Shantanu asked me to write something about Peruvian food. Now unlike him, I am not a foodie, so I don’t really enjoy food by the same magnitude as he does. In fact, for a long time I thought that eating food is a waste of time and there must be ways to avoid it. hmm… sounds strange, I know.
Before leaving, my Peruvian friends told me that Peru is not easy on vegetarians, so I started preparing weeks in advance in Toronto by eating meat – chicken, pork, ham, various kinds of fish.. While a vegetarian guy can comfortably survive in Peru, this meat eating did help me get around.
Breakfast, lunch and dinner:
Govinda chain of restaurants which is present in almost every city. They make simple food that is fully vegetarian, nutritious and cheap – just what a backpacker needs. These restaurants are managed by Hare-Krishna (ISKON) people and if you are Indian you will get a royal treatment.
Lima: Lunch at Govinda: Mixed spicy vegetables with rice. I love lemonade. (Everything on table – $3.5)
Potato and rice is the staple diet and most meals have a potato soup, potato vegetable and even a potato dessert in a typical 3 course meal. In one of the villages on Amantani island in lake Titicaca, the house lady prepared lunch which consisted of cheese and about 10 varieties of potatoes – different tastes, shapes, sizes and colours. Potato is native to Peru and there are about 2,000 varieties cultivated here. When the Spanish conquerors first came across the potato, they called it ‘food for Indians and animals‘ (Indians i.e. natives). The potato has gone a long way since then.
A couple of times I ate at cheap restaurants where Peruvian worker class (taxi drivers, laborers, sweepers etc. and uh, backpackers who have no money) eats, I asked for a five course meal which cost only me S/. 5 ($1.6 or Rs. 60). This wa extremely cheap food by Peruvian standards too. The first course was a potato salad, followed by starters (fried potatoes), Potato soup, and then the actual meal was simply cooked potato’s with rice. It tasted very similar to what’s called उपासाची बटाट्याची भाजी (potatos made during fasting days) in Marathi. Just when I thought this was over, they brought desserts – yes, made of sweet potato. Oh God, death by starch!
Arequipa: Potato with rice. (5 course meal at a cheap restaurant – $1.6)
Other than that, I am big on breakfasts and I have a gigantic breakfast early in the morning. Eggs, bacon/ham, bread, butter, jam and tons of caffeine. That’s the recipe for a great day. I usually snack on some fruits – bananas, apples etc during the day which is convenient if you are traveling in a bus or a combi. It can be shared with fellow passengers and is great tool to strike conversations, afterall everyone I met loved sharing food with a foreigner. Remember to carry your own knife, always peel the fruits and never wash them with tap water.
Ollantaytambo: Typical Breakfast ($2.5-$4)
Peruvian eating style is very ‘western’, probably influenced by Spanish. I never saw anyone eat but with forks and knives. Table manners are fun to watch, esp in cheap eating places – people talk loudly, call the waiters loudly (but its still friendly, unlike India), share food with each other and are not overly concerned if a few bits are stuck around their lips. Tipping is not very popular except in touristic places.
Alpaca – the Andean sheep, Llama – the Andean camel and Cuy – Guinea pigs are meat specialties. I had Alpaca and Llama only once and while it was not bad, there is only so much meat I can happily eat. Ceviche the seafood is something I liked a lot and is very hardcore Peruvian. Unfortunately I don’t have a picture of Llama and Ceviche dishes.
Aguas Caliantes: Alpaca meat. (Dinner at an “upscale” restaurant – $6-$8)
Desserts are my weakness and cakes, pastries and icecream is available everywhere. So are fresh fruit juice and milk shake stalls but avoid them if you are worried about your stomach. I had them only twice before I met a traveller who had diarrhea. haha
Street food: Death by Ceviche
There were a number of roadside vendors in most of the cities making barbecue meat or kebabs. This is hugely popular among the tourist crowd, especially the Israelis who are all over the place. I kept away from street food mostly except for Chicken kebabs until the last day when I committed the sin. Only 6 hours prior to my return flight from Lima, I ate fish on the street with a newly made friend and that was it. Within few hours, I was sick with diarrhoea and my whole return flight back to Canada was ruined. (I feel sorry for the guy sitting next to me)
Its strange to write about food because unlike many travelers, I am not curious about food. Do let me know what you think. Maybe some day I’ll discover the joys of eating!