I had a sneak preview of Cui (guinea pig) in Ecuador. It was grilled on a stick by a street vendor, as I had seen in so many pictures, but when I ordered it, it was taken inside, whacked a bunch of times with a cleaver and served as bony meat on a bed of white rice. If not for the minuscule claw, it could have been chicken. …and how did it taste you ask? Well, to be honest, very chewy and somewhere between a bony, overcooked chicken and an bony, overcooked rabbit with very little seasoning and not much meat.
‘K, so my first impression of cui was a bit of a disappointment but I’d been warned that it had to be cooked properly so I knew I had to give it another try. …and after all it’s a Peruvian specialty, not an Ecuadorian one, so hopefully better impressions to come.
While inquiring about the specialties of Cajamarca (pesos (cow brain) which I never saw, potatoes which I saw lots, and cui (guinea pig)) I also found out that Cajabamba is the cui capital of the world, and only lies a few hours away. …and they know it too. Starting about 10 miles outside of Cajabamba, there were signs for “Cajabamba, the best cui in the world” and “Cajabamba, the cui capital of the world” and “Cajabamba, the origin of cui”and…
I timed it perfectly and pulled into Cajabamba, hungry at 12:30pm, just in time for lunch. I drove around the city inquiring numerous times for the best place to try cui, but the locals looked at me as nuts, and would point me to the closest restaurant, …like everyone serves cui. The first two I approached didn’t have cui on the menu. The third did, so I parked in front, and ordered it.
This time it came in a green sauce with white rice of course. It wasn’t whole on a stick, or chopped to pieces with a meat cleaver, it was in two big chunks, but when I cut into it for my first bite, it appeared as stringy red meat, and nothing like what it looked like in Ecuador. Hmmm, curious, time to try. …urr this taste like red meat. The next cut revealed a huge bone, like a part of a hip bone, WAY too big for any guinea pig, so I asked the owner if this was cui. Her non-apologetic response was… “No, of course not, we’re out of cui, so you got the goat instead”. ‘k, that made a lot more sense and oh well, I can’t really complain, the goat was very good (though super bony) and probably better than any cui, and with my 20oz beer cost less than 3 dollars. Still being in the cui capital of the world, I kinda had my heart set on it. Oh well.
After my second disappointing cui experience I debated on staying the night just to claim having eaten cui in Cajabamba, but after a quick walk through the market where I didn’t see any cui in the meat stalls, I opted to continue to Otuzco.
½ an hour out of town I came across a family packing live guinea pigs in bags, on their way to the market of Huamachuco so I stopped and talked them into letting me take some pics. Another friendly guy stopped, joined in the pics and also asked if I was going to Huamachuco. I wasn’t planning on it but seeing how both were so enthusiastic about the place, I say “yes”.
As I drove through Huamachuco I saw a huge colorful market. Something I haven’t seen this bustling since Guatemala and wanted to stop but feeling apprehensive about parking my loaded bike on the street, in such a busy section, I kept riding instead. I was questioning my decision when I see huge grey clouds up ahead, only ten minutes out of town. There was no doubt I was about to ride into a giant thunderstorm and having enjoyed a rare sunny day so far, I turned back and opted to spend the night in Huamachuco after all. I found a great hostal right way and just in time as it started downpoaring just as I checked in. I waited for the rain to stop before heading to the market. People were starting to shut down but one of the first things I noticed was that the closed stalls left all there stuff there for the taking, just covered up for the evening. Wow, I’ve never seen so much trust. And the people were super friendly. Typically these giant outdoor markets are known for pick-pocketers and purse snatchers and a place to keep on alert but it appears not to be the case here. I still felt guilty about flashing my big camera but no one seemed to mind and lots of peeps wanted their pictures taken. YES!
This was a real market too with everything from cui’s to sheep’s heads to cows brains, and I hate to say it, even baby shark fins.
As I’m walking back to the hostal, a street vendor, in front of a restaurant, tries to sell me chicken livers on a stick. I’m thinking chicken livers on a stick? That’s so last week, I’m looking for cui. I tell her no thanks but ask if there’s a place to get cui. She says, oh yes, I can cook you cui right here. She tells me to take a seat in the restaurant, orders one of her daughters to man (or woman) the grill outside and sends the other daughter an errand (I’m guessing to go buy cui). I’m chatting with the husband as he tells me cui needs to be cooked right. Not many people do it well he says but when done properly it’s delicious, and my wife cook’s one of the best. The plate comes and it’s a quarter of a cui, deep fried and well seasoned. This time around it’s a much better experience and taste closer to a properly cooked rabbit but with a chewy skin, even when deep fried, and not much meat. Worth the experience but nothing to write home about (just worth blogging).