Peru: A culinary review

2

September 18, 2012 by jiejie768

I’ve mentioned this a few times to Meg and GeGe, but I’ve been pleasantly surprised by how much I’ve enjoyed eating since getting to Peru. Now, those who know me are aware that I enjoy eating pretty much anytime, but on my only previous international adventure — four months in Spain/Europe in 2005 — I often found myself underwhelmed at mealtime (don’t confuse that with underfed, I still ate quite a bit).

In the 10 days or so since we touched down in Lima, Meg and I have had a pretty diverse mix of foods, and without exception, I’ve pretty much enjoyed it all. To the point that I’ve yet to truly crave the comfort foods such as cheeseburgers or nachos that were a staple (and highlight) of any big city stop during my aforementioned trip to Spain (for example, my favorite “European” restaurant became the Hard Rock Cafe, which I’d never think of visiting in the U.S.).

In Lima, aside from Starbucks, we eschewed every opportunity to eat at U.S. chains such as TGI Fridays or Chili’s in favor of local fare often recommended by our hosts. The best meal I had in Lima was a “Chifa” restaurant which is the term for Peru’s famous fusion of Peruvian and Chinese food. I enjoyed a delicious beef curry dish and Meg was pleasantly surprised by the vegetarian dish our waitress invented on the spot (there were no vegetarian options on the menu). It’s been our only stop for Chifa, so I couldn’t say for sure if I like the cuisine or just happened upon a very tasty restaurant, but I certainly wouldn’t hesitate to try it again.

Though the Chifa food won out for best meal during the stay in Lima, the best individual food I’ve discovered are called tequenas (ta-kay-nyas). They are basically just a fried wonton filled with melted cheese and served with a dish of guacamole. The best tequenas were at a bakery/cafe that our hosts in LIma took us to (see picture), but the version served at the fast food joint at the local mall weren’t half bad either. And while we’re on the topic of food served with guacamole, Meg and I are pleased to announce that avocados (called paltas here) are plentiful and delicious throughout Peru.

Here are Meg and I with the Serra Family, starting from my left, Ramon Sr., Ramon Jr., Marcelo, Mari, Daniela (in Mari’s lap), the nanny (we are awful people who never learned her name) and Loti. In addition to being wonderful hosts and tour guides, the Serras introduced us to tequenas at this meal at San Mamino’s a bakery/cafe in Miraflores, Lima.

Upon leaving Lima, I was a little wary that we’d soon be inundated by redundant and repetitive meals, but I’ve rarely been so happy to be wrong. Our first night in town GeGe took us out to a welcome meal at ViaVia in the city center and I had a delicious plate of chicken fettucini doused in huancaina sauce — a Peruvian delight that puts alfredo sauce to shame. Likewise the meals we’ve had at home, while simple in nature have been diverse and delicious. So far GeGe has proven a great chef preparing delicious meals ranging from spaghetti to macaroni and cheese (well, bowtie pasta and cheese) to her delicious (and mostly healthy) homemade waffles. Lunches each day have consisted of delicious veggie sandwiches made from fresh-from-the-market produce (red peppers, tomatoes, cucumbers and paltas, mostly) with cheese and stuffed into chapla, a pita-like bread they make and sell in most of the markets here. We also indulged one evening at the pollo a la brasa restaurant just down the street. It was essentially a quarter of a chicken with a mountain of fries and a huge side salad for about $3 U.S.

On Sunday, we were treated to puca picante, an Ayacucho staple (see photo). The dish consists of roast potatoes covered in a (slightly) spicy red beet and peanut sauce accompanied by chicharron (delicious barbecued pork), noodles and white rice. I was battling a head cold and my stomach wasn’t in peak condition but I still almost ordered seconds. The mirador (lookout) just up the street from our house/school is the epicenter of Ayacucho’s Sunday social scene and there are about a dozen stands each offering their own take on puca, and I look forward to making Sunday afternoon puca trips a mainstay of my time in Peru.

Puca, far right, is an Ayacucho staple served with noodles, white rice and chicharron. The plaza just up the hill from our house is home to about 12 or so puca stands each Sunday afternoon.

Other tasty treats that we’ve enjoyed include Chokosoda (chocolate covered saltine crackers that are amazing dipped in coffee), Blackout cookies (essentially Peruvian Oreos) and a popular street dish called chuno (pronounced chunyo). Chuno is a freeze-dried potato dish that I was wary of at first sight (see photo) but found it’s taste far outstripped its appearance.

Chuno (pronounced chunyo) is a popular street food in Ayacucho. It consists of potatoes and onions and tastes significantly better than it looks.

Each day between the end of school and dinner, Meg, GeGe and I have our own happy hour which usually means Black Out cookies (Peruvian Oreos) and Choko Soda (chocolate covered saltines that go great with coffee).

And, lest we get to homesick for some familiar fare, we’ve twice been treated to delicious meals featuring that old “American” classic: pizza. The first was a complete (and fantastic) surprise on Saturday. The three of us were walking around downtown Ayacucho when GeGe realized we were close to the home of another American couple living here. We decided to drop in for a minute and ended up spending about two hours when our host, Mary Lynn, insisted we stay for lunch. Mary Lynn has an impressive store of American spices, sauces and other accoutrements (raspberry chipotle Sweet Baby Ray’s, Snapple Ice Tea, and a spice rack stocked to the gills) to augment her ample produce selection from the local markets. I left her house extremely grateful and exceptionally full after wolfing down a barbecue chicken pizza in about two seconds flat.

Our second pizza-based indulgence occurred about an hour and a half before this writing as GeGe introduced us to Mamma Mia, a pizza place in town where Meg and I both had wonderful vegetarian pizzas and GeGe let me try here Peruvian version of the Hawaiian pie; they add peaches to the pineapple and ham here and trust me, it’s WAY better than it sounds. Mamma Mia is owned by a couple that GeGe knows (let’s be honest, who in Ayacucho DOESN’T GeGe know), and Meg and I are excited to return and sample their enticing sandwich and coffee menus.

The pizza at Mama Mia, a restaurant owned by a couple who knows GeGe, was delicious. This is Meg’s vegetarian pizza featuring red peppers, mushrooms, zuchinni and eggplant. Not pictured is GeGe’s odd sounding, but tasty, Hawaiian pizza with ham, pineapple and peaches.

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2 thoughts on “Peru: A culinary review

  1. Keegan says:

    Dudes, Peruvian food is world renowned. Still, happy to hear you’re getting your fill of aguacates. Andrew has stomach-rumbling stories about hot dog stands in Chile that serve palta as a condiment in a pump-style dispenser.

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