Foodie Itinerary: Peru

I've only been to Peru once...and to be fair, I've seen very little of it.  Just a small part of Lima, Cusco, the Sacred Valley and Machu Picchu. But I would like to think that what I did see was pretty representative of all the great food, fun, beauty and people that the entire country has to offer. As you'll see below, one quick trip has already led to a pretty huge itinerary of what I would suggest if you were to plan a visit of your own but I'm sure I'm only scratching the surface...so for those of you who've travelled more extensively in Peru: What am I missing? Where have I gone wrong?  What would you suggest?

Wherever you visit and  whatever you decide to do and eat...happy travels.  You'll love Peru!  Need some more convincing to start planning your own trip?  Check out my Peruvian Foodie Photos here!
San Pedro Market in Cusco, Peru

How I love visiting markets in foreign countries!  It's like a glimpse into the way the locals shop, eat, cook and really helps you understand their culture's perceptions around food.  Do they use the whole animal or mostly prime cuts?  Do the vendors want you to sample and try things you've never seen or are they more reserved and focused primarily on the business aspect of their stall? Are there fully prepared foods to eat or is it just an ingredient marketplace?  You can learn and understand so much from one quick stroll!

The San Pedro Market in Cusco, Peru is no different...it's like you can feel the pulse of the city as you explore row after row of fresh produce, just squeezed juices, handmade scarves and wares, freshly cut meats, handcrafted cheeses and breads and brimming bowls of just made Peruvian soups. If it wasn't for Christian I would spend a full day at this place, but at the very least let's take a quick tour:

The produce at the San Pedro Market is incredible!  Each row you walk down smells of another sweet, intoxicating smell so finally we gave in and tried Sweet Passion Fruit for the first time, which is shown above.  We immediately fell in love with this new fruit...you can read more in my post all about the sweet passion fruit.

Beyond produce there is an amazing array of freshly baked breads, artisan cheeses and of course the staples of the Peruvian diet; corn, potatoes and coca leaves!  Coca leaves have a similar effect as caffeine but more mild. You can chew them directly (kind of like chewing tobacco) or have them as tea, candies...the options are pretty limitless.  I'm not 100% sure that they actually helped our altitude sickness but if nothing else they certainly had a nice placebo effect on us!

One of the Top 50 Restaurants in the World: Astrid y Gaston, Lima

In the middle of a huge trip to the Galapagos Islands and Machu Picchu we had one sole day in Lima, Peru.  Actually, more like half a day.  Neither one of us had ever been to Lima or even Peru for that matter so we were excited by the prospect of our first Peruvian food exploration...which of course is what we chose to spend our limited time on in Lima! Astrid y Gastón was the obvious choice. Not only has it been recognized as one of the top 50 restaurants in the world, #35 to be exact, but everyone we knew who had been insisted that we go as well. So we made a reservation for lunch (dinner was booked 3 months out) and considered our one afternoon in Lima planned!

Originally we had intended to do the full tasting menu but when we got there and they told us that it would be a 3-4 hour experience we decided to just order a la carte instead so we still had a bit of time to explore the city before taking off on the next leg of our trip.  As you'll see below we were still able to explore quite a bit of their huge menu...

First up, a little mango and sea urchin amuse bouche.  Served in a crispy tortilla-like shell this was a perfect little bite with a nice juxtaposition of salty/sweet and crunchy/soft.

Next we sampled the Peruvian national dish, Ceviche.  We love ceviche and have had quite a few great ceviches throughout our well-fed lives but this one immediately rose right to the top of our past ceviche experiences.  Really, it's only tied with the ceviche we've had at our favorite Peruvian restaurant in San Francisco, La Mar (which we actually found out is owned by Astrid y Gastón...fabulous!) .  The ceviche at Astrid y Gastón was incredibly fresh with a clean taste and delicious sauces that were each distinct yet subtle enough to not overpower the fish. One sauce was traditional lime while the other two were a bit more unique.  One spicy with plantains and another with sweet potatoes and hints of mango and coconut. Absolutely divine...best ceviche we had during our entire time in Peru.

Another appetizer we tried was called "La Guerra de los Antiuochos"...tender yet crispy grilled octupus served alongside lightly fried white asparagus and shaved Peruvian olives.  This was great...some of the best prepared octopus I've ever had.  And the Peruvian olives almost had an intense truffle-like flavor.  Wow!

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!  

…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...