Eating: (and Savouring) Arequipa

Our next stop was Arequipa, Peru – a beautiful city surrounded by impressive volcanoes on the country’s southern coast.

El Misti, Arequipa Peru

The majestic El Misti volcano that’s visible from almost anywhere in the city of Arequipa, Peru

After finishing the rather tough trek to Machu Picchu, Jason and I just wanted to sprawl out in relative comfort for a few days. So we rented a beautiful little apartment in a Spanish-style house for a week – complete with a full patio set and a fancy, modern BBQ!

Spanish-colonial house in Arequipa, Peru

Our home in Arequipa for the week!

We made immediate use of the BBQ upon arrival. We picked up some summer eats (i.e. chicken, vegetables for grilling) even though we’re in the middle of winter here in Peru.

Arequipa, Peru

Jason in his natural element – barbequing meat

Eating on the patio in Arequipa, Peru

Me, in my natural element – eating!

It was great to be able to cook up something that reminded us of Toronto in the summer – chicken on the barbeque, grilled veggies and cold beer!

Arequipa, Peru

Another fantastic home-cooked meal by Jason

Arequipa is a very liveable city: beautiful little neighbourhoods, an impressive main square, and clean, pedestrian-friendly streets.

Arequipa's main square

The palm-tree lined main square of Arequipa

It felt very different from drab Lima and tourist-choked Cusco. We actually didn’t check out many of the tourist attractions while we stayed in Arequipa.. Instead, we just “lived” in Arequipa for the week: walking into the city every day, window-shopping, checking out cafes, people-watching, grocery-shopping, and of course eating food.

Eating ice cream on Calle Mercaderes in Arequipa, Peru

Eating ice cream on the pedestrian-only Calle Mercaderes in Arequipa, Peru

We spent an afternoon walking around and eating whatever looked good to us.

Ceviche in Arequipa, Peru

Ceviche: a must-have in Peru. This dish pictures here cost us 11 Soles (CDN $5)! It might be a little sketchy to have cheap ceviche, but we lucked out with this dish – so delicious and fresh!

Portuguese-style tart in Arequipa, Peru

Portuguese-style tart – as delicious as it looks!

A strange thing I kept seeing on the streets of Arequipa were these little stands that were labelled with the words “Queso Helado”. I looked up the definition – it literally translates to “Iced Cheese”. Sounds gross, yes? I tried it anyway.

It tasted delicious – sweet, light, icy, creamy with a touch of cinnamon. Upon further research, I found out that this delicious dessert had nothing to do with cheese. It uses the unfortunate description of cheese because of the way it looks when you prepare it. It actually consists of sweet milk and sometimes a touch of coconut or cinnamon for flavour.

Queso Helado in Arequipa, Peru

Queso Helado stand: she scoops out the sweet, icy treat into little plastic cups and sprinkles a bit of cinnamon on top. So good!

And then for dinner, nothing says Peruvian cuisine like cuy (guinea pig). The thing to do in Peru is to try this delicacy. In Cusco, they bake it which dries it out a bit. We were advised to try cuy in Arequipa where they fry it, which helps retain some of its juices. But we were going to do something completely different: we were going to prepare our own cuy! Warning: kind of gory picture coming up!

Pre-cleaned cuy (guinea pig) from the butcher

Cuy (guinea pig) cleaned and gutted by our local butcher.

I debated awhile as to whether I wanted to try cuy in Peru. I knew it was a delicacy and people had told me about what it’s like (note: it’s a little gamey, not very meaty, and tastes like chicken). You see, I had a guinea pig as a pet when I younger. I have a personal thing about never eating any animal that I would own as a pet (i.e. dogs, hamsters, guinea pigs, goldfish, cat, bunnies). However, Jason mentioned that I owed it to my blog to try cuy – since the blog is partially about our travel adventures in food. So I put my big-girl pants on and bit the bullet (or guinea pig?), and made the conscious decision to try the Peruvian delicacy.

We bought some Peruvian spices, picked up a pre-cleaned cuy from the local butcher, and some more grilling vegetables. Warning: another kind of disturbing picture coming up!

Marinating cuy (guinea pig) at home in Arequipa

Marinating the cuy. Jason kept putting the guinea pig in these little poses. Sigh.

Barbequed cuy (guinea pig) at home in Arequipa

Cuy on the barbie

Barbequed cuy (guinea pig) at home in Arequipa

The finished product: barbequed cuy with grilled vegetables.

The guinea pig was actually as described: tasted like chicken and not very meaty. Not my favourite thing to eat, but it was better than expected.

The next night, to make up for the traumatic experience of eating an animal that can be a pet, we went out for a nice, fancy dinner. Date night! Our first one since we started our travels over a month ago.

Zingaro in Arequipa, Peru

Date night at Zingaro

Travelling for 6 months means we have to stick to a pretty strict budget. Jason and I typically stick to street stalls, little hole-in-walls, or places that seem to serve mostly locals – which is totally fine by us since we prefer to eat that way. But once in a while, it’s nice to scrub the backpacker dirt off our faces and get all dolled up for a nice night out.

Bread basket at Zingaro (Arequipa, Peru)

Complimentary bread basket! We haven’t seen that at any of our meals since we left Canada. Why yes, I’ll have 5 refills please.

Our rare splurges requires quite a bit of research though, since we don’t want to walk into just any ol’ tourist-trap restaurant. We checked online for restaurant reviews, read through all the comments, cross-referenced it with travel blogger recommendations, and then cross-referenced it some more with other travel literature. Sounds a little obsessive-compuslive, eh? Well, when we only get to splurge once a month, it better be on a really well-prepared meal.

Zingaro kitchen (Arequipa, Peru)

We got a prime spot where we watched the chefs at work in Zingaro. They weren’t messing around – it looks like an episode of Iron Chef in there all night.

We ended up choosing Zingaro for a few reasons: 1) we wanted to have traditional Peruvian cuisine 2) it looked like the restaurant catered to locals and tourists.

Jason and I had slightly different impressions of our the meal. He wasn’t that fond of it, I thought it was fan-frickin-tastic! I’m perhaps a little biased because seafood is probably my favourite food group.

For an appetizer, we ordered the rocoto relleno (stuffed peppers), which is made using the very spicy rocoto pepper (which looks deceptively like a normal red bell pepper). Good thing both Jason and I love spicy food, otherwise we would’ve both been pretty surprised by how spicy the pepper was. It’s stuffed with ground meat, egg, olives, and then covered with melted cheese. It was amazing. I, unfortunately, don’t have a good picture for you, since we gobbled it down before I even remembered to take a picture of it. This is what it looked like, if you’re curious.

I ordered the chupa de camerones (shrimp chowder) – but it actually translates literally to ‘suckage of shrimp’. Which doesn’t sound as appealing….but might be more accurate. Why, you ask? Because this hearty bowl urn of soup is filled to the brim with succulent, suck-able shrimp and crayfish. The aromatic broth seeps into the shells, heads, and tails of the shrimp – just begging you to slurp the deliciousness up with happy abandon. Then, there’s still the flavourful potatoes, corn, egg, and melted cubes of cheese to savour after all the ‘suckage’. Seriously, a bowl of heaven. (Gimme a second while I close my eyes and reminisce).

Chupa de camarones at Zingaro (Arequipa, Peru)

Chupa de camarones (shrimp chowder) – a bowl of deliciousness

Jason ordered the ceviche – which he thought was too chewy, but I adored. It was the way ceviche is supposed to be prepared – with pieces of raw fish that’s marinated in citrus and hot peppers. I’ve noticed that a lot of ceviche we’ve had uses cooked fish (which might be safer), but a really good restaurant will use sushi-quality fish to prepare it. The few pieces of sweet potato to balance the tartness of the citrus juices was perfection.

Ceviche at Zingaro (Arequipa, Peru)

Delicious and fresh ceviche

Arequipa definitely served up some delicious delights. Some of the ones mentioned above originated specifically from Arequipa (i.e. chupa de camerones, rocoto rolleno, queso helodo), so make sure to definitely seek those out if you’re ever in this wonderfully gastronomic city.

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Eating (and Experiencing): Lima

We were advised by my friend’s co-worker (who happens to be Peruvian) to not spend any time or money on Lima, the capital of Peru.

Peruvian Andes

Our first glimpse of Peru, flying over the dry Andean mountain ranges

In the winter months, Lima is a pretty depressing city to be in. It’s a city of grey – crumbling concrete buildings in the poorer areas, a sky that is terminally grey and overcast, even the ocean looks grey. It’s damp and cold from May until the end of November. SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) is a big problem here during the constant cloud and fog of winter.

We were also warned that Lima can be dangerous – with pockets of poverty so extreme that those areas have been designated as no-go zones for tourists and travellers. But after looking over our shoulders and mentally preparing for armed muggings for almost a month in Colombia, we felt like Lima was a breath of fresh air. We spent a lot more time out and about after dark, which we wouldn’t really dare to do in the bigger cities of Colombia. It helped that we stayed in the more modern and cleaner neighbourhood of Miraflores, which is known for its great restaurants and beautiful seaside bluffs.

The bluffs at Miraflores

The impressive bluffs in Miraflores

Winding paths and beautiful parks along the bluffs in Miraflores

Winding paths and beautiful parks lined the bluffs in Miraflores. The government is investing a lot into beautifying this part of the city.

One of the biggest reasons for spending a few days in Lima is the food. We’ve read the Peruvian cuisine is amazingly diverse, using its indigenous cooking as a base and drawing from Spanish, Chinese, Italian, African, and Japanese influences. On top of that, Lima is said to have world-class food. So after the disappointment of Colombian food, we were ready for what we hoped would be an ecstatic food experience.

And we were not disappointed. Food in Lima was everything we had hoped for.

Our first stop was ‘El Enano’, a very poplar, open-air sandwich restaurant that served delicious, greasy sandwiches. They also had a huge selection of fresh fruit juice concoctions served in huge glass pitchers to wash down the greasy sandwiches. We both ordered the “El Enano” sandwich – a meatlover’s delight. Ham, bacon, pork sausage, and melted cheese sandwiched between toasted hotdog buns.

The "El Enano" sandwich

Heart attack on a bun

The next day, we took the modern Metropolitano bus service (a quick, easy, and safer way to get around Lima) up to the sketchier area of Central Lima.

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Most buildings in Central Lima were grey – to match the whole grey vibe of Lima in the winter.

There’s a huge complex of individual clothing and shoe stalls called Polvos Azules (just southeast of Estacion Central). You can find cheap, branded clothing here but the area is full of pickpocketers so it’s best to go there earlier in the morning with only the money you plan to spend.

We bumped into an American i-banker, straight out of business school, who was here in Peru for work for a month. He told us about the phenomenon of chifas (Chinese restaurants) that served huge inexpensive portions of Chinese dishes that were similar to those that you’d find in food courts back at home (i.e. Manchu Wok). He joked about how Peruvians rave about chifas and insisted that he had to go and try the food there – but since he’s from San Franciso, he can have Americanized Chinese food at almost every street corner back at home.

I was craving some familiar flavours, so we decided to try out a chifa. I have to admit, it was pretty good, but it’s hard to go wrong with tamarindo (Peruvian version of sweet-and-sour) pork and chicken fried rice 🙂

Chifa (Lima, Peru)

Chifa (or Peruvian version of Chinese food) in Lima. Sweet & sour pork and fried rice.

The next day, we decided to make our way over to Barranco, an artsy and Bohemian neighbourhood in Lima. It took us awhile to get there because we kept stopping at cafes along the way. We tried some delicious churros with a side of hot chocolate for dipping.

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Crispy churros and hot chocolate. Delicious, crispy, and sweet bites of heaven.

One of our favourite meals so far in Peru has been in a small open-aired ceviche stall, hidden near the back of a little market on Union street in Barranco. This mom and pop eatery was a hidden gem – very well hidden actually.

Husband & wife ceviche chef team (Lima, Peru)

The wonderful husband & wife chef team that made the best ceviche meal I had in Peru

The friendly owners greeted us warmly and right away offered us pisco sours (Peru is very proud of their national beverage, pisco – a potent grape brandy)

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Pisco Sour – made with pisco, lime juice, egg whites, ice, and sugar. Very delicious and surprisingly strong cocktail.

Lima, being right on the edge of the Pacific, is a great place for fresh ceviche. And unlike La Cevecheria in Cartagena, Colombia, this place definitely did not disappoint. It was probably the best ceviche I’ve ever had in my life. It was so fresh and tasty, with just enough tartness from the lime juice, and heat from the chilies.

Ceviche stall food (Lima, Peru)

The best ceviche I had in Peru. The flavours were sooo intense!

We also ordered the mixed seafood soup. Wow, flavour explosion!

Seafood stew (Lima, Peru)

Savoury and tasty seafood stew. SO good.

If our first stop in Peru has been this delicious, I am anxiously awaiting the gastronomical delights the rest of the country has to offer. Stay tuned!