Cuy is one of the shop’s many items from South and Central America.
Earlier this week I took my pal Don Magee and his buddy on a multicultural tour of Roosevelt Avenue. The plan was to start out at Tortas Neza and work our way through South and Central America to Tibet. When I got to 111th and Roosevelt my fellow fearless fressers were there but the Tortas Neza truck was nowhere in sight. To make up for it, I added in a visit to Los Paisanos. I had forgotten how amazing the Jackson Heights market devoted to products from the various “paisas” in Latin America is. Mexican hot chocolate, Peruvian hot peppers, and many, many other things are featured in the display window. Most intriguing of all was a hand-written pink sign that read, “TENEMOS CUY.” (more…)
The first time I tried the Andean delicacy cuy was in a Peruvian joint in the Bronx called Chim Pum Callao. The owners were clearly proud of their product. They had the waiter show us the guinea pig—frozen, butterflied, and flat as a board—in a package emblazoned with the Peruvian flag. What came out of the kitchen was nothing to be proud of though. Little had been done to the critter other than deep frying. What meat there was dry, stringy, and devoid of flavor. Eventually I tried it roasted on a rotisserie at El Pequeño Coffee Shop in Jackson Heights. It was pretty good, almost like a cross between pork and rabbit.
Years later I would see little old Ecuadorean ladies in Flushing-Meadows Corona Park slow spit roasting cuy over charcoal fires. It looked absolutely delicious, like a miniature suckling pig. Once while walking home through the park I encountered a New York Times reporter who did a video interview with me about the delicacy. So when Nathan Vickers, a student at Columbia Journalism School, contacted me to talk cuy and then invited me to eat roast guinea pig at the home of an Ecuadorean family in Corona I jumped at the chance. We hung out with the family and listened to tales of guinea pig smuggling while they slowly roasted the cuy. It had spent the better part of a day in a garlicky marinade so the aroma coming off it as it cooked was incredible. And the end result was truly delicious. It’s experiences like that day that make me glad to live in Queens, one of the most culturally diverse places on the planet.