Chef David Guerrero of Andes Café has worked for months to bring a South American delicacy to Houston, and it’s finally here. It’s called cuy, or guinea pig. When he invited us to come in and try it, we were skeptical (and maybe even a little squeamish) but full enough of curiosity to take the bait. It turns out that cuy is delicious and really not at all scary. Andes does a beautiful job of preparing and serving the little critter.
For those of us who think of guinea pigs as pets, not food animals, eating them sounds shocking. To put it into perspective, though, rabbit — another cute, furry, free-ranging animal that is sometimes also kept as a pet — is commonly served in many fine restaurants and that's not considered weird. Rabbits and guinea pigs are somewhat similar. At one time, both were scientifically classified as rodents, but eventually rabbits were moved to a different order called lagomorphs.
People in the Andean regions of Peru, Colombia and Guerrero’s home country of Ecuador have raised cuy as a food source for centuries. At one time, it was so highly valued as to be used only for ceremonial meals, but in the 1960s, it became mainstream and part of the regular diet. It is commonly roasted on spits or deep-fried. Andes Café uses the latter method.
In the Andes region, cuy is normally served whole, with head, claws and everything. Guerrero understands that won’t necessarily fly with Houston diners, so he serves his cleaned and quartered. The plating is surprisingly beautiful. The cuy rests alongside corn on the cob, roasted fingerling potatoes, pickled onion and mounds of those addictive roasted and puffed corn kernels called cancha.
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Special effort is made to roast the skin so it becomes crunchy. There’s only a thin layer of fat, but otherwise the flavor is very similar to that of pork skin. The meat itself tastes like a cross between pork and rabbit.
Don’t bother with utensils. You’ll need to pick up the cuy and eat it like a chicken wing in order to get all the meat, especially the most flavorful parts near the ribs. Shreds of the meat are even tastier dipped in either the mild aji amarillo or spicier rocoto chile sauces provided.
Ready to try cuy? Plan ahead, because it requires a 24-hour notice. The big platter of cuy, corn, potatoes and cancha costs $60. There is plenty of food to feed two or three people and if other things are ordered, four people could each have one quarter of cuy, just to try it. If you’re not particularly squeamish and are a pretty down-to-earth meat eater, cuy is a Houston food adventure not to be missed.