Now that we’ve made it to Ecuador, I thought I should probably talk about the Peruvian cuisine. For Chile, I researched and made a food glossary. There’s not much incentive for me to do so here since we’ve already exited, but Wikipedia (of course) has a very thorough entry on it. Through the SAE Club, we were able to score some discounted spots on a really delicious gastronomic tour in Cusco. It was run by the restaurant Marcelo Batata, and we, besides eating some yummy stuff, learned some interesting things about Peruvian cuisine.
There are three main, distinct regions in Peru: the Andes, the Coast, and the Jungle. All three have their own climates and crops, which is reflected in their different dishes. Craig and I, not going to the jungle, didn’t really notice a change in the availability and differences in the cuisine wherever we were. After all, you could get ceviche in Cusco (which is in the Andes), and it would be more expensive and perhaps not as fresh as on the coast, but it was still available. And you could also try grilled or fried guinea pig (cuy) anywhere, even though it’s primarily an Andean dish.
If Craig and I were eating out, we would usually try and go for the menu, which is a set menu that we found for as cheap as S./4 ($1.60). Since we didn’t want to chance food poisoning, we would normally go for slightly more expensive, nicer places that had menus for about S./10 ($4). The great thing about the menu, is that it would come with an appetizer, normally soup, the main course, and either tea or soda. A really good deal, all in all, but invariably, the choices for menu were almost always the same: lomo saltado (a beef stir fry), some variation of fried meat + rice, or spaghetti. This became, as you can imagine, somewhat tedious.
When I complained to one of my friends back in California about how tired I was of the cuisine, she was shocked and upset. “Anthony Bourdain went to Peru and all of the food he ate looked GREAT!” she exclaimed. But Craig and I, unlike Mr. Bourdain, have much tighter purse strings. If we could, combined, eat for less than $20/day, we were within budget. Therefore, the types of restaurants that Mr. Bourdain could afford, we could not. Marcelo Batata, for instance, had main courses that cost as much as $14… which might sound incredibly cheap to you all back home, but in Peru, this was out of our price range.
And there’s the kicker. When Craig and I are in a cheap country, like Peru, our budget goes WAY down. We can’t think about the costs of meals in the same way as we did back home because if we did, our trip wouldn’t last very long. Thus $14 each for one meal, while totally doable back in Seattle, is way way too much down here. And yes, there is street food, but a lot of it is dicey and not very nutritious.
The downside to having a budget, of course, is the inevitable boredom that happens with the limited things we can cook in hostel kitchens, and the limited choices for cheap eating.
The other downside is that nothing tasted the way I thought it would taste. Even ketchup doesn’t taste the same down here. Mayonnaise has a slight lime twist (which I actually enjoy sometimes). If I ordered sopa wonton from a Chifa (Chinese-Peruvian restaurant), the “wontons” weren’t filled with anything… they were just empty wonton wrappers. Spaghetti sauces were always strangely sweet, guacamole strangely sour. There were many instances where I got excited about my order, thinking it would taste the way it tastes in the States, and then be disappointed when it was only a distant cousin of what I thought it would be.
Even junk food was extremely frustrating. I like to consider myself a chip connoisseur… and in the States, you can get pretty much any flavor and variety of fried potato that exists. Down here, the choices are 1) always stale, 2) not very tasty, and 3) not abundant. Even Doritos had a strange taste and texture that was nothing like its North American counterpart. The only thing to do was to buy the imported stuff, which consisted of just… Pringles. Possibly the least exciting chip in the States is what I have to content myself with down here. Sometimes, when I think about Sour Cream ‘n Onion Ruffles or Flaming Hot Cheetos, I cry a little bit inside.
And so, we just were not able to try every Peruvian dish available, primarily due to budget constraints, and secondarily due to worrying about food poisoning. Luckily, there is ceviche in Ecuador, so hopefully we’ll get to eat a little bit more of that! Otherwise, it’s onto yet another food glossary and trying to get used to the cuisine and the junk food in a new country