Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Pigging Out - Peruvian Style

Whenever you go anywhere the first thing people ask you is "how was the food?".  The question is understandable-- it is the safest possible query. Even if you know absolutely NOTHING about a place - no idea of its climate, attractions, government, or language -- you can still be sure they eat food. And whoever visited probably ate food too. So go on, ask me what food I like in Peru.

1. Aji De Gallina - As regular readers probably know, I am vegetarian. Most of the time. But in Peru it can be fairly difficult to say the least. Not only because vegetarian food can be hard to find (in the countryside where I spent most of my time; in large cities it is very easy), but also because Peruvian chicken is delicious. Especially Aji de gallina. Shredded chicken in a spicy, thick, yellow cream sauce, this is one of the most satisfying chicken meals possible. It's so good that I like to have it for my last meal on a trip, as a fond goodbye.



2. Puca Picante - Beats, potatoes, meat, noodles, rice, and a spicy red sauce that may have had coca cola in it, this dish is weird and wonderful all at once.

 Originating in Ayacucho, puca picante can be hard to find outside of Peru.  Well... it was also hard to find in Peru.  Ok ok... I actually only saw it once in person, and that was at a memorial service where it was cooked in giant vats.

 I know it sounds like I'm making this dish up, but trust me. Puca Picante is divine - easily my second favorite dish. Mostly because of the beets, which makes the meat and potatoes have a nice sweetness to them. Don't think too hard about it - just enjoy the surprising flavors.

Sooo delicious. 
Women cooking the puca picante outside


3. Papas ala huancina - Like aji de gallina, but with cold potatoes. I think the coldness throws some people off - but its really quite delicious. It'll often include a fried egg and some olives too. A pretty safe start for your first meal.



4. Palta Rellena (Stuffed avacado) - Lighter fare for lunch can be difficult to find in Peru. Which is one reason why I always appreciate stuffed avacados. Usually you'll be served a giant avacado (and boy does Peru get some big ones!), with a tasty middle stuffed with tuna or chicken salad. Try it with ketchup too! It's delicious and great for a smaller lunch (so you can save up space for an enormous dinner of aji de gallina, obviously).



5. Picarones - These are basically Peruvian doughnuts. But made from delicious things like sweet potatoes. They are thicker in texture than doughnuts, and don't have the gross sweet icing American doughnuts often have. I've seen them served with fig juice - which blows my mind with deliciousness. Since these are deep fried, I will often just buy them and eat them in the market fresh. Don't let them get cold, or they get gummy.

6. Lucuma cookies - There are a lot of delicious, delicious Peruvian snack food. Especially cookies. But when it comes to my number one, I find it to be a surprisingly easy choic: lucama cookies.

 Lucuma is a fruit that tastes like butterscotch to me (although to other people it may taste different). You can't eat it by itself; it is too bitter. So much like vanilla, lucuma needs to be added to something else. Something like cookies.

Basically, think of oreos. But made with a magical butterscotch fruit. Mmmmmmm.

Also, who doesn't want CASINO cookies?


7. Cancha (Fried giant corn) - Perfect bar snack. Salty, crunchy, goes well with pisco - all around the best thing for a late night out. It is like corn nuts but a billion times better, because of its fresher texture and more intense flavor.



8. Chaplas (Ayacucho breads) -- I 've heard that when someone goes from Ayacucho to Lima they will take a giant bag full of  bread. Having tasted that bread, its understandable - I want to bring bags of it and share it with everyone too.

The breads are small, round, and the perfect size to make a sandwich. Plus, when cut open they form perfect little pockets, so no sloppy sandwich spills!  They go great at breakfast with some jam and butter. Or at lunch with tuna and avacado. Or as a snack with peanut butter. Basically I'll eat them anytime.

They are made in big outdoor ovens that produce them twice a day. Early in the morning, and then again in the evening. If you really want the best bread, you should stand in line at the oven itself. They will pop out steaming hot, and you can whip out some garlic and butter and to melt all over them - homemade delicious garlic brad.

Some days I miss these breads so much, my day is incomplete without them. So eat them with care - be prepared to never feel the same about sandwiches.



So this is just the start of my favorite things to eat in Peru. If you ask again, I'll probably give you an even longer list. ;)

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