10.21.2012

A Real Taste of Peru

What began as an Amazonian jungle ride has turned into a foodie festival in two of the biggest cities in Peru; Lima and Cusco. Lima, the capital of Peru, is very industrial and from the air one can't help but notice the massive shipping and cargo yards that line the Pacific coastline. Cusco, on the other hand, is tucked away high up in the Andean mountains and is economically sound with tourism and agriculture; it is unlike any city I have ever been too. After the Amazon adventure our first stop was a two-day sleepover in Lima and we landed at a bed and breakfast right next to the zoo. Transitioning from the 24/7 bird calls that sound like water drops on Saturn and fragrant greenery of that of the Garden of Eden, to car alarms and whistles and smoggy streets of dogs and signs with 'pollo' everywhere, was quite the stimulus overload. Candy anyone?



Meow. Hello jaguars.




The memories of our ancestors.




I wanted to hug both the monkeys and Jess.




All throughout the summer in Alaska I was on the search for brown bears, and oddly, never saw one. Now, in the big city of Peru, we finally meet.




The street where our B & B was located.


Shellfish, fish and chicken are the most common menu items in the city. Most dishes come with a side of rice and/or fried yucca or potatoes, and maybe a few veggies. The question of the day is - what water was used to wash the veggies and can my stomach handle it? At all the restaurants I've been to so far, you have to buy your own water and it comes in two forms.... with gas (carbonated) and without gas. Both options run around two bucks a bottle. It's wise to buy a big gallon jug in the store for just a dollar more and lug it around with you all day. Fresh water = need it. 


Peru has hundreds, if not thousands, of varieties of potatoes and corn. Quinoa is also prevalent and comes in a number of colours. These staple goods are what fueled the Incas. Inkan agriculture was/is very sophisticated. One sir told me all about the Inkan preservation of potatoes. From what I interpreted from our park bench conversation... they would cure them for long periods of time in caves,  underwater in 'special' rivers or during the chilly nights, and then dehydrate the tators with earthen fire pits or in the daytime dry sunshine. When dry, the potatoes would last for decades and only had to be re-hydrated to eat. The Incas terraced the mountains with farm fields so that they could maximize irrigation and protect the crops from wind. Each crop had it's niche and favorable growing environment at a certain altitude along the mountain slope. Por ejemplo, the valleys of Cusco are far more wet and warm than the ridges, so, the valleys were where water-needy plants were grown.


Cusco is a one hour flight from Lima and is 3400 meters above sea level. The stores at the the airport sell oxygen shots, high altitude pills and raw coca leaves to help acclimate.


Cusco is a smallish city of red roofed abodes surrounded by mountains.


When we arrived, Carlos, our homestay host, welcomed us with a cup of tea and a list of Cusco's most authentic Peruvian restaurants. 


The house was decorated with antique colonial artifacts and it felt like I slipped back a century in time. It's believed that more 80% of the original Inca tribesmen and tribeswomen were killed off by the interactions with the Spanish conquistadors in the early- to mid-1500s. The Inca had inferior weapons and were subject to disease; very much the same story told by the early Native Americans of the North during the colonization of the United States of America.

By the kitchen there was a wall of Inca farming tools and a herb garden. There were a few cats back there too. Carlos introduced me to a couple of the popular herbs that are only found in Peru. Huacatay (black mint), my favorite, is very common in stews and meat sauces and tastes like cilantro, basil, ginger, lime and lemon grass... all in one. Most of the herbs used in cooking here are also used a medicinal teas. When you order tea in Cusco, you are given a mug of hot water and a few leaves. There is no tea bag.


A very tranquil atmosphere with no electronics.


The streets of Cusco.



La Plaza de Armas.


I was suggested to not eat at any of the food joints near the main plaza, because of tourist prices, but I was curious to see what a touristy pizza was all about.


A table displaying Inca cooking ingredients and utensils. This was worth the visit. This table represents to me the culinary path I wish to partake in. From the field and to the table. Elbow grease. Stone and earth. No chemicals. 100% natural. 100% healthy. 100% medicinal. And why is it a tourist attraction? Why cannot it not be real in the commonplace?


The pizza was cheesy and pricey.


Adjacent to the plaza are alleyways full of textile and craft shops.  I've spent most of my time cruising the streets trying to figure out who and what is genuine and who and what's not.  The search for the real stuff. 






Oh, honey, how I so admire the way you look at menus. 


Never had this combo before - potato, hard boiled egg, lettuce, olive and cheese sauce.


Most of the local restaurants have a traditional 'menu' special that offers a juice drink, appetizer, hearty soup, main course (segundo) with meat and rice, and gelatinous dessert all for around 3 to 4 bucks. This option is the best way to get your belly full and grab a taste of local foods.


Local, simple cuisine that  is energizing and sustainable.




To the San Pedro market!



A few steps into the San Pedro market and my nose hairs and taste buds flared up to the aroma of fried guinea pig, spicy chicken stews, fresh fruits and cheeses.


The hunt for fresh yogurt.



Bingo.


That's the stuff.


How about some pickled snake? I was tempted to cook a Peruvian snake for dinner, but when I took a closer look at the stand I realized that all the goods were not for eating, but for working magic... aka brujo. The practice of brujo is the practice of power and sorcery, similar to aspects of voodoo. The alternative supernatural path is that of healing, humility and strength. In Iquitos 9 out of 10 shamans practice brujo and those shamans are brought to service if one is searching for money, luck, revenge or lust. Since I am not in the need of any of those things I won't bother with the snakes.


Chicken feet, chicken heads, chicken blood, animal carcases, herbs, spell cards, tobacco...


But, the chocolate... now, that's a temptation I cannot resist.



And the cheese, is some of the best I've ever had despite the fact it sits out at room temperature for days.


Caviar. Probably days old too. Mmm.


Who needs an ice bath? Let the flies preserve it. I've eaten tons from these booths and haven't got the tummy bug, yet.



Cheese. 


Tons of dried grains and corn.


Quinoa by the kilo.


About three quarters of the market is food and the other part is crafts. The same ol' same ol' crafts you'd find anywhere else in Cusco. Same designs, same fabric... all with a different story of creation by the sellers.


At night there's at least two or three police officers on each street.


The streets are walled with genuine art.



If you find a find a field of grass, there's a good chance a family of alpacas will be grazing on it.





Ruins.


Llama.


The school playground.


Watch dogs.


Church.



Lunch. A bun stuffed with hot peppers.


A street-side carpenter.


Back to the San Pedro market. The stinky meat section.



San pedro cacti at the San Pedro market. These cacti supported the Nazca culture of Peru (100-800 CE) search for spiritual enlightenment and enhanced their ability to create complex crafts and architecture. An increase in the efficiently/intelligence of agriculture design and management of livestock means more free time to get crafty and inventive. One of this most common relics of these people are the Nazca lines. They relied heavily on the rain for the production of their staple crops and due to the removal of trees (>increase erosion) and climatic changes (>el nino), they were left dry for a number of decades and their peak existence came to a close. 1500 years later and you can still see their elaborate temples, aqueducts and taste their foods.


Live music offers a distraction to the traffic.


One of the textile markets where we often stop to pay $1 to use the bathroom. It's tough to find a free bathroom in this city. You either know someone, some hidden tree or go to Starbucks.



Jess is starting a new trend that the elderly ladies adore.



For siesta time we sit in the park and watch the baby goats and get sprayed occasionally but the big fountain. One Peruvian woman came up to us and asked if she could take a picture of her son in our arms. It's like we are foreign tourists for the native tourists, equally as interesting and unique. Some of the locals think of me as a surfer dude and tell me where the waves are, another pack of boys called me Tarzan a few days ago.


Nightime in the plaza is alive with festivals and dances.


Here was a demonstration in opposition to domestic narco-terrorism. From what I gather on the streets, the coca plants grown in Peru are sent to Colombia to be processed into cocaine, which is then sent northbound to Mexico and the States. The drug war is showing face more in Peru than ever before and there's a rising against the violence that's being witnessed in the rural farming communities. Supply and demand. To end the violence that's occurring at the supply end of the drug chain in a developing nation you have to stop the demand for the goods that's big in the Western world, and that my brothers and sisters comes down to individual choice.



Dinner at a vegetarian restaurant.


Veggie soup.



Art time.



A giant crepe with honey. Jess is spooning a big bowl of yogurt and honey.



Friday night in the plaza.


I've found a really chill spot way up on the hill near the ruins and church where you can watch and listen to the city at night. Last night I saw a shooting star streak across the city lights.




A little something sweet to end the night with... a Peruvian cheesecake and some truffles. All tasted very different from the ones I create.


Another day in the sun.


Lunch with guacamole...


and a royal veggie burger with cheese and platanos.


Two lentil patties with a hard boiled egg and slab of white cheese.


Laughing cause I never eat burgers. What's got into me?



The alter at the hotel we're now staying at. Human skull by the staircase, no big deal.


Erosion on the wall.


So many eclectic doorways in the alleys. One could create an entire art exposition on Cusco's doors.







Sunset over Cusco.








Yes, there's a KFC, McDonald's and Starbucks in the city centre.


Here is a tranquil pizza place we stumbled upon.







Delish salsa picante.







Breakfast at the market.






I went to the market on Sunday morning to gather fruit and came across a bag of hot deep fried guinea pigs. I told the lady that my sister used to have a pet guinea pig named Oreo and she said that hers were the most savory. Sure, why not? One of Oreo's cousins for lunch. For $10 she gave me a fried g-pig stuffed with greens and a few potatoes in a plastic bag. I scurried away from the market to find a place to eat the g-pig in peace.



Had to make my way through thousands of black coat church goers carrying a bag steaming of deep fried guinea pig.


I climbed the tallest hill I could find that overlooked the city and ate my lunch in the sun with the stray dogs.