Food Part 2 – Dining Out (Safe for Reading)

Apart from the cuy (see Food Part 1) Peruvian food is delicious: many fruits and vegetables (more on those in another post coming soon), meats of all kinds, seafood, excellent chicken, the best French fries ever, good bread, delicious seasonings.  The list goes on.  Peru is well known for its potatoes, there are over 1,000 varieties (and dozens in daily use), and cholco, which is corn with huge kernels.  Peruvians love their starches; many meals come with both French fries and rice, in addition to a roll or slice of bread.  Juice is also quite popular and while I have yet to find a food processor in a store, I have seen countless juicers and numerous street vendors sell freshly squeezed juices.

It is quite cheap to get a good meal in a restaurant.  A couple of weeks ago we had lunch at a cevicheria, La Base, in Cajamarca.  This time there were no French fries, but there were the best cancha, or corn nuts, ever.  These were freshly roasted and came to our table a little warm, crunchy on the outside and creamy/starchy on the inside.  Nothing like the hard teeth breakers we buy at the bar at home!  We each had the ceviche misto, which was a plate of fresh ceviche made with shrimp, octopus, and squid.  There were two root veggies on the plate, which appeared to be boiled, and cholco.  One root veggie was similar to a sweet potato and the other was white.  Neither of them did much for me, so I focused on the ceviche instead.  Total cost for the meal, including waters and a tip was 29 soles or $10.88.

Many restaurants offer only a special menu at the lunch hour.  The menu usually includes a roll; choice of salad or soup; a choice of entrée, often fried fish, breaded fish, lomo saltado (beef/veggie stir fry served over, you guessed it, French fries), chicken, a pork dish or cuy (we are done with that!); fresh juice and sometimes a dessert.  The entrée comes with a veggie and a starch or sometimes two starches.  Matt and I went to Tuna Café in Cajamarca and for 9 soles ($3.38) each we had the following: a roll, glass of fresh fruit juice, chicken soup or salad (we had soup, see the water blog), chicken with sautéed veggies and rice (Kerry) and a beef stew with rice (Matt), and a caramel pudding.  Everything was fresh and delicious and our entire meal and tip was under $10.

We have also had some lunch misses.  We have tried a few cheaper joints both in Banos and in Cajamarca.  At one place the daily lunch special  (soup, main dish, juice) was 4 soles and the food was not very good.  Plus the place was just too dirty for me to feel comfortable with the food and I kept hoping the soup had been boiled for 3 minutes!  We ate at another place in Cajamarca that was packed with locals for the 5 or 6 sole lunch, and while it was a little better, it was not a place we will return due to the lack of cleanliness and sub par food.  For the low price at a “good” place, we do not need to eat at a bad one!

One day we treated ourselves to lunch at one of the nicer restaurants in town, Querubino.  They do not serve a daily lunch special so we ordered off the menu.  I had a lovely fish, although I cannot now recall what kind, served with sautéed veggies and rice.  Matt had a beef carpaccio appetizer and a steak served with French fries and sautéed veggies.  We each had a drink and bottled water.  Total price was 87 soles or $31.32.

Rotisserie chicken is a specialty in the area due to the farming, and we have had excellent chicken both at home and in restaurants.  For 10 soles at our local restaurant we can get ¼ chicken, salad and French fries that are to die for.  Condiments are usually served with meals and while I have never been an American condiment fan (no ketchup, mustard, mayo or ranch dressing for me!), I love the Peruvian condiments.  Aji, is a pepper sauce and ranges from mild to really spicy.  Then there is an herb, garlic, olive oil sauce that is incredible.  Often there is a mayo type item and ketchup, but I ignore those.

We are doing our best to return to low carb eating, but it is difficult, if not impossible, with the type of foods prevalent here.  So we try to keep carbs like bread, sweets, rice or potatoes out of our house and to eat them in moderation when we are out.  I am never very successful with the French fries, though, and fear the cancha will be another one of my downfalls!

Water, Water Everywhere Nor Any Drop to Drink

It is hard getting used to not drinking the water.  While the water here is theoretically potable, it isn’t for us.  And not drinking includes: not brushing your teeth with it, not opening your mouth when you are in the shower or washing your face, not rinsing food with it, not having iced drinks when we are out.  We have a 20-liter container of bottled water that we use for these things, which costs 16 nuevos soles or $6.  So far it lasts about 6 days.  The good news is that to get a refill, we can just stop in or call our corner store and they deliver it.  A guy rides it over on his scooter, comes in and swaps out the old bottle for the new.  Udate: We found an even better deal – 10 soles for established delivery every week or we can call to get water more frequently.  This sale happened in what we are learning is the customary fashion – someone came to our house and when we said no the first time, came back a week later.  Door to door salespeople are common here and they appear to sell just about everything: cell/internet service, rugs, kitchen wares, stuffed animals and water.  The cell/internet people are canvassing the neighborhood in earnest these days and we get several knocks on our door a day from them.

Using bottled water isn’t the biggest hardship, but is a pain when you want to brush your teeth and need to run downstairs for some water.  We have also been advised not to eat fruits or uncooked vegetables in restaurants right now because they will have been washed in “bad” (for us) water.  Once we adjust a bit to the environment (i.e., dirt) around here, it should be less of a risk to eat those foods outside our house.

In the meantime, washing fruits and vegetables is a process.  First, I rinse them and then soak them in “bad” water and bleach, yes, bleach, for 5 minutes. Swish them around a bit, hope I don’t get bleach on my clothes and then rinse them with “good” water.  I need to rinse them thoroughly so they don’t taste like bleach, which uses quite a bit of good water.  So I am now experimenting with turning “bad” water into “good” water by boiling it for 3 minutes.  While the travel nurse told us 20 seconds was adequate boiling time, the CDC says 1 minute is needed and 3 minutes if at high altitude.  So let’s hope 3 minutes works otherwise Matt and I might be sick tomorrow from our dinner salad!

Food Part 1 – Cuy (Don’t read while eating. Really.)

On Day 12 I ate rat.  Okay, it really was guinea pig, which is a Peruvian specialty called cuy, but it sure looked like a rat.

Cuy

The taste was fine, not like chicken as I expected and with some nice creole-type spices, but the presentation was such that I don’t intend to ever eat it again and in fact may have a nightmare about it.  Matt, who had had been gunning to try it and actually bought it, couldn’t eat it and I thought he was going to throw up as it sat on our table at the Mixtura Cajamarca (the Cajamarca Food Festival).

Cuy is on the menu of just about every restaurant in the area and is offered two ways: fried and stewed.  There was no way I would have tried the fried cuy as those look like flayed bats but I ignorantly thought stewed would mean the meat was off the bone and chopped in little pieces.  I knew something was up when Matt was walking back to our table with his plate in hand and a peculiar look on his face.    And there it was: a half (we think, we did our best not to look too closely) stewed guinea pig, complete with little nasty claws and a prominent rat-like tooth.  It was worse when we went to turn it over in the hopes that the other side would look less rat-like and then saw its little head and ear.

Cuy 2

Matt was done, but I picked away at the edge of it, trying to not look at it, to get a little taste.  I succeeded and called it quits after about 1/8 of a normal sized bite.

Then it sat on our table until the guy clearing plates came by.  He was very friendly and concerned that we didn’t like it and asked if the taste was too strong or meat too tough. How do you explain to someone that his national dish is revolting to you without being rude?  The best I could come up with was that I couldn’t look at the tooth, which gave him a good laugh.  I think he was relieved later when he cleared our dessert plates and saw we had eaten every bite.

Apart from the cuy, we enjoyed the Mixtura, which is a fundraiser for the neighborhoods of the city with the proceeds going toward the Carnival parties.  Each neighborhood makes a typical Cajamarquena dish and your entrance fee  ($9.35) allows you an appetizer, entrée and dessert, which you eat in a covered pavilion while enjoying music from a band.   I had Caldo Verde, or green soup, for my appetizer.  It is a broth-based soup with the “green” coming from fresh parsley and possibly other herbs.  It has potatoes, fresh cheese and boiled egg.  Really delicious.

Caldo verde

Matt had fried, stuffed potatoes, which were sliced potatoes pan fried with various spices and some unidentifiable meat that he believes were chicken innards.  The potatoes were tasty; I passed on the innards, but Matt likes them so he ate them.  Our other appetizer choice was a huge ear of boiled corn with a generous slice of fresh cheese.  After the cuy fiasco, I got us the Parrillada, or grilled meat plate, to share.  The plate contained a very thin filet, a red sausage of some kind, boiled potato and cooked carrots.  The potato was presented cut in half and each half had a different green sauce.  Both were good although one was quite spicy.  The Parrillada was a much better choice for us than the cuy!  Other entrée options were fried cuy, roasted hen leg, grilled chicken, Chicharones, which is a common pork dish that is cut up stewed chunks of meat served over huge kernels of corn, or fried trout.  Our dessert options were various cakes, gelatin, figs with honey or some gooey, fruity tart.  We each opted for a slice of cake; both were very good: moist with a wonderful chocolate flavor.  Matt’s slice had a caramel frosting and filling and mine was maraschino.  A delicious end to the Mixtura.

mixtura