Guinea Pig for the Last Supper
If I were having my last supper, I would probably ask for my favorite potato soup. My mom learned this special recipe from her Lithuanian friend, and it always warms and fills me up. Fried grasshoppers, without doubt the weirdest food I’ve eaten (read my How to Eat Fried Grasshoppers guide), would definitely not be on the menu.
But the Last Supper painting in the Cuzco Cathedral in Peru has something you would never guess. As well as Jesus and his disciples, the centerpiece of the meal is a chinchilla, an animal like a guinea pig.
Last Supper Painting, Cuzco Cathedral, photo courtesy of flickr creative commons: flickr.com/photos/mdu2boy/2360002476/
Guinea pigs were an incredibly important part of ancient Incan life. It was one of their staple foods. Marcos Zapata, a Quechuan (indigenous) artist, created this painting in 1753. He was educated at a Spanish art school, where they were only allowed to paint things related to Christianity or Europe, and were not permitted to sign their works. Nonetheless, he and other artists like him still found ways to slip Incan icons into their paintings.
As well as the guinea pig, the purple drink that the disciples have is not wine. Instead, it is a traditional Peruvian drink, chicha, which is made from maize. Judas (with darker skin on the bottom right looking at you) also resembles the conquistador Francisco Pizarro, who killed the Inca king. The Quechua did not like Pizarro one bit, and that’s why Zapata made Judas, who betrayed Jesus, look like him.
Whole sections of Inca cities were devoted to guinea pig raisers. The ruins of Pisac were such a place. As well as sections for farmers and priests, a third of the village was for raising guinea pigs.
When we went to the market in the modern town of Pisac, we saw a multi-story guinea pig house built into a corner of a courtyard. Several of these pre-meal pets jumped up to smell my hand.
Guinea pig, or cuy in the Quechuan language, was the meat of the common Inca people. It was (and still is) a great food for them. Guinea pigs are simple to manage and multiply fast. They would have been easy to raise high in the mountains. Some families out in the Andean highlands still raise these animals on vegetable scraps. Although the Incas also had llamas and alpacas, these were pack animals and only the royalty got to eat those meats.
If you ever have the chance to try cuy in Peru, you definitely should. It’s a traditional delicacy with a very rich history. And, to be honest, it tastes like chicken!
Anders Bruihler is a member of the Youth Travel Blogging Mentorship Program
All photos courtesy and copyright Anders Bruihler