Postcards: Sweet Passion Fruit in Peru

One of my favorite things about traveling is exploring the food markets of the region and discovering new fruits and vegetables. It’s nice to know that in our U.S. land of plenty, where we import just about anything, there are still foods that you can only find locally. Now I’m not saying you can’t find sweet passion fruit anywhere in the U.S., but it’s not super prevalent. Even when we do import exotic fruits they always taste so much better when you eat them where they are native, fresh and in season. I guess that means I’ll just need to keep traveling!

At the San Pedro Market in Cusco, Peru the produce was plentiful…rows and rows of brightly colored fruits, vegetables and herbs tempting you with every step. One of the fruits we decided to try out was the sweet passion fruit…I was sure I had eaten one before, but as soon as the local stall vendor began showing us how to eat it I knew I was wrong.
The Unexpected Alpaca

Alpaca is a cute furry animal that I had honestly never even considered eating...wearing in the form of a furry hat or sock, yes.  Eating?  Completely unexpected!  I’m not even sure I knew that there were people who ate Alpaca until I got to Peru and started seeing it on menus everywhere.  Of course, a gastronomic cultural explorer like me had to try it, and boy am I glad that I did.  Not only is alpaca mild and slightly sweet in taste, but it is also tender, lean and low in cholesterol. I enjoyed alpaca in the many preparations that I tried so much so that, since returning from Peru, I’ve honestly found myself craving it a bit!

Our first Alpaca adventure came in the form of Alpaca Tartar at Astrid y Gaston in Lima.  Having been named as one of the top 50 restaurants in the world, it was a pretty safe bet that this dish would be a winner regardless of the focus on this new, strange meat.  The tartar was served in three ways along with waffle cut potato chips.  The first preparation was traditional in style…quail egg on top with a bit of hot sauce to go along with it.  The other two preparations were international journeys in their own right with one taking us to Japan with flavors of wasabi and ginger and the other bringing us back to Thailand with Thai chilies and mango.  All three were distinct and amazingly delicious with the alpaca being lighter than your traditional steak tartar.  It’s almost what I would expect from a pork tartar if one were to exist.  And I love me some pork!

Our second taste of Alpaca was in the form of grilled skewers…slightly crisp on the outside and juicy and tender on the inside.  In this simple preparation the Alpaca was almost like a hybrid between pork and chicken.  The texture was very similar to well-cooked chicken but it was more flavorful.

Peruvian Guinea Pig Anyone?

One of the first things everyone asked me when I returned home from Peru was if I tried Guinea Pig, or Cuy Chactado.  As you can see by the picture above, the answer is yes.  Now before you get all bent out of shape thinking about the cute little guinea pig you had as a pet as a child you have to understand the perspective of someone like me who's passion is to explore new cultures through food.

Guinea Pig has a different meaning to Peruvians, particularly in the highlands.  It's not only an important source of protein, particularly in rural areas, but the guinea pig also holds a longstanding and meaningful place in Peruvian folk medicine and religious practices historically.  There's even an Indian version of the Last Supper on display in Cusco that shows Jesus and the 12 disciples feasting on this local delicacy. Not trying guinea pig while in Peru would be like going to Texas and not trying authentic BBQ or going to Thailand and not trying some insects...blasphemous to a food explorer like me!  

Foodie Itinerary: Wine Country…beyond Napa & Sonoma

So you've explored Napa and Sonoma and fancy yourself a CA Wine Country enthusiast.  Not so fast...there's a whole lot more exploring to do!  When you first move to the Bay Area, you spend a lot of time in Napa and Sonoma and bring all of your visitors there...but after a while you branch out a bit, and fall in love with the California wine country all over again.  So when we don't have Wine Country virgins in town (who really should be first introduced through Napa in my opinion) our preference is actually some of these lesser known regions.  We prefer them for the more laid-back, humble feel and because they make wine (and sometimes food) just as good as the more famous and expensive regions.  So here are my favorite regions beyond Napa and Sonoma and a few recommendations for where to taste, eat and stay for each...photos to help inspire can be found here:
…and We’re Off! SavoryGirl Heads to Ecuador & Peru

It's been a little over a year since our last big trip to Thailand and Cambodia and we are itching for some exploring and gastronomic globe trotting.  Up next...Ecuador & Peru!  We're heading to South America for a little over 2 weeks on our very first organized/guided trip.  We typically like to do our own thing and create our own itineraries, but since the focus of this trip is two activities that you are required to have authorized guides for, the Galapagos Islands and hiking Machu Picchu, we figured this was the right trip to try out a guided tour.  So we did some research and booked this tour with G Adventures.  A few of our friends have vacationed with G Adventures in the past and they have a sustainable and local flavor focus, so it sounds like a good fit for us...fingers crossed!

 

In case you're interested in following along on our adventure, a high-level itinerary is below.  I'll get into the good stuff, all of the local cuisine that we are going to try to hunt down and try during the little bit of free time that we have, when I return.  All of the foodie related activities that I have on my list are recommendations from my fellow T-Bird alumni who are either from Ecuador or Peru or have lived there for extended periods of time...so I trust they'll be spot on, but I'd like to try everything for myself and have photos before recommending any food to you...

Postcards: Railay Beach, Thailand

This, was an amazing day.  We were nearing the end of our two week trip to Cambodia and Thailand, at our last Thai beach destination before heading to Bangkok and then home.  We had spent the previous 3 hours on a boat getting ferried from Koh Pi Pi island to Railay Beach in Krabi.  The ferry ride alone was spectacular...the turquoise blue sea streched out as far as the eye reached, dotted with craggily formations and clusters of islands.  This is what you see in the movies...and I sat like a child for 3 straight hours soaking it all in.  Legs hanging off the side of the top deck, face resting on the railing, and a huge grin plastered to my face.

Foodie Itinerary: Napa!

Summer is right around the corner; the grapevines are starting to fill out and soon will be heavy with grapes and lush foliage.  It's a wonderful time of year in wine country.  Living in the Bay Area and being passionate about food and wine means I often get asked for wine country suggestions, particularly since I actually used to live in Napa and worked at a winery for a summer.  I love wine country and boy do I have lots of recommendations!  So consider this the first of a three part series on Wine Country....Napa, Sonoma, and Beyond. First up, Napa!  If you've never been to wine country before, Napa should be first on your list. Yes, it's touristy and at times a bit cliche but it's Napa!  You should experience all Napa has to offer first and then move onto the smaller and more quaint wine regions like Sonoma, Russian River and Alexander Valley.  Exploring and understanding Napa will allow you to appreciate the others even more.  Trust me. If you can, try to go during the week since the weekends are more hectic. My recommendations for what to do, where to eat and of course where to taste are below...and to see some pictures of many of the wineries and surrounding valley check out my Napa Valley Album.  It will inspire you to start planning your trip right away!
Postcards: Spice Market in Nice, France

It felt as if we had the city of Nice, France to ourselves.  It was late January and the coldest winter in recent history throughout all of Europe, but here we were wandering the streets of Nice on this brilliantly sunny day and enjoying every cold yet satisfyingly intimate moment of it.  We had heard horror stories about the harassing street performers and bustling crowds, but that’s not our Nice…not the Nice we experienced.  Of course, we also didn’t experience the legendary beach scene…but our quiet, locally sourced picnic on the desolate rocky beach left a lasting impression of it’s own.  As did this charming little spice store we wandered into as we lost ourselves in the cobblestone alleys.
Postcards: Northern California Coast

This, my friends, is why we live in California.  I mean really does it get more serene and beautiful than this?  The day of this photo was an interesting one...near the start of a true life experience.  It was Day Two of the Brita California Climate Ride, a ~350 mile ride from Eureka to San Francisco. Since Brita was the title sponsor and I worked at our headquarters out here in the Bay Area, a co-worker and I came up with the idea of forming a team and doing it.  The twist? Christian and I didn't even own bikes at the time of this brilliant idea.

Postcards: Christian Cooking in Chiang Mai

 

The time: 9am.

The place: Siam Rice Thai Cookery School in Chiang Mai, Thailand.

The temperature: a sweaty 90°.

The mood: hungover, hungry and excited for this part of the trip we've been looking forward to but sad it's our last day in Chiang Mai.

Hence Christian getting a bit randy with the cleaver he is handed by our instructor.  There were a lot of emotions swirling around that morning.  We had been out a bit late with some new friends the night before and the Tuk Tuk for class arrived at our hotel bright and early at 7:30am.  Of course we were the first people to be picked up so we had the joy of jostling around the back of the oppressively hot Tuk Tuk for the next 45 minutes while slowly meeting those who would be our fellow classmates for the next 4 hours.