Published on February 18th, 2012 | by admin
Berry good: Sauco is among the fruit used in Peruvian cuisine. Photo: Mrdoctorwil
Unique Cuisine: Peruvian Food You Can Only Eat in the Andes
Any savvy traveler will tell you: One of the best ways to get to know a culture is to try its favorite foods. With so many unique ingredients and a history of creativity in the kitchen, Peruvian cuisine is diverse and delicious. In Cusco and the Andean highlands, where you will pass on your way to Machu Picchu, your inner foodie will rejoice if you try a few of the following delicacies.
First and foremost, you will find the humble spud. The Andes are the birthplace of the potato and each variety of Peruvian papa has a unique flavor and texture. One of the most common kinds is huayro, or “eye” in Quechua. It is named for the deep eyes that dot its surface and prized for being soft and fluffy. Golden-fleshed papas amarillas — yellow potatoes — are found on many menus. The favorite, though, is the peruanita, or little Peruvian, which sports beautiful red and white skin like the colors of the Peruvian flag.
In the vegetable aisle, one will find several native varieties of peppers. The rocoto is riotously spicy and often served stuffed, breaded and fried. Aji is the name used for several skinny and less spicy varieties. Aji amarillo is actually orange and is an important ingredient in the typical Huancaina sauce. Another veggie you won’t find at home is the caiwa. These cucumber relatives are light green and pointed at each end like a yam. Their hollow interior makes them perfect for stuffing.
For a sweet snack, there are several fruits found only in the mountains of Peru. Sauco is a native variety of elderberry with fat, juicy berries and crunchy seeds. Only in season for a brief time, it’s popular in marmalades and syrups. During rainy season you may get to try capuli. This cherry-like stone fruit has a unique, savory-sweet flavor best enjoyed right off the tree. Lastly, don’t miss awaymanto, a sweet relative of the tomato. These small fruits come in a lantern-shaped husks which you peel back to find the tangy treasure inside.
Some of the most interesting flavors found in Peruvian cooking come from native herbs that are sold in mountainous green piles on the street. Huacatay is a very popular flavoring for many dishes. The leafy plant is blended in soups and a popular creamy green sauce. The molle tree produces hard, pink berries which closely mimic the flavor of black pepper. Though it is not actually related, molle is delicious and spicy with red meats especially. Finally, you can wash your meal down with a cup of soothing muña tea. Muña is a native Andean mint with a mild, sweet flavor. Said to be good for digestion, muña can be bought fresh or in teabags to take home with you.
All these foods and many more can be sampled in the restaurants of Cusco and the Sacred Valley or enjoyed at the local open-air markets, like the sprawling San Pedro market in Cusco. Your taste buds will thank you.
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Peru’s gastronomy is becoming a tourist attraction in its own right, and culinary tours of the country can be arranged through a good Peru travel agent. If you have specific interests or would like to learn more about Peru’s culinary heritage, consider asking a specialist in tailor made Peru trips to customize a tour for you.
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