I’ve been right impressed with the grub in Peru, I have. You’re never short of a slice of pineapple, sugar coated pastries and even boiled eggs, all there on the side of the road waiting for an impulse purchase. In the morning there’s an abundance of hand carts or cafes stocked full of S/.1 sandwiches containing egg or chicken or that really salty cheese that tastes like they’ve been pulling the wrong dangly bit on the wrong bovine. But in the restaurants they also serve up a wealth of great nom.
The most common things you’ll find are pollorias where you can get chicken, chips and rice for cheap cheap cheap. Set menus in cafes are the norm, a soup, a main and a drink for S/.10 or less. But if we’re branching out into tourist places, give the llama steak a go. It’s a strong meat, not for everyone but damn it’s good. I’ve had alpaca minced up and stuffed into a capsicum too, also lovely, and no one seems to opposed to chowing down on these creatures.
But the one thing that people back home gag at, the photos they stare at in wide eyed horror as they gasp, “Oh my god I can’t believe they eat those!” is the sight of a roasted cuy. It’s cute, it’s fluffy, it’s a pet for families with children everywhere… It’s the humble guinea pig and it’s been gracing the plates of Andeans for centuries. Cuy are usually considered a delicacy, I stayed at a place in the Colca Canyon where they were running all over the kitchen, getting on with their little rodenty lives, oblivious to their fate. But at the orphanage where my mate Valerie volunteered they ate them a lot. They had a barn full. Let’s face it, they’re cheap to keep, low maintenance and they fuck like, well, guinea pigs thus producing more and more food with minimum expenditure. And you know what else? They taste bloody good!
Methinks the best place to try them would be Cusco but I never got around to it, instead I ended up trying it whilst out with a couple of mates in Arequipa when we treated ourselves to a nice restaurant. Like, a really posh one where they drizzle the sauce around the edge of the plate as opposed to putting it directly on the food where it’d be more useful. This is one of the reasons I don’t do posh places, all that money for a feed and I still have to apply my own condiments. Another reason is the fact they use cloth instead of paper napkins. What am I meant to blow my nose on?
So me and Ciaran ordered the cuy and Isla stuck with lumps of vegetables on a skewer. Our food arrived. Mine and Ciaran’s was three guinea pig legs, complete with claws, arranged nicely on the top of a pile of vegetables. Erm, excuse me, was my guinea pig crippled or something? Where’s the fourth leg? Bloody posh places! Some places you can get cuy they’ll bring you the whole thing on a plate. Hehe, there’s one way to explain to the children what happened to Squeak.
I’d heard that they were quite difficult to eat on account of the bones and that they tasted like chicken. The bones thing is correct but I got around that by using my fingers because I’m uncouth and shouldn’t be allowed anywhere near a place that arranges food nicely before it’s served. Ciaran attempted it with a knife and fork because he’s altogether more classy but class doesn’t get you fed and he couldn’t handle the bones. And as for the taste? Well, chicken, sort of, yeah. But smoother if that makes sense? You know how chicken can be stringy? There was none of that with this. It was delicious. You should probably get a better padlock for that hutch, people…
Another Peruvian favourite is ceviche which you can get in the markets for really cheap or you can go to a dedicated seafood restaurant and pay a bit more but be safe in the knowledge that you won’t come away with a brand new parasite to keep you company whilst you’re emptying the contents of your stomach from both ends. Basically it’s raw seafood, usually fish, marinated in lime juice and other stuff that gives it a spicy kick. If it’s done badly it just tastes like lumps of chewy slime soaked in battery acid but if it’s done right it’s beautiful. By no means less acidic but the taste is divine and you’ll find yourself asking for more bread to dip in the juice even as you feel it stripping the enamel off your teeth. The one in the photo is a market version served with choclo, which is corn on steroids, and seaweed which I hate when it wraps itself around my legs at the beach so bollocks if I’m putting it in my mouth.
The drinks are good an’ all, as well as an okay selection of reasonably priced fall-down juice, Peru is the home of Inca Cola, a product of those undisputed world leaders in carbonated tooth decay, Coca Cola. It’s yellow. And I mean, like, really yellow. Like, if you drank it you’d gain radioactive super powers. If Inca Cola was spilt on snow you’d be strongly advised against eating aforementioned snow. You’d sooner use it to clean your oven than put it in your mouth. North Korea are trying to obtain some to use in their nuclear weapons program. It’s really fucking yellow.
And it’s really fucking good! I’m a total Coca Cola whore but now when faced with the question of which cola do I want I’m stumped. I don’t know anymore. The discovery of this sunshine coloured liquid has called into question everything I know about thirst quenching hangover cures and stuff to mix with vodka. Excuse me please while I go and rethink my beliefs.
Of course there’s coca leaf tea too. It’s meant to help your fragile tourist head with the altitude but whatever, I can’t get enough of this shit. It’s a shame it’s illegal in the UK and I’d be stopped at customs and thrown in prison before you can say, “Yeah but you can’t snort it though” if I tried to bring so much as a teabag back.