Saturday, August 27, 2011

Traveling: Peru

I started this blog because I love to travel and experience new cuisines. Not having the vacation time or budget for nearly as much travel as I'd like to do, I decided that learning to cook food from different cultures was the next best thing. But last week, as a sort of last hurrah before I start grad school and get *really* busy, I headed off to Peru for a week of exploring! We spent about two days each in Lima, Cusco, and Machu Picchu, and all of it was amazing. We considered cooking in our hostel kitchens but decided we'd rather experience real Peruvian food cooked by Peruvians.

To answer the first question nearly everyone has asked me, YES we ate guinea pig (Cuy) and alpaca! Guinea pig has traditionally been a meal for special occasions (there's a version of the Last Supper in which the apostles are sitting down to a meal of cuy), but these days it seems to be primarily served to tourists. The first time we had it was in a fancy tapas bar (fancy enough that the fresh produce was safe). It was served as confit over a small pile of seasoned mashed potatoes in a cute little spoon. It was great - tasted almost like duck confit. The second (and last) time we had it was in a nearly-as-fancy (but much emptier) restaurant in Cusco, where it was served in full leg form, crusted in quinoa and fried. I thought it was vile. I managed maybe two bites before deciding that my soup had been enough lunch. Kenny ate a lot more, but I don't think he loved it either. We had alpaca twice, too, both times in Aguas Calientes (also called Machu Picchu city). The first time it was marinated and grilled on a skewer with peppers and onions. It was good, tasted a lot like beef. The second time (in a nicer establishment) it was wrapped in bacon and covered in chimichurri. It was good, tasted a lot like beef.

Mostly I'll let the pictures (after the jump) tell the story, but here are some highlights:

-Real, honest-to-goodness Peruvian chicken is amazing. It's served with a loose mayo sauce, a loose mustard sauce, and a loose green hot sauce. I liked combining these and dipping my chicken in that.
-Chicharrones (fried pork) are even better. We had a life-changing experience sandwich in Lima at a popular sandwich joint in Miraflores (if you're going, ask me for details. you cannot pass this up!) with chicharrones (recommended by the waiter), roasted sweet potato slices, pickled red onions, and a little mayo on a perfect french roll. I'm still dreaming about the flavors. Even the ghetto chicharrones we had in Cusco were great.
-If you're a salad junkie who can't have fresh vegetables for a week, any salad you can eat is going to look amazing. That said, the one we had in Cusco (twice) included crispy fried garlic slices, which I'd highly recommend.
-Pizza is BIG, especially in Cusco. Someone told us it was a Friday and Saturday tradition, but they seemed to always be open. We mostly tried to resist, except when our hunger and the pisco sours we were drinking made a pizza look too good to pass up.
-Pisco sours are good, especially when they're made with simple syrup instead of sugar.
-Our cab driver on the way in told us about tiraditos, which was supposedly like ceviche but with sashimi-like strips of fish. He may have said more, but it was 3AM and we were exhausted. In any case, we were surprised to order it and find it covered in [olive] cream sauce. It was great (as was the ceviche), but a little overwhelming. I'd recommend sharing this among several people.
-We tried to be pretty careful about street food (and were rewarded with not getting sick with food poisoning until we got back), but we had some amazing meat on a stick in a little town called Ollantaytambo between Machu Picchu and Cusco, and a bunch of fantastic cream-filled churros in Lima.
-Guys, I saw the Milky Way!! And more stars than I'd ever seen before! Out the window of a minivan between Ollantaytambo and Cusco on possibly our only clear night there.
-My very wise sister was not kidding about the need for dramamine on the roads of Latin America.
-Climbing mountains is hard work. We rewarded ourselves with delicious empanadas we bought in town and carried up with us.
-The hard work was totally worth it. Seriously. Sore muscles, fear of heights and all.
-Some of the most random, unexpected moments were the best. A park full of fountains with lights and music in Lima, hot churros when we were cold and tipsy, a personalized tour of the express bus system from a friendly Peruvian who spoke excellent English, bright green parakeets in the trees near Machu Picchu, a sky full of stars out the window of a minivan.

Pictures of food are after the jump. I'd really like to thank Jillian of I Should Log Off and my friends Kristin, Leo, and Elana for their excellent and helpful advice.

Our first taste of Peruvian food. A ham sandwich with pickled onions, sweet potato chips, and a tamale.

The Sandwich I'm still dreaming about. We're going to try to cook our own chicharrones just to have it again.

They brought us a lot of pisco sours. That may be why we liked the pizza so much.

Double-fisting churros in front of the Cathedral in Lima.

Yes, that's a chicken foot. No, we didn't ask for it. No, he didn't actually eat it.

Pollo ala brasa. The real thing.

This was the salad I dreamed about. The one we went back for the next night. I believe the guinea pig is behind the asparagus.

Our assorted tapas plate which included our first taste of duck prosciutto. Not as good as the regular stuff (regular duck or regular prosciutto).

Dessert. A strawberry smoothie, a pisco sour, chocolate mousse, and lucuma paste. Lucuma tasted to us like a bland combination of peanut butter and bananas, but it worked pretty well with the chocolate.

Quinoa-crusted guinea pig

An authentic serving of chicharrones. Sadly, the onions were not pickled. The yellow stuff is giant corn kernels.

The lady cooking the chicharrones, cutting potatoes at that moment.

We didn't eat those, but they were for sale.

This was against the rules, but we ate an empanada after climbing up to Machu Picchu. And it was amazing.

The lady grilling the delicious meat in Ollantaytambo

Our first taste of Peruvian ceviche, with giant corn kernels and mashed sweet potatoes.

Tiraditos. Not quite what we were expecting, but tasty.
The grill master at the Argentine steakhouse where we spent our last evening

Our accidental feast. We meant to have the steak on the left with the sides from the steak on the right, and the vegetables. I guess I wasn't as clear as I thought I was. The leftovers made a great breakfast on the plane, but this meal may have given us food poisoning.


  1. looks delicious. and i'm officially jealous.

  2. A necessary post script to this entry is that you got a parasite. I'm going to try really really hard not to gloat about not getting one in three weeks in Guatemala BUT I have to admit that the food I ate did not look nearly as delicious as all of this (alpaca and all). Parasite aside, I'm glad your trip was so wonderful!!