I feel like a bit of a fraud writing any kind of travel food post, since I am anything but an adventurous eater (my favorite foods as a child were hot dogs and baked beans, to give you a brief synopsis of my limitations). But I’ll try to cover all the bases with an enthusiastic description of what I loved to eat, and lots of photos of what I didn’t eat, with full apologies to Anthony Bourdain for my timid palate.
Peruvian cuisine is based around native animals (alpaca, llama, beef, fish and cuy.. yep, it’s guinea pig) & potatoes. Peruvians love their starch, and since potatoes originated here (not in my beloved Ireland, mates) and there are 3000 varieties in every conceivable flavor, texture and color, I was totally at home on the veg side of the table. Beautiful fava beans, carrots, cauliflower, beets, green beans, creamy avocado, and/or some type of yummy slaw were usually served alongside the potatoes and so, no matter what the “main” course, I was in hog-less heaven.
Oh, and just to make the potato/veg thing really sing, Peruvians make the most luscious sauces to dip/slather on your potatoes: green herb, racy red radish, guacamole, and my fave: a golden mustardy/mayo concoction that I wanted to pour over my entire plate.
The last time I was in Peru, my friend Judith fell in love with lomo saltado – a Peruvian stir-fry featuring chicken or beef, peppers, tomatoes, rice and French fries, and I was dying to have a platter of carbs in her honor. But since we were mostly at really high altitudes, where your appetite evaporates even faster than your breath, we ate a lot of soup. Delicious chicken soup, pasta soup, noodle soup and vegetable soup ..which luckily is my favorite food ever, particularly when paired with their airy, triangular bread.Some of the traditional dishes that I didn’t exactly eat (but tasted!!) were pachamanca shown above (and that sweet potato was the best I’ve ever had) and the dreaded cuy. Cuy is low-cholesterol, high protein and quite nutritious–and Peruvians adore it– but I couldn’t get past the little paws on the plate. Sorry …
Instead, I usually opted for the trucha frite — fried trout — which is ubiquitous in Peru, from roadside stands to upscale restaurants. Ceviche (lime-marinated raw seafood that is amazing) is also hugely popular but since we spent almost no time on the coast, we didn’t see a lot of it.
The acid test for any cuisine, in my humble opinion, is the coffee and in Peru (as in most coffee-producing countries), it wasn’t too hot. Literally. They brew the coffee really, really strong, then set it out in a pitcher and suggest you add hot water from a thermos. I like my coffee scalding, so I only achieved partial coffee satisfaction. As for alcoholic beverages, the pisco sour is quite tasty, made from Peru’s own unique pisco liqueur (don’t confuse it with the Chileans’ copycat version or they will get really crabby). Cusquena, my beer of choice, was delicious – but the bottles were a big commitment. Like 42 ounces. And that’s a Big Gulp.
My big surprise was the fruits. Sure, the usual suspects: cantaloupe, pineapple, mango, watermelon were fine, but I really loved the granadia, tumbo, and chirimoya which we bought at roadside stands and devoured in the car — totally unique in their sour, sweet and musty tastes and fun to eat, too.
So what do I miss the most? The sauces! And the way everybody always sat down at meals together and shared the food with grace and gusto. That was really delicious.