A ceviche lunch in Lima, after I finished.
Travel Date 23rd March - 8th April 2010.
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The title may seem a bit high-faluting, but that's what it is about. If you prefer, this is about eating, not fine dining. I eat to live. Actually, as a 63yo type 2 diabetic, I eat more carefully than most to live a little better and a little longer.
I have some personal rules about the foods I choose when I travel in foreign lands. First, for hygiene reasons, I absolutely avoid any uncooked vegetables or fruits that have been washed in the local water or that I can not peel myself. Consequently, I avoid most salads. The few occasions when I have failed to adhere to this rule have inevitably led to an extended and intimate acquaintance with the porcelain fittings in the little room beside the bedroom next morning. Hong Kong (an apple) and Dallas (salad in a chicken wrap) will never be forgotten...I prefer different moments for memorable occasions. I did get a case of the traveller's curse from one of the small cafes in Nazca; I suppose it is one of the inevitable hazards of a trip like this. But I was over it in a few days and it has not recurred.
Second, as a type 2 diabetic I avoid excessive consumption of carbohydrates. Sometimes that means that a significant portion of the food served to me as part of set menus is still on the plate after my meal.
Third, despite those two rules, I try to eat as wide a variety of vegetables and fruit as possible. It isn't always easy, but it can be worth the effort. However, sometimes I have to relax the rules or go hungry. I relax the rules on carbohydrates a little, but not the rules on salads and fruits.
I found that I could choose from several different economic levels of dining in Peru. I think I tried most of them, except for the grossly over-priced hotel lunch buffet at Machu Picchu. When I mention prices in soles, note that 10 Peruvian new soles is around AU$4 or US$3.50. Before I mention the usual restaurants they have several fast-food restaurants in Peru; this is Bemboa's in Cusco and the meal you get for 16 soles.
Most of the mid-range hotels and “Turistic” restaurants provide an a la carte service with main courses between 25 and 35 soles. A glass of red wine adds 10 to 15 soles; a beer or coffee adds about 5 to 8 soles. A good meal could be enjoyed for less than AU$20; often much less. I ate my evening meals at restaurants like those every second day. The standard was fairly good, but variable; I avoided ceviche and usually chose beef, alpaca or fish. Where available Alpaca is an excellent meat and is very tender and tasty when cooked correctly. This is Alpaca Brochette:
Unfortunately, being “Turistic”, one of the problems was a sameness of menus. Additionally, it became difficult to get much choice in vegetables. Almost every dish came with the obligatory fries or rice or both with a small salad of lettuce and tomato. Sometimes I was able to negotiate with the chef to substitute vegetables for the rice or fries, but that usually resulted in some rather unappetising lukewarm concoctions of carrots, corn and green beans. That brochette was one of those times - the Alpaca was wonderful but the veges were cold. My solution was to eat at a Chinese restaurant at least twice a week – they seemed to be the only chefs in Peru who cooked vegetables properly. Every "Chinese" chef I saw looked rather Quechuan.
Many of the hotels and hostels provided desayuno or breakfast. At hostels that tended to be “continental”; basically some form of bread, cereal, juice and coffee. I ate out when I stayed at those. The better hotels included a chef who cooked eggs to order, sometimes with a choice of hot meats such as fried chicken or frankfurts. For some reason tocino, or bacon, never appears on breakfast menus regardless of the economic level.
When I ate desayuno away from the hostel I usually chose the cheap places that the Peruvians patronised. I initially ate at the turistic restaurants but I found the higher prices did not give any improvement in quality. I usually had to explain what I wanted, but once we got past the language barrier I learned to order "dos huevos fritos con jamon", two fried eggs with ham, and never had a problem with quality or after-effects. Maybe it was my accent but despite saying “no pan, no arroz” both bread and rice - and sometimes juice - would accompany them at least half the time. A good breakfast, including coffee, could be had for 5 to 8 soles.
Similarly, I eventually ate my almuerzo, or lunch, at the same sort of places for the same reasons. To be honest, I enjoyed mixing with a crowd of Peruvians better than being a lone or isolated diner in a restaurant, despite the lack of communications. Most of these restaurants were tiny places with four or five tables that had a basic set menu. There was usually a soup, a choice of two or three mains and sometimes a dessert or an included cordial. Serves were small but quite adequate; I had satisfying meals despite leaving all the carbs on the plates. All for 5 to 10 soles. The mains usually gave a choice of fish, meat or chicken with the obligatory fries or rice and salad. I didn't bother trying to vary that and just left them on the plate because I got my vegetables via the vegetable soups which were consistently excellent. However, Peruvian “minestrone” would definitely not be recognised in Italy.
The soups were so good that quite often that was all I had for a lunch. Temptation can be difficult at times. The first picture is the view I got in a restaurant in Cusco when I looked down, and the second is the view when I looked up.
The price could vary from as high as 15 soles in a Turistic restaurant to this one for 1.5 soles in the Cusco market. It also tasted excellent; I always left the potato and noodles in the bowl.
The next few pictures are from that market to show the range of foods. I never knew there could be so many different colours for corn.
I ate meat of some type at almost every meal, despite seeing the casual attitude that the Peruvian butchers had to some of the things we take for granted in the West such as refrigeration, hygiene, dogs and flies. I could see things like this and then close my mind to them at dinner-time as I tucked into a "lomo". The final picture is the offal aisle; the smell was indescribable.
As I slowly discovered the way things worked in Peru I eventually ate rather well. Of course, I always discovered the best restaurant on my last day in a town, but that is the nature of things. And even when the meals were average the ambiance or the locations were sometimes wonderful.
I never quite had the courage to try some of the street vendor's foods. I am not certain, but I think he is peeling boiled pigeon eggs; I saw these being sold at the kerb at several locations in Cusco.
This guy's sign advertises that his product is organic and healthy; the next pic is a close-up of the product. He should be a hit with French tourists.
The first lady is selling a form of kebab cooked on an open charcoal grill, with strips of meat and sausage topped by a potato. The second lady is whipping up her mix that will become similar to ice cream but it stays firm above freezing.
I came close, but finally decided that baked guinea pigs, cuy al horno, looked two much like cooked fat rats. It's those two front teeth that really put me off. Yeah, I know, I'm a wuss. My excuse is that my grand-daughter would never forgive me if I ate a relative of her pet guinea pigs. These were for sale in the street at 9 soles; in restaurants they top the menu at 50 soles or more. One of the guys on my bus back from Machu Picchu mentioned that he had paid US$50 for his the night before in a top restaurant.