Advertisement
YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

FORKLORE

Guinea Pig: The Other Other White Meat

April 21, 1999|CHARLES PERRY

Guinea pigs are charming, docile little creatures known to us as children's pets and laboratory test animals. They're rodents, closely related to the porcupine and the chinchilla.

They were domesticated in Peru 3,000 to 6,000 years ago. In Spanish, they're called cuy (pronounced coo-ee), a name that comes from the Inca language (in which it is spelled qowi but also pronounced pretty much coo-ee, for reasons you don't want to hear about).

So why are these South American rodents named after the pig and a region of West Africa? The "guinea" part of their name arose because in the 17th century, when guinea pigs first became known in England, the Guinea coast of Africa was a proverbially remote place that unfamiliar things were supposed to come from--such as the large Mexican bird that the English called the guinea fowl until they started calling it the turkey. (Another bird has since become known as the guinea fowl, and it has nothing to do with Guinea either.)

The "pig" part of the name probably came about because guinea pigs were raised for food in Peru. They ran around in people's houses and were fed on vegetable scraps from the kitchen--which is pretty much how pigs were raised in Europe, except that pigs didn't usually have the run of the house.

This column does not advocate eating guinea pigs, particularly if some young person has named them Fuzzy or Mr. Buggles, but if you're curious, they are said to have a mild flavor much like rabbit. In Peru, common guinea pig recipes include cuy a la criolla (fried and garnished with fried onions, chiles and peanuts) and picante de cuy (poached, breaded and deep-fried, served with fried potatoes and hot sauce).

Advertisement
Los Angeles Times Articles
|
|
|