Neither was my image of Peruvian cuisine. In the past, when I traveled abroad, I would inquire from sources available to me as to places to dine and ‘must have’ dining experiences. On this trip, it was about adventure! From the Andes Mountain, to the Amazon basin, my primary concern was to come back healthy with many fabulous stories and pictures to share with loved ones. Since I did not have any expectations, my culinary experience was a pleasant surprise…..let me share some of my adventures with you:
During our stay in the Sacred Valley region, we were advised by our tour guide that the area has good trout, chicken, cuy (yes, guinea pig!) and to avoid beef. Good advice! Most cows we saw along our travels were not ‘happy cows’ as we are used to in California. While in Ollantaytambo, a city within the Cuzco region, my eating experience was enlightening. Due to the high elevation, digestion was a challenge. Therefore, we gravitated to simple meals such as quinoa soup and grilled trout. We found the flavors bland, and therefore requested ‘salsa picante’ (hot sauce) to liven up the flavors…somewhat disappointed with our dining experience, it was finally time to start our hiking adventures!
To our amazement, on our guided tour of the Inka trail, we had porters and a professional chef that prepared 3 fabulous meals for us everyday even with the restrictions of high altitude and primitive camp sites! Four hours into our first day of hiking, it began to drizzle and our porters kindly prepared a tent for us to have lunch. We were a group of eight hikers nestled together in a small tent wondering what kind of stale sandwich would be placed before us. To our astonishment, we were served fresh star fruit juice and a fancy, vegetable ceviche to start. The unison ‘ahhs and oohhs’ heard from outside of the tent, must have taken our porters by surprise. Not to outshine the ceviche, we were served nourishing chicken rollet with fresh vegetables for the main meal, followed by dessert! And yes, there was even tea, coffee, hot chocolate, and coca leaves afterwards. For the next three days, Pancho, our chef, continued to amaze us; such as a surprise birthday cake for one of our fellow hiker’s 30th birthday.
From the high Andes Mountain, our next adventure took us to the Amazon. We stayed in an Eco-lodge which also served us delicious meals, but none of which compared to the flare of Pancho’s cooking. While in the jungle, we had the opportunity to taste termites! I can simply state, they tasted like mint! I would not recommend it, unless there was nothing else to eat.
While in Cuzco, the Andes and Amazon, our tour guides did not speak enthusiastically about dining in Lima; however, fish and ceviche was highly recommended. We found our experience to be just the opposite. We were fortunate enough to have an amazing tour guide, Ruben, who was just as much a food connoisseur as we were. He made many recommendations, all of which a delight. In the region of Miraflores, we found ourselves intoxicated with amazing seafood and ceviche at a charming restaurant El Fresco. For a more sophisticated dining experience, I suggest exploring the San Isidro region, in which you will encounter chic restaurants serving Nuevo European, Japanese, and Spanish dishes.
If you are an avid coffee drinker, I might suggest lowering your expectations. Instant coffee at times was better than the fresh brew served (especially in the smaller villages). But if you diligently search, you might be able to find occasional places that use good coffee beans, coffee machine, and fresh milk vs. powdered creamer. But not to worry, pisco sour (grape brandy, Peru’s national cocktail) is sure to please and make you forget you did not have your java for the day!