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 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!