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Looking for traditional food in Cusco, Peru? Try Cuy!
Cuy is a local specialty of the highland regions in South America, especially Ecuador and Peru. You can find it served in a variety of ways, often wood-fired or roasted, though people complain that it can be dry and a lot of work for such a small amount of meat. A friend tried it in a stew (pipian de cuy), which would mean it’s less dry but you also get less of the taste of the cuy itself and more of the stew ingredients. When I’ve talked to friends in both Peru and Ecuador, it’s not often on the top of their “must eat” lists, so it can a bit of a gringo thing to do, made popular by the likes of Anthony Bourdain or Andrew Zimmern.
If you’re not an adventurous eater, the presentation can be daunting as well – the cuy usually comes served whole, with head (including teeth!) and sometimes little claws in tact. I never got around to trying cuy in Ecuador so when we got a recommendation for a place to try it in Cusco, I knew I had to go for it and fortunately a couple of guys from my hostel were game to come along as well. Perfecto!
Cuy can also be a bit pricey, with restaurants in the tourist areas often charging 50-70 soles or so for a plate. You can sometimes find it cheaper on the streets outside of a mercado or at a pincanteria, but they will usually be smaller and very tough. In Quito, I’d seen a woman selling them on the street for only $5 for a half. In Cusco, we opted to go to a restaurant more popular with local families called Quinta Eulalia, where cuy chactado (deep fried guinea pig) with roasted potato and a rocoto relleno (stuffed spicy pepper) will set you back 45 soles.
The restaurant was just a short walk from Plaza de Armas on Calle Choquechaca. To find it, head in the direction of Sacsayhuman and look for the blue balconies on the right side of the street. The restaurant takes up two floors – the second floor surrounds a nice outdoor courtyard and the top floor is a bit more enclosed, which is good if the weather is colder! Quinta Eulalia has been in business more than half a century, and when we arrived around 2pm on a Sunday afternoon, the place was packed with locals. A trio of musicians made their way through the restaurant, giving things a festive feel. We waited about 15 minutes for a table to free up, watching the huge entree portions of lechon and roast lamb coming out of the kitchen – giving us time to decide on our ordering strategy.
It’s ALWAYS a good idea to eat with friends – if possible, I’d recommend splitting the cuy ilke we did. Despite the disconcerting smile and splayed out look of our poor little guinea pig (we named him Steve) we all enjoyed the flavor (not as gamey as I was expecting, similar to poultry) and juiciness of the meat, but agreed that the crisped up skin was really the star – it works best if you take a bit of the salty, crispy skin with each little portion of meat that you can pick out. We ordered a few other dishes so that we could all try a bit and for three entrees with a jug of chicha morada, our total bill came to 101 soles, so around $11 each. Not too shabby.
Although it wasn’t bad at all, I’m not sure that I’d go back for the cuy in particular since Peruvian food is just so delicious and there are so many things to try. Most families seemed to be feasting on the lechon, so I would probably try that the next time around.
Calle Choquechaca 384
Other places to try Cuy in Peru:
A few Peruvians recommended La Cusquenita for the “traditional experience” as they also have a live music and dance show with your meal. I’ve been told it’s not touristy, but it sounds like it to me… If you’ve been, feel free to leave your experience in the comments! If you have time and inclination, the best place to find traditionally prepared cuy is a town called Tipon, outside of Cusco. (Perhaps on my next visit I’ll make a side trip – it reminds me of our trip to Sangolqui from Quito in search of hornado!)
>> For more recommendations of things to do, see and eat in Peru, visit my Peru Destination Guide.
>> Read my guide on places to eat & drink in Cusco’s Centro Historico.
>> For photos from my time in Cusco, visit my Cusco Photo Gallery.