Guinea Pig Ice Cream in Ecuador. Seriously. It’s made with Guinea Pig.
Guinea pig ice cream is real and it’s available in Ecuador.
I have a Google Alert on the words “Ecuador food”, so I get an email whenever these words are published in a news article. One day my inbox was flooded with articles about guinea pig ice cream. Of course, I absolutely had to try it.
With only “on Ruminahui highway between bridge 5 and 6” for my directions, I ventured out to find the ice cream parlour. I decided to go via the bus system – which seems to be unorganized and unreliable in Ecuador, at least for a newbie to the country.
After 2 and a half hours I reached the bus stop that I had somewhat randomly decided had the most potential to be close to a guinea pig ice cream shop. It did not looking promising, but then I spied a tiny little sign with a picture of a guinea pig holding an ice cream. It pointed me down the highway, telling me I was only 100 metres away. Thank you little guinea pig.
After a short walk, I reached a complex with another sign telling me that I was in the right place. Without the sign, I would have thought I was at some sort of dental office complex. It was confusing, very bizarre, and even a little eerie. Nonetheless, I had made this long journey and I wasn’t going home without some rodent dessert. I passed a cardboard cut out of a guinea pig with its arm around a cowboy character. Instead of a face there was just a hole, waiting for someone who was feeling a bit more pumped about the whole situation to put their head in for a quirky photo.
I went to the only building that had forms of life at it. There were a group of people sitting at an outdoor table eating lunch. They all stopped and watched me. I hesitated, but a welcoming smile got up and met me. This was Maria, the genius(?) behind guinea pig ice cream. I recognized her from a photo I had seen in an article I had read. She knew what I wanted and quickly ushered me to a giant empty table.
She left and came back with a scoop of ice cream sitting atop a cone. I took it, and she quickly sat down far enough away to not be noticed but her eyes remained on me as I considered the treat. I had to eat it. I WANTED to eat it. But still my stomach twisted as I took my first lick.
It was… fine. It tasted like fruit. I made sure to smile and nod, for the inventor’s benefit.
After the company she had worked for went under, Maria decided to take a business course. She was encouraged to come up with a new idea that she could market. While other people were probably focused on dog walking apps or something, Maria’s idea was simple: guinea pig + ice cream = guinea pig ice cream. Brilliant.
It took her a whole 6 months to get the recipe right. Her husband thought she was nuts and probably considered drowning her in a vat of milk. But it turns out Maria is a mad genius. Her idea quickly became a hit. The newspapers picked it up, the news stations came by to shoot a segment. Cars started rolling into the old dental office, and instead of looking for a teeth cleaning, they were looking for something to rot their pretty little chompers.
To make guinea pig ice cream, you simply boil a guinea pig (minus the head and fur) until it’s incredibly soft. Maria says 2 hours. It is then blended with some of that rich guinea pig water until it’s pretty much a pate. She then mixes in the cream and some fruit, then freezes it.
On top of the ice cream are some peanut bits. It reminds me that in Ecuador they traditionally serve guinea pig in a peanut sauce. Ecuador, and neighbouring Peru, have been eating guinea pig for a long time. The animal started out as food over 4000 years ago. Long before pigs existed in South America, the indigenous people used guinea pigs as a much needed source of protein. Today, it’s not on every menu, but it’s eaten on special occasions by both the indigenous and the colonial Ecuadorians.
I take another lick and notice a texture. It’s a bit of fat that apparently didn’t get rendered out. I chew it and ultimately swallow it. I find a few more of these, the only reminder really that I’m eating guinea pig.
After I finish my cone, Maria offers me a taste of another kind of ice cream she’s created. I take the spoon and she holds out a small beetle to show me what I’m getting into. My first taste of both beetle and guinea pig all within the same half hour! What a day for me!
I have a peak in her freezer and see the container labelled “cuy con pina” – guinea pig with pineapple. I ask her if she has any guinea pigs here, hoping to get a look at some live ones so I can tell them they make a better meal than a pet. She goes to the freezer and pulls out a frozen one. It looks shocked that it’s about to become, of all things, a dessert.
It’s time for me to go. I pay my $1 for the cone and head to the bus stop to ride the bumpy bus home with a mix of cream and guinea pig paste in my belly.
On the ride back I think about how silly the whole situation was. I just went to an abandoned dental plaza on the side of a highway to eat some ice cream made out of rodent. Was this just some crazy lady who decided to mix meat and cream? Is that even safe to eat? Who’s checking up on this?
As I write this, it’s been a day and I feel pretty good about the whole situation. I can’t say that I’ll be going back to guinea pig-out on the stuff, but it’s a story that I’ll be able to tell whenever I meet a guinea pig pet owner. Now that I think about it, who’s crazier: the lady that is turning them into ice cream and making a profit, or the people who have them as pets and spend their hard-earned money on taking care of the ugly little bastards? I’ve decided when it comes to guinea pigs, it’s better to pate one then to pet one.