From Lima to Cusco in Nine Meals, Part II

Some of the beautiful landscapes that we enjoyed on our way to Machu Picchu
Some of the beautiful landscapes that we enjoyed on our way to Machu Picchu

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.

Triple tea (cocoa, peppermint, and muña) to help cope with the altitude. There's always new things to try along the way to your destination.
Triple tea (cocoa, peppermint, and muña) to help cope with the altitude. There’s always new things to try along the way to your destination.

Arequipa

6) Adobo Hecho en La Casa (homemade spicy, pork stew)

Sunday Adobo
Sunday Adobo

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.

Para bajar
A shot of anís is purported to aid digestion after a large meal, a common occurrence in Peru

7) La Capitana, Traditional Lunch Spots

picanteria

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.

The walls of La Capitana is full with stories and history
The walls of La Capitana is full with stories and history

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.

Aguas Calientes

8) Feliz Indio, a Much-Needed Respite

indiofeliz
A pirate bar that combines French and Peruvian flavors, a welcome splash of creativity in a sea of bland food in Aguas Calientes

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!

felizindo
Ginger chicken (candied ginger with red wine)

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).

Cusco

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.

Lunch with a view of the characteristically red roofs of Cusco
Lunch with a view

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.

Lots of meat and fried foods in this feast of a lunch
Lots of meat, fried foods, and carbs in this feast of a lunch

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.

Inside my first Peruvian kitchen
Inside my first Peruvian kitchen

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

It's easy to forget just how big Peru is. So much to see, explore, and taste.
One of the things we learned was just how big Peru is, and we really only explored the Andean region and a tiny bit of the costal region.

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.

huatiaplate
Cooking potatoes in the “tierra” at Astrid y Gaston. A bit gimmicky but symbolic of how closely connected the Peruvian terrain and cuisine are.

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.

Cevicherias, Criolla cooking, and Picanterias are just some of the ways that regional cuisine keep alive in Peru
Cevicherias, Criolla cooking, and Picanterias are just some of the ways that regional cuisine keep alive in Peru

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.

Parting advice: leave nothing untasted
Parting advice: leave nothing untasted

6 Comments Add yours

  1. Lunch with a view, I would say. That is epic! What a fabulous backdrop to enjoy your meal from. Cusco looks pretty darned tasty!

  2. 3000 types of potatoes? I didn’t know there are so many different types of potatoes exist! Haha. I would love to try that triple tea – I wonder how it tastes.

  3. Love that you were able to try so many of the local flavors. Thousands of types of potatoes? I had no idea! Seems like an epic foodie tour could occur there!

  4. I appreciate all the details about food in this post and seeing pictures of the items you tried along the way. Tasting your way through a country is a fun way to get to understand its culture and resources. What did triple tea and alpaca taste like?

  5. Cindy ladage says:

    Love the pirate bar! Well researched story.

  6. Oh my, what a wonderful glimpse into Peruvian culture and history. The foods alone are delectable and I find the adobo to be quite interesting. And I didn’t know there were three thousand types of potatoes. I thought potatoes are potatoes, you know, I never even gave a thought to its varieties. That’s new knowledge for me.

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