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Eat Like a Local, Street Food in Cusco

17 Dec

By Julian Kircher

So you’re in a foreign country, everything looks and sounds and smells strange, nothing more so that the food. Fruit reminds you of the fruit back home but there is always some important difference: the colour is wrong, it’s too big or the wrong shape or smells funny. The good news however is that locals have been eating these things for a long time and most of them look almost alive and healthy. So we can assume the food here is safe and perhaps even delicious. Well let me try and convince you that with an open mind and empty stomach Cusco can be exceptionally rewarding. So I have compiled a sample menu that will rival any fancy French restaurant, except here you won’t find any snooty waiters floating around the place and you probably won’t be served swan lightly fried in unicorn tears and served on a bed of moonrock. Also the whole thing will cost you less than $10 and you will get to see and experience a handsome chunck of Cusco.

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Where to start? Well you will want a hearty meal to start out with. San Pedro is the place to go for this. A bustling hive of vendors that sell fabrics and trinkets and most importantly food. Food of every sort is found here. Hidden away at the back of the market there is a large space where dozens of tiny food stalls, with a small rickety bench in front of them, serve food of all description. Most of these places will have set menus and for around 4 – 6 Soles you can get a starter (usually soup) and a choice of mains. Served with a little fruit juice. This is the authentic experience. You you will set next to the local workforce, enveloped by the steam and the sumptuous smells from hundreds of bubbling pots. This experience will make you feel like a local. Everything is made fresh and personally this is the one place where I have never gotten sick.

Now that your stomach has stopped rumbling you will want dessert. Remember you are on holiday so don’t count those calories. As such I have collected several post-meal options here because let’s face it: that is all we really wanted anyway. But before we become too unhealthy let us make a quick and nutritious stop. Fruit juices!

At the opposite end of San Pedro a horde of waving ladies wait patiently behind unstable looking mountains of fruit and vegetables. Ready to shred and blend any combinations of fruit possible. They will assist you in picking out delicious combinations. So far the following combinations have proven to be the best: banana, mango, strawberry as a milkshake with honey (this is the rich, creamy sweet option) if you want something else (although I don’t know why you would) then a combinations of strawberry, apple and orange or a combinations of banana, mango and papaya will give you slightly fruitier tastes. Juices are approx. 6-8 Soles.

Now we have assuaged our inner Nutritionist it is time to move onto something more unhealthy. Take a stroll behind the San Pedro market. There you will find a street with an army of vendors shouting and crying, their wares displayed at their feet. Among this bee hive of activities and noises you will find one or perhaps several Picarones stands. 12395291_10153859257388258_577545405_nThis is what we have all been waiting for. Sweet dough made from sweet potatoes then quickly deep fried and covered in honey. Go on you’ve earned it. This deliciousness is made fresh in front of your eyes and the smell alone will remain with you for a long time. Around 2-4 Soles.

Now you are probably almost full, your stomach may be hurting since you left self-control behind at San Pedro. Well then the answer is to stop off at an12386752_10153859257773258_236457748_n Emolientes stand. These pop up around evening time and you want have to walk long to find them. A small cart containing a big pot of hot water and about half a dozen bottles, each filled with a different coloured liquid. This cart looks more like a mobile improvised chemistry lab. Don’t shy away! These are all herbal infusions which are mixed, all together, with hot water and a bit of gelatin. This creates a very thick and herby concoction which will act as an internal heating system for you as well as aid with digestion. This is the least you can do for your poor stomach. Usually around 1 or 2 Soles.

Well there you have it. My menu. Hopefully you are feeling as hungry as I am, luckily this is exactly what I will eat tonight, you will have to make the journey over here too in order to enjoy these culinary treats.

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It’s Friday – Pisco Sour Time

1 Nov

First of all, we want to set everyone straight – the Pisco Sour was invented in Peru and will always be a national treasure. While some of our neighbors claim they are the inventor of the cocktail, do not be fooled. Americans have more of a claim to the drink than Chileans. In fact, according to Wikipedia, the cocktail originated in Lima, Peru, and was invented by Victor Vaughen Morris, an American bartender, in the early 1920s. Morris left the United States in 1903 to work in Cerro de Pasco, a city in central Peru. In 1916, he opened Morris’ Bar in Lima, and his saloon quickly became a popular spot for the Peruvian upper class and English-speaking foreigners. The Pisco Sour underwent several changes until Mario Bruiget, a Peruvian bartender working at Morris’ Bar, created the modern Peruvian recipe of the cocktail in the latter part of the 1920s by adding Angostura bitters and egg whites to the mix.

Pisco SourSo how do you make a stellar Pisco Sour. Follow this simple recipe:

Ingredients:
2 cups pisco
1 cup fresh lime juice
1 egg white
1 1/3 cups confectioners’ sugar
2 cups crushed ice
aromatic bitters

Directions:

1. Blend the pisco, lime juice, egg white, sugar, and ice in a blender until smooth, about 1 minute. Pour into fluted glasses and top each with 1 to 2 dashes of the aromatic bitters to serve.

Start the weekend right with the amazing drink and let us know how your homemade Pisco Sour turned out.

 

Peruvian Cuisine Showcased in NY City

25 Sep

untitledFor all of you New Yorkers, or those planning a trip to visit Manhattan next week, the 8th Annual StarChefs.com International Chefs Congress will take place from September 29 – October 1, 2013 at Pier 57. And what makes it more special this year, Peru’s Export and Tourism Promotion Board (PromPeru) will attend this year’s showcase and display the international appeal and gastronomic innovation of the Andean country.

The aim is to promote Peru’s cuisine among American opinion leaders and the country as a dining destination in that market.

Likewise, the entity intends to promote agribusiness and fishery products for human consumption that are part of the Peruvian exportable offer and are typical of the food supplies.

This is just another step in establishing Peru as a world leader in culinary art.

Food

10 Foods to Try While in Peru

17 Sep

This is a great article from National Georgraphic.

In recent years, Peru’s eclectic cuisine has earned acknowledgement as one of the world’s finest. But while quinoa and pisco sour cocktails have migrated to become favorites around the world, the best Peruvian specialties are still found in their home country. Here are ten to try en route to Machu Picchu.

IMG_1312Cuy

There’s no way to sugarcoat it. This staple meat raised in many households of the Andes goes by a different name in the United States: guinea pig. (One indication of how important the dish is to the rural Peruvian diet: In a cathedral in Cusco hangs a replica of Da Vinci’s Last Supper, in which Christ and the 12 disciples are seated around a platter of cuy.) The meat, which is quite bony, is usually baked or barbecued on a spit and served whole—often with the head on. It has a pleasant, gamy taste like that of rabbit or wild fowl.

Causa

A visitor to any market in Peru is certain to find two things—hundreds of varieties of potatoes, which may have originated here (Peru’s longtime rival Chile also claims tuber originality), and piles of avocados large enough to toboggan down. A traditional causa layers these two ingredients into a sort of casserole, which is sliced and served cold. Other layers might contain tuna, meat, or hard-boiled egg.

tumblr_loydpwZoKQ1qj1tuao1_500Lomo Saltado

A hundred years before anyone had heard of Asian fusion cuisine, boatloads of Chinese immigrants arrived in Peru looking for work. The ingredients and techniques they added to Peru’s food vocabulary are probably best exemplified by this hearty hybrid stir-fry, in which beef, tomatoes, peppers, and onions are blended in a pan with soy sauce and fried potatoes. Not a dish for the carb-phobic; it’s usually served over white rice.

Aji de Gallina

The yellow aji pepper lends its color—a hue similar to Tweety Bird’s—as well as its mild kick to several Peruvian dishes. Among them is this rich, velvety stew made with chicken and condensed milk and thickened with de-crusted white bread. A vegetarian alternative with a similar flavor is the ubiquitous papa a la huancaina, boiled potato with creamy yellow sauce.

Anticuchos

These skewers of grilled, marinated meat (much like shish kebabs) are served everywhere in Peru. High-end restaurants offer them as entradas, or appetizers. Street-cart vendors sell them slathered in a garlicky sauce. While almost any meat can be prepared this way, the most traditional—and best—anticuchos are made with beef heart, a practice believed to trace back to the days when Peru’s Spanish conquerors would consume a cow’s choicest cuts and leave the organs for their slaves.

Ceviche

The icy Humboldt Current that flows through the Pacific Ocean just off Peru’s coast supports one of the world’suntitled most bountiful sources of seafood. If Peru had an official national dish, it would probably be this preparation of raw fish marinated in citrus juice. The acid in the fruit “cooks” the fish, giving it a delicate flavor and slightly chewy consistency. The dish is usually spiced with red onion and aji pepper, and served (typically at lunch) with sweet potato or choclo, a white Andean corn with dime-size kernels. Bold gastronomes can drink the leftover citrus marinade, which is known as leche de tigre, tiger’s milk.

Rocoto Relleno

This dish is typically associated with Arequipa, Peru’s second largest city, but it is served everywhere. What appears to be a plain-old red bell pepper is actually a fiery Capsicum pubescens (at least ten times as hot as a jalapeño when raw, but boiled to reduce its thermonuclear properties), stuffed with spiced, sautéed ground beef and hard-boiled egg. This is topped with melted white cheese, baked, and served whole.

Alpaca

In the Northern Hemisphere, the name alpaca refers to expensive wool used to make sweaters and socks. In the Andean highlands, this camelid (a smaller cousin of the llama) has also been a source of meat for centuries. The taste is similar to buffalo or other grass-fed meats: somewhat gamier than beef and very lean. Alpaca’s lack of greasiness makes for excellent jerky, which coincidentally is another ancient Peruvian culinary innovation. (The name comes from the Quechua word charqui, meaning “to burn.”)

Lucuma

While Peru’s cuisine is most famous for its spicy and savory dishes, Peruvians adore sweets, too—as evidenced by the popularity of Inca Kola, a teeth-melting bubblegum-flavored soda. Lucuma is a tree fruit that looks like a mango, but it has a custardy taste akin to maple syrup. It’s usually used as a flavoring in desserts, and is justifiably popular as a variety of ice cream.

Pollo a la Brasauntitled

This Peruvian-style roast chicken is so delicious—and popular—that it’s now available in cities around the globe. The secret is marinating the bird in soy sauce flavored with red peppers, garlic, and cumin, which gives the meat and skin a smoky, salty taste. Outside Peru it’s typically paired with French fries, but the more traditional accompaniment is fried yuca, a waxy tuber that has a pleasant chewiness and holds its own against the spicy dipping sauces with which pollo a la brasa is typically served.

To read the article as published by National Geographic, click here.

PERU: Winner of the World’s Culinary Destination by World Travel Awards

13 Mar

The World Travel Awards serves to acknowledge, reward and celebrate excellence across all sectors of the global travel and tourism industry.  They recently announced their awards for many categories including the World’s Culinary Destination of 2012 – and guess who won, you got it – PERU.  And Peru had to beat out some really tough competitors with some amazing cuisine.  The other nominees were Australia, China, France, India, Italy, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, Spain, Thailand and the good ole USA.  I think it was the guinea pig that put Peru over the top with the decision committee.  16893

Mariella Soldi, Director of Peru’s Country Image was there to accept the award from the President of the World Travel Awards, Graham Cooke.  Machu Picchu also won the award for World’s Leading Green Destination.

Peru has once again proven that it deserves to be a top vacation destination and has a lot to offer to everyone.  And Alpaca is here to make sure that vacation goes down in the books and wins your award of best vacation ever.  We hope to see you soon in Cusco.

 

Viva Peru!

Peru Wins World Travel Award

 

 

5 Things To Do In Cusco (other than Machu Picchu)

24 Oct

Mysterious and visually stunning, seeing the well-preserved Inca city of Machu Picchu is a trip of a lifetime.  But a trip to this beautiful part of Peru shouldn’t only be about seeing Machu Picchu. Here are five things to include on your itinerary when visiting Peru.

1. Take A Train Ride

Travelling by train is an amazing way to see Peru. The most convenient way to get to Aguas Calientes, the community at the foot of the mountain upon which Machu Picchu is perched, is to hop on a train. It’s an unforgettable experience—picture the fast-flowing Urubamba River with its green embankments, craggy peaks of the Andes mountains high above, and Inca ruins spotting the countryside. Opt for a late afternoon itinerary to catch the sunset and get an early start at Machu Picchu the next morning.  Most trains leave/arrive at Ollantaytambo which is well worth a visit.  Ollantaytambo is the starting point for the Inca Trail and has Inca ruins of its own. Insider Tip: Land a seat on the left hand side of the train to Aguas Calientes and on the right on the way back; you’ll get the best views from the train’s panoramic windows. And be sure to buy your ticket to Machu Picchu before you book your train trip as tickets to Machu Picchu are limited and can sell out.

2. Huaynapicchu

Being let off a bus at the entrance can make you feel like you missed out on the adventure of hiking the Inca Trail. If you want to earn your visit to the Inca city but don’t have three days to spend on the trail, opt to hike Huaynapicchu, sometimes called Wayna Picchu, the sugarloaf mountain that towers above Machu Picchu. This arduous, vertiginous hike up a steep, narrow set of Inca-carved stairs takes between 2 and 3 hours roundtrip. Only 400 people are allowed up Huayna Picchu per day at two entrance times (7-8 am and 10-11 am) and admission must be purchased at the same time as your entrance ticket to Machu Picchu. Note: you must buy your Machu Picchu plus Huayna Picchu ticket at the same time, you cannot add on Huaynapicchu later. If you plan to hike Huaynapicchu, book tickets ahead of time. Aside from the impressive quad burn that says you’ve been there, done that, you’ll get an amazing new perspective on Machu Picchu from the various mirados (landings) along the trail.

Insider Tip: Treat Huayna Picchu like any other day hike and bring water and snacks but don’t overburden your pack. Take it slow due to the altitude. Wear hiking boots, sunscreen, and a hat and dress in layers as mornings can be chilly but the afternoon sun is unrelenting and there is very little shade. Most importantly, don’t forget your camera.

Bonus: Bring your passport with you to Machu Picchu—they’ll stamp your passport once you descend Huayna Picchu and one when you leave Machu Picchu.

3. Visit an Indigenous Community

Under an hour from Cusco, there are indigenous communities that preserve an ancient way of life few visitors are granted access to. Alpaca Expeditions actually visits one of these villages during the Lares tour and spends a lot of time with the children, helping them with providing school supplies and other treats.  The additional income these communities receive via limited tourism allows them to continue to live in a traditional manner.  Visiting them gives a lasting impression of a quickly disappearing way of life and really adds depth to any trip.

Insider Tip: Be sure to bring cash in small denominations of nuevo soles to purchase hand-woven dolls, textiles, bracelets, bags, and belts from the community of weavers.

4. Eat

Sample Local Food and Visit a Market For a slice of Peruvian life, head to any produce mercado (market)—there’s one in virtually every town. You’ll find only-in-Peru fruits, like aguaymanto (gooseberry), cherimoya (custard apple), and lucuma (eggfruit) to name a few. Quinoa, a grain that has made its way to North American shores and is touted as a super food, comes in a variety of colors and is widely available here. Some local specialties to try: Ceviche, typically made with raw river trout bathed in lime juice, which “cooks” the fish, hot pepper, red onions, cilantro, and topped with choclo (corn) and sweet potato cubes. Pachamanca, a traditional dish of marinated meat and potatoes cooked in a hole in the ground lined with hot rocks. The meat is first marinated in Andean herbs such as chincho, hierba buena, and paico and is wrapped in banana leaves. You can’t leave Peru without trying a pisco sour, the national drink made with pisco brandy. There are many opportunities to learn how to make it (2 or 3 shots pisco, 1 shot lime juice, 1 shot simple syrup, 1 shot egg white, shaken with ice, dash of bitters) and discover pisco macerations, which include everything from local fruits like aguaymanto to coca leaves. Locals drink coca tea and chew coca leaves to cure soroche (altitude sickness) but the coca leaf is also held sacred and used in spiritual rites.

5. Fiesta

Attend a festival with colorful costumes, marching bands, religious processions, and fireworks—when Peru celebrates it’s a sight to see. Cusco’s Corpus Christi festival in June is a deeply religious affair with mass in the Plaza de Armas surrounded by fifteen statues of virgins and saints. The statues are brought from churches in nearby districts, which come to Cusco to be blessed. In the early afternoon, the beaded, brocaded, 15-foot statues are hoisted onto the shoulders of teams of men and promenaded around the plaza, genuflecting at various altars and ending at the Cathedral. It’s a day-long party where the whole city crams into the Plaza de Armas to watch the parade, eat, drink, and make merry. Other spectacular local festivals include Cusco’s Inti Raymi festival on June 24, which marks the winter solstice, the Fiestas Patrias, Peru’s Independence Day on July 28-29, and Ayacucho’s Semana Santa (Holy Week) Easter celebrations.

Insider Tip: Cusco’s Plaza de Armas has many restaurants and bars with a view of the action if you want to stay above the fray. Go early for the best views.

When to Go: High season is June through September.  January is the height of rainy season and the Inca Trail is closed in February. For near-ideal weather and manageable crowds, consider a spring or fall trip.

Guinea Pig Recipe

18 Jul

Once you arrive in Cusco, you quickly learn how important the guinea pig is – to our diet.  It is such a popular dish in Peru, that the most famous church in the Cusco main square has a painting of the Last Supper where the Apostles are snacking on guinea pig.

Alpaca Expeditions serves guinea pig while trekking to any traveller interested in trying this delicacy.  So far, everyone has loved it – and many have asked how to prepare it.  Below are two recipe samples if you are interested in trying it.

Guinea Pig with Spices – PICANTE DE CUY

4 guinea pigs
2 kilos of yellow potatoes or the potatoes preferred
100 grams of roasted and ground peanuts
2 green peppers (yellow peppers)
8 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed (dressing)
4 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed (sauce)
cumin, seasoning to taste
salt and pepper
30 grams of aji panca (special ground pepper)
4 Hardboiled eggs

DIRECTIONS: Prepare the seasoning by combining garlic, pepper, salt and cumin to taste and cover the guinea pig.  Leave it to marinate for two hours or more.  Then place the guinea pig in the fire (can be grilled or baked).

On the other hand, boil the yellow potatoes in water with a little salt and then peel it and cut into slices.

Place the potatoes peeled and sliced on the plate and then the cooked meat of the Guinea pig to the Center.  Place sauce on top of everthing.

SAUCE: In a frying pan, prepare a hot sauce with mashed green peppers and chili panca, mashed garlic cloves and roasted peanuts (previously liquefied or ground) in a little oil, (if it dries too much you can add a bit of water or broth).

Fried Guinea Pig (Ayacucho-style) – CUY CHAQTADO

1 guinea pig, de-haired, gutted, and cleaned
1/2 c. flour
1/4 – 1/2 t. ground cumin salt and black pepper to taste
1/2 c. oil Pat dry the skin of the guinea pig and rub in the cumin, salt, and pepper.

DIRECTIONS: Preheat oil. Dust the carcass with the flour and place it on its back in the oil, turning to cook both sides. Alternately, the guinea pig can be cut and fried in quarters. Serve with boiled potato or boiled manioc root, and a salad of cut tomatoes and slivered onions bathed in lime juice and a bit of salt.

Whichever way you choose to prepare your guinea pig – don’t forget to open a nice cold cerveza to wash it down with!