Wednesday, March 18, 2009

From Peru with love: Cuy on China's Tables?


Peru has borrowed more from Chinese cuisine than has any other non-Asian nation. Peruvian-Chinese "chifas" (whose name derives from chi fan, or "eat [rice]" dot the Peruvian landscape more than chop suey parlors ever did the U.S. landscape. It's said that even non-Chinese restaurants in Peru have a variety of wonton soup as a standard menu offering, and lomo saltado, which amounts to Peru's national dish, is said to be of Chinese invention. It goes without saying that Peru would like to repay China for its culinary largesse beyond her greatest conbtribution to China's larders to date, the potato.

Enter the cuy. As the intriguing blog Double Handshake explains, the cuy, better know in the English-speaking world as the guinea pig, is a favored delicacy in Peru:

The animals, which reproduce extremely quickly, are full of protein and low in fat. Cuy, as it is called in Peru, can be fried, broiled, roasted or turned into soup. Peruvians eat about 65 million guinea pigs annually.

It seems that modern breeding methods have produced more guinea pigs than Peruvians can eat, and export options are currently limited. Why not, wonders the blog (which covers both China and Latin America) interest China in adopting a new taste treat? It convincingly lays out half a dozen good reasons why cuy would probably catch on, including a catchy slogan “It’s keyi to eat cuy!

To Double Handshake's list of reasons why it makes sense to export guinea pigs to China for human consumption, I would add another: precedent. A cuy, or guinea pig, after all, is just another rodent, albeit a cute one. A rat is a rat is a rat, and skinned and cooked (see the picture in the Double Handshake blog) a guinea pig looks remarkable like the end product in an earlier blog post of mine, Eating your way through the Chinese Zodiac. That gustatory delight started out as the uncute critter depicted below. I've yet to taste either, but perhaps another selling point for cuy might be the catch phrase "It tastes just like rat."

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

While I understand that eating Guinea Pigs is a necessity in Peru, it pains me to think that they could be introduced as food to the Chinese. Why not as pets instead? I own a guinea pig as a pet and he is the sweetest animal I have ever seen. I don't know how anyone who isn't starving could bear to eat one.

Anonymous said...

I just got back from Peru and I had Cuy, I wasn't starving and it was delicious. Just because it's common to have a Guinea Pig as a pet in the US doesn't mean that it's absurd for others to eat them unless their starving. Cows are sacred to Hindus so maybe you should stop eating beef. You need to get out more. Don't judge something based solely on your perception. The world is bigger than the US.

Anonymous said...

Is anyone who's bitten into steak, chicken breast or fish fillet starving? Then why should anyone treat someone dining on cuy as though they were destitute and starving? Every ancient society had to make do with what they had at the time, putting aside the introduction of foreign food sources via cultural and economic trade between these societies, whatever food source was chosen then still remains with the descendants of said societies. Heck, what's to stop Andean people from considering non-Andeans as starving for not having cuy as a food source?

Eugene said...

I'm an American married to a Peruvian living in China. I love cuy and would be ecstatic if I could order one off a menu here in China!!!

My wife's grandmother raised her own cuy (so she could feed them only the best) until she passed away, and they tasted amazing.

Incidentally, my wife and I run two small restaurants (www.snowymtncafe.com) for tourists here in the foothills of Tibet, and we serve a sampling of Peruvian dishes. I would add cuy to the menu tomorrow if we could find any!

Fabian T said...

Hi, do ypu knowk in wich city eat more Cuy??