Finally. Let’s talk about food.
Before I flew to Peru, I read a bunch of books and blogs about the country, and they all had recommendations regarding local tastes and treats. “Have a Pisco Sour!” they said. “Ok!!” thought I. “Definitely try some ceviche,” they advised. “You got it!” I promised. Once I arrived, my husband was dying for specifics. “What have you eaten?” he wanted to know. “What do you have for breakfast?” Food has to be one of the most exciting immersions into a different culture. So I started taking some pictures.
Here’s one of my meals courtesy of Perurail – on our Machu Picchu trip. We were in First Class, baby. We’re talkin’ table cloths and real dishes and even lap rugs for that cold early morning departure. This was Carmen’s fifth trip to Machu Picchu, and as we rode along in luxury, she thought back to her first trip, which she took with my Beautiful (and intrepid) Aunt Mary. On that particular train ride (8 hours round trip now, probably a bit longer then) the seats were wooden, and there wasn’t much in the way of amenities. Carmen was thinking that Mary might not believe the lovely ride we were having – we joked about calling her later and telling her that now they provide food rubs and aromatherapy and read to you while they feed you bonbons… very civilized indeed.
Having been spoiled silly on the ride to Cusco, our only real option upon arrival was to order room service.
Turns out neither of us has all that much room service experience, so we were pretty giddy when the ‘light chicken soup’ and the sandwich ended up looking like this. Or maybe it was the lack of oxygen. Either way, this soup was ridiculously good. And you can see how they stacked the fries – very nice. You can also see our coca tea on the table there as well. Carmen taught me many things on this trip, and one of them was the altitude-adjusting diet; eat light, eat mild, and drink your coca tea. Very good advice.
Up at Machu Picchu, we saw some of the natives having their lunch:
Back in Lima, I was loving breakfast. We had this delicious fresh cheese from Cajamarca – it looked a bit like a tall block of feta, but wasn’t crumbly. It was moist and mild and addictive. Plus buckets of fresh grapes that tasted just like the Concord-style grapes I grew up with in the back yard in Massachusetts. Fresh fruit and a wheat roll and a cup of tea made it a breakfast I could wake up to happily any morning. One morning, though, I came down to see this on my plate:
Now that’s a breakfast of champions! 2 chocolate eggs, 1 real egg (with the promise of being cooked any style), a Reese’s, and smile of grapes. Look where the cheeks are – those are piles of dried corn from the mountains – crunchy, light, amazingly good.
Then, on one of my very favorite days in Peru, a gorgeous group from Carmen and Martha’s parish came over with lunch. (Another note for the possible one non-family member here – Carmen and Martha are Sisters of Charity in Chorrillos, Lima, and they belong to a truly brilliant parish there.) The Vicentinas, as they’re called, are mostly women, with one great guy in the group, who look after pretty much everything and everyone in the parish. One of them basically was the parish, back when it was starting up. Many of them have grown children, they all have jobs and families and are the kind of people who give and give and give. I was one of the lucky recipients that day.
I’ll never forget the sight of them all walking into the house in a line, arms filled with baskets and dishes and wine and glasses and flowers and the biggest ceramic baking dish I think I’ve ever seen. They embodied that group of women (the one man didn’t arrive until just before lunch) from the village that you remember from old stories; laughing, preparing, correcting, knowing, providing and just being the very heart of a place.
Here’s what they made for us -
It’s called Papas a la Huancayina – a traditional potato dish with a cheese sauce. It’s one of Carmen’s favorites, and now I know why. Lovely. We also had a chicken and rice dish from the magnificent clay pot they brought with them – the rice had been cooked in a light puree of cilantro and spinach, so it was green and crazy good. The chicken was also so tasty I’m glad there were lots of people there or I would have eaten it all! That meal was memorable not only for the tastes but for the laughter and conviviality – the Vicentinas were so warm and welcoming and we had some fun trading recipes around.
Martha’s stunning nieces, Romina and Roxana, run a tour company called Highland Peru Tours - I couldn’t recommend them more if you’re headed to Peru. They set us up with our brilliant guides in Cusco and Machu Picchu, and they managed all our arrangements with absolute ease and efficiency. It was a gift to meet them. As if that weren’t enough, they also treated us to a beautiful buffet lunch in Miraflores. Oh, yum. I finally had my ceviche – it was perfect. In fact, I could have eaten nothing else. But I did. It was so good! At the top of the photo, you can just see my glass of chicha morada, which is made from purple corn and in this case was not fermented (I had serious food to attend to and needed my wits about me) and the flavor was mild and sweet.
This lunch was wonderful and varied and at the end of it I figured I was set for the rest of the week. But oh, no – we had a birthday party that night at one of the Vicentina’s homes and they brought out an enormous dish of chicken and potatoes with super spicy delicious sauce. I explained, or rather Martha explained, that we’d already eaten – so they disappeared into the kitchen and brought it back to me, minus one small piece of meat. It was a tough job, but someone had to eat that beautiful meal. I have no regrets.
What an abundance of wonderful tastes. I wish I had photos from the markets – bags and bags of every possible color and size of potato. Spices, grains, cheeses, fruits – all beautiful and varied. I wish I had some shots of the dishes that Martha made for us – her father was a chef, her mother an amazing cook as well – and she put together the most beautiful soup, wontons, chicken and potatoes… oh la la I wish I could intern with her! I did get a shot of one treat she made for me:
That’s my Pisco Sour in there!!! What’s hard to see in this picture is that the bottle on the left just has a piece of tape stuck to the front with ‘PISCO’ handwritten on it. Bit dodgy for a Sister of Charity, don’t you think?
It was delicious.