Cultural Delicacies: Guinea pig

I had a guinea pig as a pet when I was in elementary school. His name was Guinea (I know, really original). He was brown with a little splash of white on his chest. He had a cute pink nose. He was kind of a nibbler (he would often bite me with his two sharp teeth), and whatever he put in his mouth came out the other end. I guess it comes as no surprise, then, that I had to change Guinea’s cage frequently. What I didn’t realize in his very short life was that he froze to death. I didn’t know it then, but I had put Guinea’s cage right under the air conditioner. He died of pneumonia, and I spent a whole afternoon in bed holding my dead guinea pig, feeling like I had wronged the poor thing. I had been a very irresponsible pet owner.

As is the case with other household pets (like fish, dog, and turtle), guinea pigs (or “cuy,” in Spanish) are cultural delicacies in some parts of the world. Although I couldn’t bear to order it last year in Ecuador, “cuy” is a pretty common item on traditional restaurant menus.


I am a vegetarian cook, so the thought of killing and roasting a small guinea pig sounds awfully unappetizing to me. Even more baffling to me is how anyone could find the little meat on a guinea pig worth eating or even the slightest bit delectable. According to Wikipedia, it tastes like rabbit or dark chicken meat.

“Cuy” can be fried, roasted, broiled, or served in soup. It is commonly found in the Andean highlands of Ecuador, Bolivia, and Peru, as indigenous tribes in the area would cook them for ceremonial purposes. Peruvians consume over 50 million guinea pigs a year. If that number doesn’t surprise you, then this fun fact will: the past two decades have seen a rise in guinea pig exporting from South America to the U.S., Europe, and even parts of Asia. To be certain, it has become more acceptable to eat guinea pig as a common meal. Some restaurants in New York City now serve “cuy asado” and hang them in the window like Peking duck in Chinatown.

I don’t think we have to worry yet about locking up our pet guinea pigs for fear of someone killing and eating them, but I know my little Guinea is rolling in his grave in pet heaven thinking about how his life could have ended.

Camel cheese – coming soon to a grocery near you

As any proper Bedouin will tell you, camels are an essential part of a nomadic desert existence. They provide a convenient method of transportation, require little water and can stand up to great extremes of temperature. We now also know that they provide the perfect compliment to your next cheese and cracker platter. I’m talking more specifically about camel cheese, the latest delicacy to make its way to grocery stores here in the U.S.

The camel cheese trend started in the African nation of Mauritania, site of the world’s first and, to the best of my knowledge, only camel dairy farm. Mauritanians consume camel milk as part of their everyday diet, but it was a local expat named Nancy Abeiderrahmane who first got the idea to turn the milk into cheese to preserve its shelf life. The idea was a hit, and Nancy has been producing camel cheese ever since.

The cheese made its debut in the New York City area this past month. Connoisseurs compare it favorably to goat cheese, citing its subtle “barnyard flavors” and the ability to spread it easily on bread or crackers. When it comes to food, nothing wins me over quicker than when I hear phrases like “barnyard flavors.” Pick up some now for your Final Four party this weekend!

[Via Buzzfeed]