Anyone who has traveled to Peru has heard of the infamous dish “quy” or as we call it in the U.S., guinea pig. Unlike in the U.S., though, where this majestic creature is cherished as a pet, in Peru it is prized as a delicious delicatessen.
Peruvians actually have a very strange relationship with the quy. Like us they have dogs and cats but once they are no longer young and cute, many Peruvians view their pets more as nuisances than companions. They are fed the dregs of food that are left over once the family has eaten and mostly left outside to roam the streets. Quys, on the other hand, are pampered. In many houses they get free reign over the kitchen, pooing wherever they like and consuming all the best left overs and special grasses grown just for them. They receive love, especially from the elderly members of the family, and generally lead a very happy life… that is until the family has a special celebration.
This past weekend I was lucky enough to experience the rich tradition of selecting, slaughtering, roasting and then consuming quy. It was my host grandma’s 82nd birthday party and in true Peruvian fashion the whole family gathered to celebrate it big. We woke up at 6:00 in the morning to make the cakes (two plain and one chocolate) and deliver them to the communal ovens. As they were baking we visited the families other house where they kept the quy. I got to stand there holding the sack as my host mom and sister scrambled around the room trapping four of the fattest quy (sparing the one that was clearly pregnant). On the way back, we picked up the cakes and returned to their house.
We then ate all three cakes for breakfast along with the traditional “ponche” which consisted of milk with cinnamon and sugar, topped with a red berry liquor and egg white foam. The punch and cake were delicious. Feeling like I might slip into a sugar induced comma, I silently excused myself for the slaughtering and preparing of the quy. When I returned they were sitting in their marinade and stuffed full of the traditional Peruvian herb “huacatay”.
We then went back to the oven to drop off the four quys as well as multiple chickens. Back at the house, the women were hurriedly preparing a delicious dish called ricoto relleno (ricoto pepper stuffed with meat, carrots, peas, raisons, and then battered and fried) and a pasta dish with tomatoes, onions, cheese, eggs and olives.
Around 3pm the quys were finally roasted to perfection and we all sat down for the meal. It was delicious!!! Along with soup and copious amounts of beer, we all had heaping piles of pasta, stuffed peppers, chicken, and QUY. It is hard to describe exactly how Quy tastes but it is clear that the Peruvians have it right, quys make much better food than pets.