Guinea Pig in Ecuador: Favored Pet or Flavored Platter?
Proof of Latin America’s multiculturality and varied heritage is the custom of eating guinea pigs in Ecuador. While other countries see these fluffy creatures as pets, Ecuadorians view them as an exquisite platter that also promises to be healthy and environmentally friendly.
Are you ready to explore this one-of-a-kind tradition and history of eating guinea pigs?
Latin America is a culturally rich region. Its countries share some parts of their history, but traditions and daily life practices differ from one area to the other.
The South American country of Ecuador offers us a unique perspective on guinea pigs. They see them as a culinary delight that they have passed on from one generation to the other.
From a local language, Kichwa, the onomatopoeic original name is cuy. It comes from the high-pitched sound they make.
Ecuador has consumed guinea pigs for their highly-proteic nature for over 4,000 years. This has also been common in other Andean regions like Peru and Colombia.
Guinea Pigs in Ecuador
Ecuadorians mostly prepare this particular dish on special occasions or Sundays.
Rural families mainly raise this animal for its consumption due to the low cost and sustainability of the process. Additionally, as its demand increases, South American women in poverty have turned to raising this species to improve their income and thrive in precarious conditions.
In other regions of Latin America, people eat other types of rodents.
It’s common in Latin American indigenous communities to offer goods among families that are about to get married. This is especially in the direction of the bride’s family from the groom’s family.
Guinea pigs are of high value in these communities, therefore, gifting a mating pair of guinea pigs means a major wedding gift from the pretender’s family.
Food fanatic? Check out: A Traveler’s Guide to Ecuador: Culture, History, and Language
Raising Cuy for Meat
Due to their small size, guinea pigs in Ecuador are of easy care. Guinea pigs can be raised in backyards as they do not take up much space. In addition, they need moderate temperatures to thrive.
Their rapid reproduction benefits their distribution, and along with the fact that they are a high protein source, cuys have become excellent alternatives for healthy, low-cost meals.
Activists have studied the environmental effects of raising guinea pigs. They have concluded that cuys are a low-impact meat alternative to beef, poultry, or lamb. Raising cattle for consumption causes dramatic land erosion and water pollution, which doesn’t happen when raising cuys.
They have claimed that it optimizes land usage and reduces the feeding costs.
There are up to 20 breeds of guinea pigs, but only three of them are used for meat. They export the others as pets.
Other Views of Guinea Pigs in Ecuador
As in other Latin American countries, some regions of Ecuador practice spiritual rituals and they put their faith on healers (curanderos) when their health weakens.
Healers in Ecuador have used guinea pigs for diagnostic purposes. They use them to evaluate the energy balance in the body. The guinea pig absorbs the patient’s energy and passes the information on to the healer.
Afterward, they examine the animal’s deceased body and determine the person’s type of energy according to the severity of the guinea pig’s illness.
What It’s Like To Eat Guinea Pigs
There are various ways they prepare guinea pigs in Ecuador. Some people grill them whole, others deep fry them, or prepare them in curry or sweet sauce.
Grilled or Deep Fried
This is the most common way of preparing guinea pigs. The whole cuy is cooked on a spit, held with a metal pole over hot coals.
Tourists that have experienced this unique dish, claim its meat is tender and moist; quite similar to chicken.
When deep-fried, the skin has an extra crispy texture!
Another way of preparing guinea pigs is to roast them in the oven and stuff them—like we usually do with turkey or chicken! Even if their size is significantly small, stuffing adds an extra special flavor!
While served with other fittings—potatoes and traditional pepper sauces—which you can eat with cutlery, you’ll have to eat your guinea pig with your bare hands!
Guinea Pig Ice Cream
Guinea pig ice cream?! Yes, you heard right! Due to the extensive history of using cuys as nourishment and ritualistic cleansings, the locals have found more and more ways to consume guinea pigs in Ecuador.
A small stall in Quito, Ecuador serves guinea pig ice cream, and the demand only increases.
Travelers’ Experience Eating Cuy
Those who have traveled to Ecuador, assure that you can find cuy in small-town restaurants as part of the menu!
For them to know what you’re referring to, you need to ask for cuy instead of “guinea pig.” The correct pronunciation is “kwee.”
A passionate traveler—Drew—tells us about his Ecuadorian friends who owned a farm, and they also had guinea pigs in their barn!
Drew was pleasantly surprised to find the rather hygienic conditions under which guinea pigs are raised for their consumption! Because of their light diet, guinea pigs are surrounded by hay and alfalfa.
Travel and Learn
While we think of traveling as a fun activity, there’s so much more we can get from it! We discover historical places, unravel cultural insights, and even learn some of a new language!
Enhance your next trip by learning Spanish and being able to communicate with the locals! As your communication improves with them, you can learn more about their culture, history, and daily life activities!
Let us be a part of your upcoming trips! At Homeschool Spanish Academy, our native Spanish-speaking teachers are ready to give you entertaining lessons about this wonderful language and the diverse changes it has gone through as it has expanded across the world!
Learning Spanish is much more than just vocabulary or grammar! It’s about different cultures and historical events that have shaped it and its speakers. Sign up for a free class today and discover a whole new world! Our flexible programs are designed to help you achieve your goals!
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