If you’ve been in Lima for a couple days, you’ve probably noticed menus with a curious word that’s likely unfamiliar to you: cuy. Cuy, or guinea pig, is a popular staple of the Peruvian diet: easy to breed and economical, they’re also protein-rich meats that taste like — you guessed it! Chicken!
Once used primarily for ceremonial meals, cuy is now as common as chicken. But it remains revered, too: Peruvians celebrate the second Friday of October as National Cuy Day, and at Cusco Cathedral, you can even see an 18th-century painting of the Last Supper depicting a cuy dish served at the table awaiting the arrival of Jesus and his twelve disciples.
Ready to try it? Cuy is traditionally cooked whole, with the head attached. Two popular ways to cook it are cuy al palo, where it is spit-roasted over a fire like chicken or suckling pig, or cuy chactado, where it is butterflied and then pan-fried. Cuy is often served with corn on the cob, and potatoes with salsa criolla, a Peruvian red onion relish.
Here are the places to try cuy when you’re visiting Lima.
These two restaurants serve cuy in a more traditional style:
La Tranquera BBQ
La Tranquera is an Argentinian-style grill nestled in the popular Miraflores quarter. It serves almost every type of barbecued meat you can imagine, including cuy. La Tranquera serves its cuy barbecued with the requisite potatoes on the side. Portions at this restaurant are generous, so make sure bring your appetite, or some friends!
Restaurante Las Tejas
Restaurante Las Tejas offers a variety of Peruvian dishes, including cuy, which you can order whole or in smaller portions. Las Tejas prepares cuy both ways, fried or roasted, served with potatoes and vegetables.
If you’re hungry and you order cuy, don’t bother with a knife and fork. The best way to eat it is with your hands. Because Lima is the region’s cuisine capital, chefs are also coming up with new ways to serve this ancient dish. Today, cuy is found on the menus of Lima’s top restaurants.
A couple of restaurants serve cuy with a contemporary twist:
Maido is the ideal place to try cuy for the first time, since chef Mitsuharu Tsumura and his team hold the 2017 Award for Best Restaurant in Latin America. Maido specializes in Nikkei cuisine (Peruvian-Japanese fusion), and currently offers Cuy-San, which is cuy fried in duck fat, served with cauliflower crème with garlic and rocoto chile sauce, rounded off with a delicious torikara-style glaze.
Chef Mitsuharu Tsumura continues to invent new dishes and updates them frequently on Maido’s tasting menu and house menu. Another cuy dish offered by Maido in the past and which is expected to be back on the menu, is Cuy Gyoza, a steamed and fried cuy dumpling served with ponzu sauce and Amazonian chiles.
Astrid & Gastón
Renowned chefs, the husband and wife team Gastón Acurio and Astrid Gutsche have won numerous awards since they opened their flagship restaurant over 20 years ago. Acurio recently won The Diner’s Club Lifetime Achievement Award, and the cuisine at Astrid & Gastón is proof of this.
This restaurant offers two cuy starters: Peking Cuy, served with a chifa salsa criolla and peanut hoisin sauce on purple corn pancakes, and Dim Sum Cuy, served in a beetroot bun with sour chifa vinaigrette and mushroom salsa criolla. Astrid & Gastón also offers a cuy main course, Crispy Cuy with Arracacha, which is crispy cuy served with arracacha and corn tamale, mashua cream, and slow-cooked beef with herbs.