This the second part of the two-part post about my first impressions of Peruvian food, as told through nine meals. First part can be found here: http://projectdinnerparty.com/from-lima-to-cusco-in-nine-meals/
After Lima, we hit the road and ventured to Nazca, Arequipa, Colca Canyon, Machu Picchu, Cusco, and the Sacred Valley. We got to explore the Andean region, one of three main types of terrains in Peru. Our route let us fit in as many ruins and natural wonders as possible in the short amount of time we had. Honestly, food was not the main goal of this trip, but nevertheless we were able to sample a lot of regional deliciaces along the way.
6) Adobo Hecho en La Casa (homemade spicy, pork stew)
It’s always nice to have a home-cooked meal, wherever you are on the road for an extended amount of time. We were fortunate to be invited to Ricardo’s, my Peruvian friend’s cousin’s, house for breakfast. It was Sunday so we feasted on Adobo, a traditional spicy, pork stew served every Sunday and Arequipean bread which is called as “tres puentes” (three points) bread after its distinct shape. It seems that Arequipa and Cusco both have their own versions of everything-bread, beer, and etc, fueling a friendly rivalry between the two cities.
We were also introduced the tradition of taking shots of anís liquor “para bajar,” to aid in digestion after a heavy meal.
7) La Capitana, Traditional Lunch Spots
With its white walls and proud heritage, Arequipa is a city that combines Peruvian culture with traditions of its own. There’s a long-running joke that Arequipa considers itself its own country, fueling the rivalry between Cuzco and Arequipa and also the rivalry between Lima and Arequipa.
Picantería, a local type of eatery, specialize in communal, late afternoon meals in a communal setting. The name comes from the word, “picante,” meaning spicy. Picanterías offer menus with small dishes consisting of salads, stews, and meat and beer, and a liqueur “para bajar” (letting a meal settle).
La Capitana is considered by locals to be one of the best picantería in town. We were lucky to be be able to get a table, especially with the large mining conference in town.
8) Feliz Indio, a Much-Needed Respite
Agua Calientes caters mostly to tourists on their way to Machu Picchu. The Peruvian food offerings are often lost in the many restaurants for pizza, buffets, ice cream, and imported beer. I understand the idea comfort food, but seeing cupcakes in a store in front of the line for buses to Machu Picchu was too much for me. You have to draw the line somewhere!
However, Indio Feliz, a pirate-themed pub serving a menu combining Peruvian and French food was a pleasant respite from the hectic, touristy vibe. The decor is amusing and draws you in. It feels exactly like the kind of bar that would be at the end of the world. The food is fulfilling and delightful, though a little on the pricey side (as are most of the restaurants in Aguas Calientes).
9) First Day in Cusco and A Glimpse of What Was to Come
The guidebooks tell you not to eat, walk, or drink too much on your first day in Cusco so that your body can get acclimated to the altitude. However, our eager hosts had other ideas. After dropping off our bags, we had a whirlwind tour of the Cusco Cathedral and other attractions included on the tourist ticket.
Then had a late lunch (based on the schedule we were used to back home, but it turns out that’s the customary time for lunch in Peru). We ate at a restaurant serving traditional Peruvian fare. In our excitement for finally having place that we would stay at for more than a night or two, we over-ordered.
It was my first taste of the Peruvian tradition of long and hearty lunches with family. We feasted on almost every type of meat from alpaca to trout to lamb. It was a break from the a la carte type of dining and small portions that we were used to as tourists. And of course, the meal had plenty of potatoes and rice. We enjoyed the company of new Peruvian family and the amazing view of Cusco.
After eating, knowing my interest in food, my Peruvian friend asked the owner for permission for me to see the kitchen. The kitchen set-up was more communal than the kitchen I’d seen in the US with centralized counter space with the cooks facing each other. I did not know at the time that this was a glimpse into my road into becoming an honorary Peruvian … That story soon …
What I Learned
One of the things that makes Peruvian food unique is how closely it is tied to the ingredients of the land and the sea. Peru is a model of biodiversity (there are an estimated 90 different microclimates) which provides access to a vast pantry of ingredients. There are over three thousands types of potatoes alone, each of which has its unique texture, taste, and use in the kitchen.
Peruvian food is far from a homogenous entity. Every region has its own signature dishes and rich culinary traditions. And for classic Peruvian dishes such as ceviche, there are an endless number of local variations from region to region, restaurant to restaurant, and house to house.
Since Peru is such a large country containing diverse types of terrain (mountains, desert, rivers, beaches, and jungle), it’s virtually impossible to see the whole country in one trip. And since the food is as diverse as the landscape, it’s equally impossible to try all of the different dishes in one trip.