Category Archives: peru

the drink

I’ve been woefully deficient in my drink reporting during this trip. So here we go on some of the more intriguing and tasty and odd drinks we came across on our travels.

First up is Paraguay with mosto – sugar cane juice. It doesn’t look that great, but man does it taste good. I guess it’s kind of like brown sugar in water (that’s more or less what it is), but it’s so good, with an indescribable quality to it. We could find it easily in Cuidad del Este, but it was harder to find elsewhere.

Bolivia was next, giving us the apple and quinoa drink seen here. It’s really thick and really tasty. Usually served in the morning piping hot, it’s breakfast for some here. I’ll post a recipe for this after this drink post (it’s going to be long enough).

With Bolivia came coca (chewed everywhere here conspicuously and a bit more on the sly in the mountains of Peru) and from that, coca tea. You can just add hot water to coca leaves if you want (I also put a little sugar in) or use packets that are sold everywhere. In fact, in Peru, after every meal three kinds of tea are offered (in a home and on my hike) – anise, coca, or XXXX. With no sugar, it’s a wee bit bitter, but it definitely gives one a bit of a rise. One of the women I hiked with loved putting some in her thermos in the morning and having well-brewed coca tea for her elevenses.

Bolivia also gave us a thick, red drink (also hot – everything in Bolivia is hot, due to the fact that it always seems cold here…) called apí, made from corn and cloves and cinnamon. Seems like a perfect winter (or mountain!) drink.

Into Peru, we had pisco sours here and there – the official national drink. Pisco is made from grapes and is fairly strong. It’s like brandy, in its own way. The drinks are made with lemon juice, bitters, syrup, and egg whites frothed up on top.

Peru also brought us into contact with the radioactive-looking Inca Kola, which outsells Coca Cola in the country. It tastes like bubble gum and is fairly sweet, but for many Peruvians who have left their motherland, it is a symbol of what home has in store for them. You could buy it heavily marked-up in Buenos Aires in the Peruvian restaurant alongside the cheaper, locally-made (?) bright yellow sodas.

I also tasted the drink that has garnered the most comments in our photo album – essence of frog. Yup, I ate frog. Or rather, drank it. It all starts with a live frog taken out of an aquarium right on the cart. It’s killed, skinned, and blended in some water, then poured through a sieve. Other ingredients are added – beet and carrot juice, half a banana, quail egg, water, honey, carob extract, maca (a powdered root), and love – presumably to take away the frog taste.

How did it taste? Christine took one sip and pronounced it to be like juice made with swamp water. I say it tasted like sinister fruit juice – familiar flavours with something lurking in the background that you just can’t place. I thought it was worth the experience, even though it may have been the catalyst that made me violently ill that night. On a bus. Bad place for that, by the way.

Rounding out the trip were warm drinks again, this time from Colombia. In Bogotá, the hot chocolate is well-known, as it is served with cheese that is supposed to be put in the chocolate. I had been anticipating this chocolate since I had first heard of it in Ecuador, though I was a little disappointed when I actually tried it. I had imagined a delicate blend of flavours, but when I tried it (and it was a nice place, though who knows…) the cheese didn’t mix that well and just sank to the bottom. Looked pretty, but disappointing on the delivery. Too bad.

The coffee, however, was definitely up to snuff. First of all, you could get flavoured instant coffees in the stores – Irish cream, coconut, and a few others. They weren’t bad.

The real treat was the tinto as it was called – coffee drunk on the streets. People walked around with big thermoses and tiny cups selling hot, sweet coffee to anyone who would buy all over the country, even on the beach up north. It didn’t taste different as Sumatran or Vietnamese coffee did when I first tried them as Colombian coffee is what is drunk back home, or was when I was growing up, but it was still really good.

Last and certainly not least, we tried every type of beer that we could find on our journey – I’d say we tried around 50 or so. We found a few gems, but I have to say the quality overall dropped once we left Argentina. Even their base beer, Quilmes, was a step above most other beers on the continent, and some of their regional lagers were terrific. If you’re interested in taking a peek, you can see them in South American Drinks along with all of the other things we used to quench our thirst on this continent.

Advertisements

sweets and snacks

What food trip involving Christine could miss out on sweets and treats? In fact the first picture is a dessert from her Spanish/gourmet time with her Peruvian host family. It’s half rice with milk and spices – sort of a creamy rice pudding – and half mazamora. Mazamora is a pudding-like substance made with purple corn (is there anything it can’t do?). It can be different consistencies, depending on what you do with it. I’ve had it as a pudding and also as a jello-like bowl of lavender. They call it clasico because the colours of the two biggest futból clubs in Peru are purple and white – hence, the Classic.

We found candied coconut while walking through the market in Ayacucho. I don’t know the exact process, but it was delicately carmelized and a perfect snack.

On the empanada front (sort of), we found something called empanadas de Semana Santa (Holy Week empanadas) in a few bakeries, which didn’t really resemble empanadas so much as Pop Tarts. There was nothing inside, they were simply baked biscuit-like objects with a chocolate spread on the top. Mediocre.

I’ll finish the sweets with a mystery drink and snack we found in the north of Peru. The drink is called champu and is actually made with corn. It’s sweet and thick and pretty tasty. It’s usually found sold with fried cheesy pastries which are also tasty. There weren’t a lot of special sweet things in Peru, but that made ones we did find that much better.

Not all snacks were sweet, however. I came to LOVE the toasted corn available in every market and often served as a side or appetizer in restaurants. Salty, crunchy, and, if they’re freshly-made, containing a hint of warmth. As we headed north, they were sometimes joined by fried plantains, which I also came to love very, very much.

Lastly, though not entirely odd, are street-side quail eggs. We only saw these in the north of Peru, but they were pretty popular. And tasty! A bag was only a couple of pesos, and, lightly salted, they made a perfect late-afternoon snack.

The only problem with all of these delicious snacks were that they were available between the enormous meals we were always eating. Tragically, this left us with very little stomach rooms for delicious snacks. Travesty!

not so much meat

There is a lot of meat in the Andes. I mean A LOT. Almost every dish has some meat in it. I would guess that being vegetarian might get repetitive if one is forced to choose off of a typical menu. That said, there are some good non-meat dishes to be found.

First off, a delicious creamy quinoa soup. I’d been looking for one of these and I’m glad we found one. Potatoes, greens, quinoa, pepper – a great way to fill a belly and warm up on a chilly Andean afternoon.

Being the birthplace of potatoes, these tubers feature highly in both meat and non-meat dishes. Two of my favourite dishes are centered around potatoes. I’ve already talked about one – papas rellenas, or stuffed potatoes. I want to include another picture here just to show how very ubiquitous they are. These potatoes were bought on the street for our lunch one day and cost us about 50 cents. And they were delicious.

The other dish is papas huancainas. There isn’t really a translation for this dish (Huancayan potatoes?), that’s just their name. We were pretty close to Huancaya in the south (it’s up in the mountains near Ayacucho), so we had them as close as could to their origin. Another creamy sauce made with the yellow ají pepper covering potatoes, it’s simple and usually served as an appetizer.

Stuffed avocados were a delicious surprise that we may continue to make. Really, all it is is chicken salad (or shrimp salad on the coast, yum yum) on half of a peeled, slightly underripe avocado (a very ripe one would be too soft and gooey). Another great appetizer or light lunch.

Lastly, the simple Peruvian breakfast we found at a market in Ayacucho was meat-free. Carb-heavy for a long day, it was filling and hot and definitely different – rice, fries, and an egg. While we ate, we talked with the other people around the table about how breakfast is different in North America. Buy food, get culture. That’s what we’re here to do!

straight up meat

Now, to start off, most of these dishes can be found throughout the country. We tried many of them in the south, but that’s because we arrived there first. That said, many towns and cities have their specialty – when we asked our Peruvian grocers in Buenos Aires what we should try and where, they simply told us to ask in every town what the special dish was and order it. Fair enough. And so, without further ado, dishes that are centered around meat.

I ordered cau cau once and found out it’s roughly equivalent to mondongo in Argentina – stomach meat. Rubbery, spongy, and chewy. I think this upset my stomach later in the day. Apparently Peru was rather rough on my tummy. It wasn’t bad, but I don’t think I’ll order it again. What we do for research…

Chicharrón means deep-fried meat. Usually, chicharrones are made from pork, but I also saw them made with fish and beef. No chicken, to my memory. They weren’t the healthiest thing to order, nor the most complex, but I liked them. People sometimes ate them for breakfast – I did once. In this picture, they’re served with qapchi, a cream sauce made with huacatay (a green-tasting herb from Peru), cheese, milk, crackers, and spices.

Puca picante was supposed to be the specialty of Ayacucho, the medium-sized town we spent a day in between Cuzco and the north, but I have to say it was a little bland and disappointing. It looks great with all that redness, but nothing comes of it. Picante usually means not, but in Peru I believe it also means cooked in a thick sauce or something like that.

Rocoto relleno, or stuffed pepper, while being a vegetable, is completely stuffed with meat, so I’m putting it in here. The slightly spicy local ají amarillos (yellow peppers – not capsicums, these are a Peruvian item) are de-seeded and stuffed with a mixture of ground beef, egg, onions, garlic, raisins, carrots, peas, potatoes, and sometimes other items as well. They are then blanched a few times to soften their texture and their spice, then baked with a bit of cheese or soufflé on top. Two can be an entire meal. (The peppers are in the back – in the front are two kinds of cooked & friend potatoes. Two kinds of potatoes at lunch! I love Peru!)

Ají de gallina has long been a favourite of ours ever since we discovered it at our favourite Peruvian restaurant in Buenos Aires. Literally coming out to something like ‘sauce of hen’, it’s pulled chicken in a delicious sauce of milk, crackers, cheese, and hot peppers. I’m including a recipe below that Christine got from her host family in Cuzco. It’s one of our favourite dishes and surprisingly simple.

Seco de cordero follows closely on the heels of ají de gallina as a favourite. Stewed goat is probably the best translation. Usually done in a beer sauce, this dish can be heavenly when done right; that is, when a good sauce is made and the goat stewed until it’s almost falling off the bone. I had a very simple, very delectable version of this at Pachapapa in Cuzco – possibly the best I’ve ever had, actually. Goes to show you don’t need to have a lot to make a dish fantastic. That said, it’s often served with beans, rice, and an onion salad, as shown here, which I don’t mind one bit.

My last Peruvian dinner was a simple fish in sauce, but it reflected so much of what I love about the food here. It doesn’t have to be complicated to be tasty – a good sauce, a side of rice and beans, a too-small glass of chicha morada. So yay Peru! It’s no wonder Peruvian is starting to be seen as the new hot cuisine.

Ají de Gallina

Part A: 2 somewhat spicy yellow peppers, medium size

5-6 cloves garlic

1 tbsp cumin

dash of water

1 onion, thinly sliced
Part B: soda crackers (1 package)

1/2 c peanuts

1/2 wheel cheese (8″ across) – we used 200 g of cheese and it seemed good.

1 can milk (1.5 c while blending, add more as needed to keep it liquidy)
Part C: 2 entire chicken breasts

1 c peas

Part D: boiled eggs

lettuce

black olives
1. Blend part A together, then cook mix together with onions for about 15 minutes.

2. Blend B well (while A is cooking), keeping it to a medium thickness. Add to A, cook for 10 minutes, stirring constantly. Boil the chicken separately until cooked.

3. Take mix off of heat. Pull chicken into tiny strips, add chicken and peas to mix.

4. Garnish with D over boiled potatoes.

drink what the incas drink

Well, I not all of these were enjoyed by the Incas and their predecessors, but you get the idea.

Two beverages that cannot be missed while in Peru are Inca Kola and the pisco sour. The first is a bubble-gum sweet, radioactive-yellow tinted pop sold everywhere. It is very popular, outselling Coca Cola by…I’m not sure. A lot. I liked it a lot and drank it when I could. No caffeine!

The pisco sour is the signature alcoholic drink of Peru. Pisco is rather like grappa, the Italian liquor made from grapes. Kind of like a Peruvian grape brandy, I’ve heard it described. It’s also made in Chile, but the Peruvians are fiercely protective of it, citing national pride. There’s a lot of that down here. Either way, it’s a pretty strong, pretty tasty drink that, again, you can buy in every bar in Peru. It’s topped with beaten egg whites.

Other drinks reach further back. Chicha is an old, old drink made from corn. The alcoholic version was made by communally chewing corn (that’s right, sharing spit), then letting the remains sit and ferment until you had booze. We tried some, and though it wasn’t too alcoholic-tasting, it was definitely fermented. I rather enjoyed it. You can buy chicha in almost every town in Peru, you just have to keep an eye out for a pink/red flag (most commonly a plastic bag tied to a stick) hung outside of a home. That means CHICHA HERE.

Even better was chicha morada, a non-alcoholic drink made from purple corn. This was probably our favourite drink, consumed at every possible opportunity. Of course, it was best when homemade, but you could buy it in a two-litre bottle as well. It was often made with bits of pineapple or apple in it, giving it a slight fruity taste. Oh, man, I’m drooling just thinking about it! You can find a recipe from Cocinando con Carmen at the end.

Coca tea is another ancient drink, one often used to help with altitude sickness. It’s much weaker than chewing the coca leaves themselves, but still delivers some of the benefits. After every meal, this is one of the options you receive – the other two are anise tea and chamomile. I enjoyed my coca tea with a touch of sugar.

I don’t know if the Incas drank quinoa juice, but lots of people do now. It’s a popular breakfast food/drink, as a matter of fact. Hot, filling, and tasty, it’s usually sold on the street. A quick recipe for it from Cocinando con Carmen can be found at the end of the article.

Lastly, the drink that’s wrinkled the most noses – essence of frog. I tried this in a market in southern Peru, where the guy selling it to me told us that 10-15 people come by every day to get their healthy frog juice. He was one of many, many sellers in town. It’s not just frog, there’s also carob extract, half of a banana, carrot and beet juice, a raw quail egg, water, honey, and maca (a kind of powdered root). It didn’t taste too bad, kind of sinister juice. Chris likened it to juice made with pond water. I don’t know if there’s a direct connection, but I was rather ill that night. We’ll never know. Oh, and just so it’s clear, the frog was alive right before I ordered the drink – it’s killed and skinned on the spot.

Mmmm, thirst-quenchers.

Chicha Morada

3 L water
1/2 kg purple corn
1 tsp whole cloves
2 cinnamon sticks
1 pineapple
Brown sugar and lemon juice to taste

1. Cook the purple corn, cloves, cinnamon, and pineapple skin in the water for 10-15 minutes.

2. Strain and let cool. Add the sugar and lemon juice if you wish, then add the pineapple, chopped into small cubes. Cubed apple can also be added.

Quinoa juice with apple

1/2 c cleaned quinoa
1/2 kg apples, cut into quarters
2 cinnamon sticks
1/2 tbsp cloves
sugar to taste
1/2 c brown sugar for colour

1. Put 2 litres of water, quinoa, apple, cinnamon, and cloves in a pan. Bring it to a boil and let it simmer. When the apple is cooked, remove it and blend/smash it, put it through a sieve and return liquid to the pan. You can skip the sieve if you like. Drink is finished when quinoa is rather soft and mushy.

2. To give the drink some colour, heat the sugar in a pan. When it caramelizes, add it to the pan. Add extra sugar to taste until desired sweetness is reached.

seafood in peru

Bordering the ocean, one cannot talk about the food of Peru without mentioning the seafood. In a similar vein, one cannot mention the seafood with talking about ceviche (sometimes spelled cebiche in the country – I don’t know if this is on purpose or a misspelling, as the v and b are the same sound in Spanish).

Ceviche is the crown jewel of the Peruvian coast. It can be made with almost any type of seafood. The strange/interesting/delightful part is how it is made. It’s prepared with a spicy solution made with lots of lime juice. The lime juice reacts with fish to make it edible and not raw anymore. Whatever it does, it’s good. It’s important to note that this solution only works with fish. If you’re making clam (on the left) or shrimp ceviche, you have to cook them beforehand – lime juice doesn’t cut it.

Regions have their own variations – while most places include onion, you often get ceviche with a little bit of seaweed up in the Trujillo area. Suffice to say, you can’t come to Peru and not try this. They even have ceviche stands out in the street – you can choose what you want, they toss in a cup, instant ceviche goodness!

Now, this isn’t to say that that’s it for seafood in Peru. There are a few other terrific seafood dishes definitely worth at least a mention. To start off with a regional delicacy, we had been told that the crab in the Trujillo region in the north was particularly great, and it was. We sample cangrejo reventado (burst crab) by the ocean at a nice eatery one night, also being treated to a delicious mint lemonade (which you can see in the picture). The crab was terrific, lots of crab meat in addition to the meat it was bursting with. One plateful was definitely enough for the both of us.

Chupe means, I believe, some kind of soup or stew. At least, chupe de langostinas delivers a soupy stew of shrimp. It is wonderfully delicious, and to be quite honest, I didn’t want to let Christine have a taste. At all. It was that good. I don’t know what went into it, but I sure wish I did. One of my favourite seafood dishes, as a matter of fact.

Lastly, seafood can also just feature in dishes up here. This last piece is tacu-tacu, an Afro-Peruvian way of preparing rice. As you can see, it is garnished/covered with all the seafood found in the area – shrimp, scallops, clams, squid, octopus. Yum. The tacu-tacu itself is kind of buried under all of that delectable seafood.

Seafood is celebrated in many ways in this country, especially along the coast. I made it a point to try and eat something from the ocean at least once a day, as we were heading up into the mountains and away from the coast again soon. Don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone…

Later…

Here’s a recipe for ceviche from Cocinando con Carmen, the booklet sold by SAE Cuzco.

Ceviche

2 kg white fish

4 onions

20 limes

1 garlic bulb

MSG (monosodium glutamate)

1 small can of evaporated milk

1 stick of celery

1 ginger root

1 head of lettuce

1/4 kg of corn (this is a special, large-kernel corn found in Peru that is toasted for the side)

1/2 kg sweet potato

salt & cumin

1. Clean the fish and remove all the bones, the head, and the scales and cut into small cubes. Juice the lines into a bowl. Peel the garlic and wash the celery.

2. Put garlic, celery, and ginger into a blender for 3 minutes. Stop, add a few drops of water, then blend for 2 minutes more.

3. Boil the sweet potatoes for 45 minutes

4. Toast the corn kernels in oil in a covered pan, stirring constantly for 10 to 12 minutes.

5. Wash the lettuce and put into a bowl.

6. Chop the onion into strips and wash them 5 times in cold water.

7. Put the fish into a container with the lime juice. Put the blended ingredients through a sieve and add the liquid to the container. Marinate for 10-15 minutes, adding salt, cumin, and MSG to taste.

8. Pour one quarter of the milk into the container.

9. Peel and slice the sweet potato, add it to the container, and serve. Makes 8 portions.

chifa

Look like Chinese food? It is. There is a rather large Chinese population in Peru and the food they make is rather tasty and nice alternative to the meat and potatoes that are common eats here. There are dishes that are like American Chinese food, like sweet-and-sour dishes, fried rice (called chaufa, thanks for the correction, Dan), noodles, wontons, and so forth. There are a couple of dishes that mix the two cultures, the most famous one being lomo saltado – stir-fried beef with onions and peppers. They’re all delicious in my opinion.

One thing you can always be sure of finding in any town is chifa – we decided to have it twice in one day in a tiny town while we made our ways between towns. Just keep an eye out for the odd Chinese character or the ever-obvious CHIFA sign hanging over a door.