For some of us, especially those of us raised in Texas, the only thing that comes to mind when we hear the word "cuy" is el cucuy, the monstrous boogeyman of our youth. But in several South America countries, cuy is a favorite dish: roast guinea pig that's said to taste like a blend of rabbit and duck meat. And though the cooking and serving of guinea pig may seem monstrous itself to some Americans, for whom the animal is more familiar as a pet, cuy has been enjoyed in Andean countries like Peru and Ecuador for at least 9,000 years.
The cuy that's raised in these countries for meat is almost entirely different from the guinea pigs sold in American pet stores; these cuy are bigger, stronger and far less docile than their Petco counterparts. They're also ecologically sustainable, fed vegetarian diets by nature and taking up very little land; they're easy for people to raise in the country or in the city, especially those on tight budgets; and they're nutritious, offering more protein and less cholesterol than beef, pork or even chicken.
It should come as no surprise, then, that Peruvians eat up to 65 million cuy per year. And while it's true that Peruvians eat more chicken (500 million of those), that's mainly because cuy is enjoyed mainly on special occasions.
As part of its new menu, launched October 1, Andes Cafe is now offering cuy and inviting customers to enjoy a special occasion of its own. The cuy comes frozen, straight from Peru, and it's offered by reservation only at dinner. Andes Cafe chef David Guerrero says that his is one of only five US restaurants currently offering the delicacy.
Ecuadorian-born Guerrero prepares his cuy chactado in the traditional way, fried whole and served with a side of corn and potatoes. It costs $60 per couple. (Yes, one guinea pig is more than enough to feed two.) Andes Cafe recommends calling ahead at least 24 hours in advance to make sure that they've got a cuy set aside for you.
As to whether or not to make that call? That's on you; like all matters of taste, which are truly arbitrary, cuy can be divisive. Though cuy is making inroads north of the Panama Canal, finding its way onto menus across the US, not everyone remains convinced of the guinea pig's gustatory superiority. Some have called the meat tough and stringy, while others report that there was just too little of the stuff to make much of an impression at all (even at 7 pounds, a cuy is still a small animal).
Cuy believers, however, exalt the rodent's flesh—including PRI correspondent Chaela Herridge-Meyer, writing in a recent article: "I find guinea pig pretty tasty. I like the crunchy skin and picking through the bones to get at the rich meat." And as to its nascent popularity here, Guerrero reports: "I've already sold 20—including one to a man who drove here all the way from San Antonio because he heard we were making cuy."
Andes Cafe, 2311 Canal St., Ste. 104, 832-659-0063, andescafe.com