for the Lucuma. I will save you the time and just get straight to it. The fruit is delicious and known as one of the finer fruits of Peru. If a Palta avocado were shaped into a perfect sphere, the two would be identical. While dark green on the outside, as you begin to peel, you will find you have struck gold. The fruit is neon yellow-orange on the inside with the consistency of creamy peanut butter.

Flavor Profile: Apricot with the finish of roasted hazelnuts and a possible hint of coffee.

How to chose: Go for soft, but not too soft. If the fruit is dry, it will soften, so when poking around, make sure the fruit is heavy and full of water. Stay away from the super brown, and those with holes, these oftentimes have worms.

How to eat: Simply peel back its thin peel and take a bite! While some of my Peruvian friends thought it odd I would eat the whole thing raw, I loved it. Usually you will find the fruit mixed with some sort of dairy whether its icing on a cake, or a cone of icecream.

4. Guaba

They call this the Cotton Candy of Peruvian Fruit, and the description fits it precisely. The fruit is found more so along the side of the road in carts than in the mercados, so if you come across a wheelbarrow of these guys, I recommend you partake. They will offer to pop it open for you.

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Flavor profile: Cotton Candy

How to chose: they really dont vary much, any fruit you pick will satisfy your sweet tooth.

How to eat: Pull apart the hard pod and stick your teeth in between to pull out a seed. The seeds like the Chirimoya are enveloped in their own section of fruit, make sure and spit out the seeds.

5. Pepino Melon

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These are the perfect pick me up on a hot summer day at the beach. They usually come about the size of a softball and are pleasantly filling. Watch out for the center, though, apparently it causes infertility in women.

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Flavor Profile: Honeydew melon meets plum

How to chose: You want one that is more firm, like a pear – not an apple. Its hard to go wrong in chosing, however. Never be afraid to ask the Fruit stand man his opinion, sometimes they will suggest letting it ripen for a day or two.

How to eat: Enjoy like you would an apple, but be warned, they are juicy.

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Look for the Bare Necessities


The Prickly Pear is a Peruvian favorite, known here as the ‘Tuna’. The exotic fruit is plucked from a Cactus, and stocked in wheelbarrows along the sidewalks of Trujillo. These days, the Tuna is found in every fruit stand I pass along the street. The two most common colors are white and magenta, I am personally partial to the later.

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Pottery of the Moche People suggests they enjoyed the fruit almost 1,000 years ago

This dessert rose provides an abundance of micro-nutrients. Think endurance and self-sustainability. The Prickly Pear, the Tuna, or the Opuntia ficus-indica has developed a means to survive in harsh desert climate. Subsequently, the Tuna carries a strong mucilage that reserves water and calcium content at a cellular level during long droughts. The Tuna provides a complex cocktail of micro-nutrients such as Phytochemicals – flavonoids and phenolics. The Tuna is an impressive afternoon snack.

The Benefits:

These babies are stocked with Vitamins:

The Tuna is most appreciated for its content of Vitamin C. It also contains phosphorus, copper, calcium, potassium, selenium and zinc. All essential minerals which help create and maintain good health.

Good source of Carotenoids:

Betanin, the same red pigment found in beet root, reduces chances of cancer and lowers stress. Tuna also contains other carotenoids which are good for eyesight, possible anti-tumor properties, skin health, male fertility and the cardiovascular system.

Cardiovascular system health.

The Tuna has been studied to control blood sugar levels. Soluble fibers found in its mucilage increase viscosity of food as it passes through the intestines. This slows down and reduces sugar absorption in the gut. Many studies have been done which test the power of Tuna’s impact on people who suffer from Type2 Diabetes.

Eases symptoms of diarrhea

IMG_4937If you happen to find yourself ‘mal de estomago’ grab a Powerade, and a few tuna and you will be back to good in no time. Research on plant extracts shows the plant acts as an aid to the gut lining through protecting gastric mucosal layers. Powerful stuff.

 Reduces cholesterol and promotes weight loss.

The watery fruit is full of fiber which provides a more satiable snack. While curbing the appetite, and reducing sugar intake, research shows participants of studies produced a higher fat count in fecal matter. This suggests the fruit is a good source of fat-binding fiber. It rids your system of the bad (LDL), and leaves it with the good (HDL).

Pharmaceutical studies show the plant extracts to have an arrangement of medicinal properties from anti-inflammatory disease to metabolic syndromes such as diabetes and obesity.

In short, this is a great fruit for building a healthy metabolism.

While on the inside, the fruit is soft and sweet, take caution if handling with a ‘raw paw’. If you have the chance, snag a bag of pre-peeled fruit, you’ll save yourself the angst of plucking hair sized needles from your fingertips.

“Now when you pick a pawpaw
Or a prickly pear
And you prick a raw paw
Next time beware
Don’t pick the prickly pear by the paw
When you pick a pear
Try to use the claw
But you don’t need to use the claw
When you pick a pear of the big pawpaw
Have I given you a clue?

The bare necessities of life will come to you
They’ll come to you.”

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Further Reading:

LR, Redacción. “La Tuna Y Sus Beneficios Para Nuestra Salud.” Larepublica.pe. LaRepublica.pe, 14 Mar. 2017. Web. 30 May 2017.

Osuna-Martínez, Ulises, Jorge Reyes-Esparza, and Lourdes Rodríguez-Fragoso. “Cactus (Opuntia Ficus-indica): A Review on Its Antioxidants Properties and Potential Pharmacological Use in Chronic Diseases.” Natural Products Chemistry & Research. N.p., 16 Oct. 2014. Web. <https://www.esciencecentral.org/journals/cactus-opuntia-ficusindica-a-review-on-its-antioxidants-properties-2329-6836.1000153.php?aid=33317&gt;.