Let me introduce the cuy (pronounced kwee). The cuy is the guinea pig that is indigenous to this part of the world. It is raised in the Andean countries of Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia. On an overnight stop in Puquio, Peru, on our motorcycle trip in 2010/11, we saw several pens teemng with the little furry critters just outside the hostel kitchen door.
In the US, we think of the guinea pig as being a cute little pet that is easy to take care of, soft and cuddley to hold, and an easy answer for the kids' request for a pet. In this part of the world, the cuy is thought of as food (tastes like rabbit or the dark meat of chicken)! For hundreds, if not thousands, of years the cuy has been an important source of protein to the locals. We have seen it being roasted on the street, on menus in many restaurants, and the main course on the table in paintings of the Last Supper in every major church we have visited in this part of South America. Cuy is supposedly appearing in markets and restaurants in the US and Europe as a delicacy.
Walking around in the large cities here it is easy to see the influx of American epicurean culture: McDonald's, Burger King, Dominoes, KFC, Pizza Hut, TGI Friday's, Papa John's, Subway, and Tony Roma's, to name several, are present here; many local imitators such as Bembo's (a Big Mac competitor) are also present. This brings us to Alfonso Arroyo de Bolognese.
About twenty-five years ago, Sr. Bolognese had a dream of starting his own restaurant chain to comptete with the gringo invaders. He was very adament about offering something with a local flavor to ward off the foreign tastes; he settled on cuy. The only problem: the cuy is quite small and does not afford a lot a lip-smacking flesh for the discerning diner. So he embarked on a very agressive breeding program to increase the size of the cuy in order to allow various cuts of the animal to be offered on the menu. By the time Sr. Bolognese opened his first restaurant three years ago, he had produced the "super cuy," about the size of a small pig, which is a source of ribs, ham, and bacon--cuy style.
His new chain, Cuy Lomo, has been attracting many tourists as well as local diners. He has three locations here in Lima and has plans to expand to Cuzco and Arequipa. He also has long range plans to serve the "super cuy" in Bogota, Quito, and La Paz. There are a few diplomatic hurdles to conquer as the neighboring countries are a little wary of what the "super cuy" will do to the small, mom and pop purveyors of cuy.
Stay tuned for future developments in this new and exciting "food fight."