Peruvian Foods I Will Miss While I Am in the US

Now don’t get me wrong. There are MANY American foods I miss while I am in Peru. Cheddar cheese, decent hamburgers, frozen custard, good wine, chocolate chips… the list is not short. Then there is sour cream. I don’t even like sour cream, yet it is in many recipes, including most dips. Haven’t seen it in Cajamarca since last September. But there are many foods I enjoy here that will not be available, or as good, in the US. No, cuy is not on the list!

1. Fresh Tropical Fruits.The markets have fresh, local fruits. The mangoes here are out of this world. Yes, we can get mangoes in the US, but in Wisconsin they are shipped countless miles and the taste is evident. Same with the pineapples and pomegranates; they are delicious here. Then there are the weird fruits that we can get here: tuna (or prickly pears), mamay (looks like a coconut on the outside and a cantaloupe on the inside, but tastes nothing like either), pacay (it has big dark seeds but you eat the super sweet white gauzy part around the seeds), pepino (relative of the eggplant but has the color and consistency of a pear on the inside and tastes kind of like one too), cherimoya (custard apple, sweet with a soft consistency). We have been here almost a year so we have seen the fruits cycle in and out of season. I will also miss Maria, our amazing housekeeper, who washes and cuts all of the fruits for me. It reminds me of Italy where my great aunts would peel and feed everyone fruit for dessert.

 

2. Avocados. Maria brings me avocados from the tree in her yard. Delicious and because they are as fresh as you can get, even if they feel a little mushy, the inside is still perfectly fine.

Huge Avocado

Huge Avocado

3. Caldo Verde. It is an herb-based soup made with potatoes and eggs that is typically eaten for breakfast. You add fresh cheese and cancha (freshly roasted corn nuts, see below) at the table. I have Caldo Verde almost every week. It isn’t hard to make, but it takes three herbs, parsley, paico and herba buena, and I am not sure whether the latter two can be found in Wisconsin.

Caldo Verde

Caldo Verde

 

4. French fries. Yes, I know I can get french fries all over Wisconsin, but honestly, they are so much better here. Likely because they are freshly made and not frozen and mass produced, but even the freshly made ones at home are not as good as the ones here. Everything is served with french fries.

 

5. Pisco Sour. My cocktail of choice in Peru. 3 parts Pisco, 1 part lime juice, 1 part simple syrup, egg white and a dash of angostura bitters.  Tasty and packs a powerful punch!

Pisco sour

Pisco sour

6. Cancha. I come from a family of popcorn aficionados. My parents made it most nights and each of us kids has a special popcorn pot, seasoned to perfection. That said, I always preferred the burnt kernels or unpopped ones. Cancha is perfect for me – the seeds roast and expand a little, but it does not pop into a fluffy kernel. I love it and unfortunately always finish the bowl!

7. Sauces and condiments. On one of our early dates, Matt was mortified because I sent back a sandwich 3 times because the kitchen kept putting mayonnaise on it. I despise American condiments – mustard, ketchup, mayo, ranch dressing, Nitty Gritty special sauce… but I love Peruvian ones. Many are made with peppers, but not all of them are hot, and the chimichurri (herbs, garlic, vinegar and oil) is also amazing. Maria uses a rock mortar and pestle in our backyard to make a rocoto (hot pepper) sauce for us. She believes using the rock makes for a better final product. Who am I to argue?

 

8. Fresh cheese.  While I pine for cheddar, triple cream brie, any Carr Valley cheese and more, the mantecoso cheese is amazing. It has a strong flavor, a firm yet creamy texture and can be bought packaged in the store or straight from the producers.

World-wide, Peruvian food is currently all the rage and for good reason.

 

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