Quillabamba was a great oportunity for us to experience other Peruvian delicacies, things not to be missed indeed!:)
On the first day, when we told Carlos we haven’t had Cheviche since in Peru, he decided that would have to be our lunch that day. We had heard a lot about this famous dish and could not wait to finally have a taste. So far we hadn’t eaten it because we were told it’s made of sea fish, and since we were so far away from the sea we thought we wouldn’t be eating a good one (we later found out from Carlos that they make ceviche from sweet water fish as well). In any event, he took us to a good restaurant where they used fish brought from Lima… and the experience made our taste buds sing Alleluia!
Ceviche is nothing but raw fish soaked for 5 minutes in lemon juice, garlic, onion and pepper, and served with Yukka potatoe, sweet potatoe and salad. The spicy, sour and refreshing taste of the fish creates a perfect harmony with the sweet taste of the potatoe, and it will no doubt leave you licking thy fingers.
How to pay 2.5 Soles for a 1 Soles Coffee
After the ceviche lunch we went back to the hostel to rest (since we’re in Latin America we might as well follow the siesta rules 😉 ) and later rewarded ourselves with some sweets till dinner time. We tried a delicious maracuja cake for 3 Soles, which is a good price for a cake but compared to a 3,5 Soles lunch menu, it’s expensive. It was interesting to note the difference in price for “things you need” and “things you want”: a piece of cake or a shake was always more expensive than a lunch menu with soup, main course and drink. Oh well, I guess if you want to spoil yourself a bit you have to also be willing to pay the price.
After having the cake we went to a cafeteria for some local coffee. We asked how much it was and the guy working there replied „1 Soles”. “Is it with milk?” “Yes”, he replied, “even fresh milk if you want”. We wanted, so we sat down enjoying our usual 300ml hot milk with a drop of the local coffee. When we wanted to pay he asked for 2,5 Soles each. “But didn’t you say it was 1 Soles?”. His answer came flowing: “Yes, the black coffee is 1 Soles, the small one with condensed milk is 1,5 Soles, the big one with condensed milk is 2 Soles and the big coffee with fresh milk is 2,5 Soles”:). Well, why not? Of course the place didn’t have a menu or anything, so we marveled at the huge price list the guy must carry in his head :).
Quinoa and other popular Peruvian foods
We came in contact with Quinoa immediately after getting to Peru, and it was a dish we always enjoyed having, especially after finding out about its nutritious properties. In Quillabamba we learned a bit more about its history, and were fascinated to know that when the Spanish first arrived to South America, one of the first things they did was forbid the natives from cultivating this grain. They were completely unfamiliar with Quinoa at the beginning, but as soon as they found out of its properties and realised it was one of the things that kept the natives healthy and strong, they figured that forbiding it and replacing it with wheat was a great way of weakening the people they were colonizing and at the same time stay in their comfort zone.
The quinoa was one of the most popular foods for the Incas, along with potatoe and corn, and was used as main sources of energy. Nutritionally it acts as a complement to corn, rice and barley, and due to its high protein level it is can be easily used to replace meat. The grain is mostly cultivated in Peru and Bolivia, and the two countries supply 60% of the world’s quinoa. There is evidence that the inhabitants of these regions were eating quinoa 7000 years ago, and it was the second most important food after the potato (and there are over 4000 varieties of potatoes in the area 🙂 ).
The quinoa is still widely served in soups or cooked in milk as oats, but it is not as common as it used to be. It’s been replaced by rice, as it seems people like rice more these days. As we know, its availibility also depends on geographical regions (in the Cusco area it seemes to be consumed more than in other regions).
Besides quinoa, another common grain is kiwicha, which apparently comes in 71 different types (and is also common in India). Both grains can be cooked in water or milk and served just as rice, or popped and eaten for breakfast with cereals or fruits. Hugo told us about a local dish made of quinoa and rice, cooked in milk with cheese and served with salad… It sounded delicious and we haven’t had a chance to try it yet, but hopes are we will.
We knew that the quinoa and the potatoes were the most popular foods in Peru, but to our surprise 95% of the times we went out to eat, our food would come with a side of rice. We didn’t really understand this, as they don’t even produce that much rice here… As we found out, the slaves brought from China and who then settled here (providing a Chinese look for many Peruivans nowadays), brought rice with them and it easily became a popular food. “But there are over 4000 types of potatoes in this country, why is that less common than rice?” „Because we find rice delicious” was Carlos’ answer. And also because rice is much easier and faster to cook. Of course the potato remains common, but it’s used mostly in soups or served in main dishes as a complement to rice, quite seldom alone. One thing definitely not lacking in Peruvian cuisine is carbohidrates – most of the times you’ll find rice and potato on your plate, or rice and pasta. Once we even had a dish of rice, pasta and potatoes, all on the same plate (and nothing else). This doesn’t make us particulary happy, first for the enormous quantity of carbs and second because after 3 years spent is Asia, where people have rice 3 times a day, we could have used a break. It seems thought that the meat dishes tend to come with potatoes more than with rice, but since we don’t eat meat… we don’t get to enjoy the potatoes either. Oh well…life…:p.
One of our most favourite potatoes is the sweet potato, which with its orange inside and pumpkin-like taste constitues a great addition to the local specialities such as ceviche, or to simple dishes of fried eggs, salad and rice.
Chica, the local beer made of corn
A local drink that we definitley have to talk about is chicha. This beer-like drink is made by the locals at home from a special type of corn (corn comes in many types here: small and big and yellow and black and colorful too). So chicha can be bought on the street from the mamachas who bring it from their homes in plastic containers, or from the houses of those locals who produce it. One glass (0,5L) is only 50 Soles cents (US18 cents). You can tell which ones are the chicha selling house by a red plastic bag tied to a big stick in front of the main gate. Each chicheria „contains” a mamacha, a few wooden benches, a big plastic barrel of chicha and plenty of locals who come there for a drink a few times a day.
At the beginning we were not big fans of this drink, but as we’ve observed, if you spend enough time in a certain place you will get used to the local taste and one day will surprise yourself by liking most local dishes. Our favorite chicha is the strawberry one (Chica Rosada), which doesn’t taste much like strawberry but the berry gives a nice sweet taste and pink color to the originally yellow drink.
In Quillabamba we tried a new chicha, the chicha morada, which is made of the dark purple corn and is non alcholic. This one is much simpler to make, you just boild the corn in pineapple water and add cinemon and cardemon. One big glass is 1 Soles.
At some point we found out “chicha” is the word commonly used for “drink”, so you will some across many other types, al non alcoholic: chicha de quinoa, de zanahoria (carrot), de remolacha (beetroot) etc.
The chicha drinking habits also change with region. The germinated corn chicha (the alcoholic one) is most popular in the Sacred Valley, while in most other parts of Peru you will not even be able to find it.
Peru is a big country that has almost everything you wish for: high mountains, deserts, jungles, beaches… And the people, their customs and their cusine varies greatly from part to part. So make sure you include as many of the different regions in your traveling plans, so you get a more accurate perspectove of this fantastic country.
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