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February 01, 2008

Cuy

Dominic Armato

I can't remember the last time I added a new beast to the list of ones I've tried, but a visit to a great little Peruvian joint (about which I'll be posting shortly) afforded me just that opportunity.

What you see here, with apologies to anybody who cuddled one as a kid, is Cuy Frito, or fried guinea pig. I'm sure there are those who will squirm at the thought of consuming our furry little friends, but while guinea pigs have been treated as domesticated pets in the West since the 16th century, they've been raised as a food source in the Andes, to which they're native, for millenia. If you subscribe to the theory that any given type of animal should be universally treated as pet or meat but not both (I don't), this one's a losing argument if you're on the pet side of the aisle.

In any case, it's a very common dish in Peru, from which this particular little fella actually originated. Apparently fresh guinea pig of the eatin' variety is a little difficult to come by in these parts, so this one was frozen and shipped in from Peru. My take? Very reminiscent of quail, actually, but a little sweeter and less gamey. Though I enjoyed it, I'm not in a big hurry to have it again. But I'd also like to try some that hasn't seen the deep freeze before settling too strongly on that opinion.

More Peruvian treats shortly... the restaurant where I got this is a great little spot that I'm anxious to share.

Comments

wow! This looks a lot like what I had at this great restaurant in Lima (http://www.astridygaston.com/). It was wonderfully succulent, and actually tasted like super-tender pork. Loved the crispety crackly skin, which you seem to have gotten too. Apparently cuy is traditionally served whole (head, paws and all) -- I was glad I hadn't had it in the highlands.
Btw, I saw you on Facebook and turns out we have a friend in common: Kirsten T. I went to school(s) with her and John. Found your blog completely randomly before that, though!

Hey, small world!

Then I assume you've figured out she's the "faithful sous Kirsten" I mention in the Iron Chef posts :-)

Anyway, that looks WAY more upscale than anything I had while I was in Peru. Of course, it was a whirlwind tour of some non-touristy areas -- but I'll be getting to that later this week. There were some skin issues with mine, and I'm not sure whether to write them up to the chef or a lack of fresh product. In any case, I'm all over this if I ever get back to Peru.

I definitely recommend Astrid y Gaston ... they also have branches in Mexico and Chile, at least.

no, actually I didn't realize she was mentioned! I first found your blog when you were living in Chicago so I was vicariously enjoying Chicago eats (my parents live there; I'm in LA). The Iron Chef posts filled me with this "I'm-not-worthy" feeling so I'd just skim the photos. :P

"Cuy" was undoubtedly one of the culinary highlights of my Peru trip last summer. I loved my confit at the MAP Cafe (http://www.cuscorestaurants.com/mapcafe_eng.htm) so much, I tried it at another local joint a few days later. Unfortunately while the confit w/ peanut-panka tossed potatoes at MAP was tender w/ a subtle smoky flavor, my second cuy experience was nowhere as pleasant (tough and not worth the work). Preparation makes all the difference when it comes to cuy!

To second the Gaston Acurio recommendation - while I was not fortunate enough to try Astrid y Gaston, the Tacu Tacu Norteno at his cevicheria La Mar in Lima was to die for! Rumors are he's considering opening a La Mar in D.C. (he already has one in Mexico City) - maybe you'll get to try it out...

I'd LOVE to get back to Peru to do some more eating. There's a post about my Peru trip a few years ago and the aforementioned Peruvian place I've been meaning to get to for a couple of weeks now, but work has been a little crazy. Suffice it to say my first trip was just enough to absolutely tantalize me but not enough to actually get any serious eating done.

To that end, I checked out the Astrid y Gaston website. If Acurio gets a place open in D.C., I can only hope he does so before summer 2009, 'cause I'll jump all over that one.

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