You really didn't think, what I think you thought, right? That paints a pretty scary picture in my mind's eye......
Right after my post on Tri-Village, I received an email from "Dave" who asked me about.... well, basically skin, and where I've had the best dishes. The wording was quite interesting, and really cracked me up. So I thought I'd do this post as a companion to the mmm-yoso raw! post. Just for some fun...... After all, there are few things better than fried animal skin. What's interesting is that some of our favorite skin dishes aren't from anywhere here in the US. Even this one, from a future post.....
Wouldn't make the list.....
And in spite of what most folks think; this stuff:
Fried Chicken Skin from Pollo Pinulito in Santiago Atitlan, Guatemala:
Man, you gotta hand to the country that is home to Pollo Campero; they sure know how to fry chicken. And this little shop in the village of Santiago, on the shores of Lake Atitlan in Guatemala made some very good fried chicken skin.
I could smell the seasonings from outside the place. When we entered, that chicken skin, just out of the fryer was calling to me.
I actually carried that bag of chicken skin by boat from Santiago to San Pedro, and then on the next boat to Lomas de Tzununa, then up 400 steps from the muelle to our room. Was it worth it?
I'm not quite sure about meeting the snakes though. I think I'll pass on that next time, though that snake ruou was fantastic!
Cuy skin from dinner in Cusco:
I've probably mentioned our Cuy dinner in Cusco maybe a thousand times. But it is without a doubt, one of the most memorable meals we've ever had. And that skin on the Cuy, simply seasoned with olive oil, huacatay, and salt, was better than any lechon I've ever had.
And while we felt a bit uncomfortable meeting our dinner's siblings. It really didn't stop use from nibbling on those delicious crunchy toes and feet of the Cuy.
I know, I know.... I've shown waaaay too much skin today! But I hope you enjoyed the post. I hope I answered your question Dave!
Maybe I should've made a few resolutions for the New Year. First on that list would be "completing things I started sooner....." I realize that I did part 1 of this post on December 30th. I could, of course make it sound even farther "upstream" by writing something like "last year".... Of course, I still haven't finished my posts on Guatemala, or even Thailand, I hope to get those done before we leave on our next big trip. So without further ado..... these are in no particular order, but it's the meals that the Missus and I talk about most often.
I've always been fascinated by markets of all shapes, sizes, and types. You learn so much about the people who live in these destinations, by checking out the market..... The Sunday Market at Bac Ha is well known as a gathering of the various Hill tribes. The Can Cau Market is less well known, but we found that we enjoyed it more.... it was less touristy, and it seems a bit more laid-back, not that the term "laid back" in anyway describes anything in Vietnam.
Here in the hill country of Vietnam, the colors worn by the people are vibrant and colorful; the Flower H'mong, Red Zao, Giay, the Blue H'mong.
We had made it clear early on that we don't do tourist food, and ended up eating where everyone else was; sitting on low benches a few inches above the hard-packed dirt.
The fare was simple, boiled pork, noodle soup, pickled greens, and the star of the show, Ruou Ngo, the local "moonshine" poured into used plastic water bottles from "Jerry cans".... the equivalent of 50 cents got your 16 ounce water bottle filled to the brim with Ruou.
And then the inevitable happened, we became the current novelty.... Our guide approached with cups of Ruou telling us that two of the gentleman sitting across the way "want to have a drink with you, because tourists never eat with them. They are very happy and proud that you would eat the same food." This of course, was only the beginning, of a scene we've encountered almost everywhere we've been in SEA, "they don't believe you're American. They say that you cannot be American, you don't look like Americans. Americans rarely come here, and those that do are afraid of the food, and won't drink with them. They take their pictures and leave right away."
Just as we are curious about the lives of people who seem so exotic and different, they are just as fascinated with us. You'd lose so much by keeping things at safe distance sometimes.....
What sticks with me was a toast the proprietor of the pork stall made before we left. Finding out that the Missus is Chinese, he made the following toast: "to Vietnamese and Chinese, we are brothers and neighbors, and brothers sometimes fight, but in the end we are still brothers". In the end, we are all brothers, under the same moon and sun......
Peru was a delicious and fascinating trip, and words cannot describe Machu Picchu.
Without a doubt, one of the highlites of our time in Cusco was dinner with the family of a friend of ours. We were told that they'd be making us a meal of Cuy, something that got me rather excited. That excitement was dampened when I had a terrible meal of Cuy the night before. Man was it bad, but there was a reason for that I was to find out later.
This family opened their home and hearts to us. And the Cuy was wonderful!
Crisp skin like roast pork, Cuy is all dark meat, and does taste like dark meat pork. I nibbled on the legs, the little bit of meat by the back spine is fabulous. And of course we had a drink after dinner to "kill the Cuy" as they say.
So why did that Cuy we had the previous night taste so bad? It was because they were fed a diet of meal that included fish and other ingredients to make them grow large quickly. The traditional food for Cuy is Alfalfa.
We spent a wonderful evening talking about all sorts of subjects..... humor is universal! When it comes down to it, we are more alike then we are different.....
I usually don't do posts on fine dining and the like in San Diego. Like I've written many times, there are many other great food blogs and sources for that kind of info. Our meals during our travels are a different story.....
At the time of our visit in 2007 Astrid y Gaston, Gaston Acurio's flagship restaurant was on Pellegrino's top 100 restaurants in the world list. The concept of Novoandina Cuisine was very interesting to us. The unique cuisine of Peru had us entranced, and Astrid y Gaston really delivered.
Of course the Missus got Cuy, yet again.
Appetizer, drinks, and mains for two, for the equivalent of $80/US! Plus, a glimpse of the future of Peruvian cuisine.......
- Dinner at Tamarind: Luang Prabang
After attending the Tamarind Cooking School, we made reservations for dinner at Tamarind. And what a dinner it was, I had to do two posts to cover the meal. The meal we made reservations for was called the "Adventurous Lao Gourmet", and after checking out the local Wet Market, I could only imagine what we'd be having.....
And for the equivalent of $12 per person, this degustation style meal surely delivered.
From various "Jeow" (dips).....
to "Fish Poo".....
And steamed pigs brains.....
And of course, the various insects..... some of which I enjoyed more than others.
Even beyond the "look at what I'm eating" attention seeking thingy, I learned so much during this meal. Joy, one of the owners presents each course, and explains a bit about each dish.
Remember the quote from Brillat-Savarin: "Tell me what you eat, and I will tell you what you are." Well this meal displayed to me resourcefulness, "Thao" a wonderful Jeow made from Spyrogyra, what some call "pond scum", salt-pickling, fish curd, and yes, even "Fish Poo" where the intestinal matter of the fish is used for preservation displays one of the most basic means of preserving food without modern refrigeration. The steamed pig brains is a cherished item, as Joy told us it "what you'll make for your children if you love them."
All of which was eaten with that Lao staple, sticky rice.
There's a peaceful, gentle, friendly tolerance we encountered everywhere in Laos.
Vientiane was quite a contrast from the hustle and bustle of Bangkok and even Nong Khai. Sometimes you happen upon just the right meal at the perfect time. And this was it. There are a huge number of stands along the Mekong river. For some reason, we decided to stick with the one we first passed early on. It was wasn't a huge set-up like the other stands, but the folks running the stand seemed so warm and friendly.
Sitting on a makeshift bamboo platform, I could feel all the tension and worries lazily drift down the Mekong. Of course, the Beerlao didn't hurt!
Some of the food, like the stir fried Morning Glory was good.
Other items like the whole fish, was just okay......
What really sent this meal to the "memorable list" was the act of thoughtfulness by the folks who ran this stand. You'll have to read the post to get that story. Let me just say, that along with being the best Nem Khao I've ever had......
It was a great introduction to the thoughtfulness of the folks in Laos.
And hey, that sunset wasn't too bad either!
So there you go...... Five memorable meals. There are a few more that I could probably add.
But it's those five that we talk about the most.....
You know, there's a song I've been listening to quite a bit lately. To me, it's got a great hook..... but I also realized that there's a line of the song that always makes me smile:
This is the time of year for lists..... and more lists. First there's the Christmas shopping list, then the post Xmas return list, followed by that all too inevitable New Years resolution list, and so forth. I often get asked to do lists, stuff like Pho restaurants, eating itineraries for visitors (which I love to do BTW - it's just that I'm kinda slow on the email thing), and other stuff. Recently, Dennis asked me if I was going to do an updated 10 photos post, and I thought about it, but after a bit of pondering I gave up. You see, we average somewhere around 300 or so posts a year, and picking a few photos out of those...... well you see what I mean, right? And yet, because it is the time of the year for lists, I just felt I needed to do one. And so I pulled out an often requested list, of our most memorable meals, not in any order, and kinda off the top of my head. Now note that that is "our" list, which is, the Missus and I, which automatically excludes places like......
Urasawa, which was a ginourmous three part post......
And even though we've had some very memorable dishes like the Roasted Whole Sparrows from Highway 4 in Hanoi......
Which was really delicious..... or even sannakji (live octopus), which I thought was less so....
Or even Prahok, a fermented Cambodian fish paste, made more interesting by the sour little crunchy things....
And there were those stories, like the young lady in Siem Reap named Akin, who came to work in the city at the age of 9!
Akin, an orphan who never knew her parents nor siblings, felt the need to comfort us when we were so touched and distressed by her story by sharing with us her philosophy on life: "no worries, no worries, I'm Happy-Happy every day!"
Frothy, yeasty, and light, it's a wonderful beverage. There's just one thing you need to understand about Chicha de Jora, to quote: "In order to start the fermentation process, the maize is moistened in the maker's mouth.....the digestive enzymes in saliva helps to break down the starches and start the fermentation process. In fact, it is thought that the modern name for this drink is based on the Spanish word "chichal", which means to spit".
I'd also need to exclude the best "hootch" I've ever had, Snake Ruou (rice wine):
We've found that there's no way to get to know the folks than by trying out some of the local "beverages":
After all, if it comes out of a rusty old barrel, through a bamboo tube, it's gotta be good, right?
Hmmmm..... another list! I'll stop now, and leave this list for later. But I'm wondering, how many of you have been reading for the last four years or so. And if you have.... first I'd like to thank you so much for reading! Second, are there any posts which stand out in your mind.... or perhaps you'd like to take a stab at what you think were our most memorable meals?
But lately I've been finding myself fading away at certain times, just "wool gathering". I'll be doing a post....you really can't call what I do writing or composing....it's really just "doing". And my mind just sort of wanders. Maybe off to the cobblestone streets of Cusco. Perhaps I've just been working too hard. But I'm starting to get that feeling again. I think we need to head off, to where, I'm not quite sure yet....
It's a funny thing, some of the nicest, most memorable meals we've had on trips, have ended up on the "PWTSDS" ("putdz" - Places Where the Sun Don't Shine) list. That would be the mmm-yoso photo scrap heap. And yet, these were meals we really enjoyed. So without further ado, I think maybe it's time for those "ugly duckling" photos to shine.....so if you'd just put up with me!
Anticuchos in Cusco (Peru):
I believe this was right after our dinner at the Chicharroneria. We were walking down Avenida del Sol, when we spied a crowd on the corner of Avenida del Sol and Ayacucho. A woman was making Anticuchos, and if the crowd was any indication, it was very good Anticuchos indeed!
Seeing the crowd, and breathing in the scent of grilling meat restimulated our appetites, and suddenly we just had to have some Anticuchos. But how to deal with the mass of humanity? Just as in all of our travels, whether in a confused state in a train station in Hanoi, or getting Anticuchos, we met our Guardian Angel. This time, an older gentleman saw the Missus trying to edge Her way forward. He immediately took control of the situation, and waved the Missus next to him. He quickly yelled out for some Anticuchos for the Missus, and even looked them over.....just to make sure.
The Missus said these were the best Anticuchos She ever tasted, and at Un Sol (about 33 cents), it was more than a bargain.
I'm sure the kindness of the Gentleman made them taste even better!
Pardo's - Miraflores (Peru):
As we noted, we stayed at the huge Marriott in Miraflores before returning home. Right across the street is a mall, Larcomar, which is built into the cliffs overlooking the ocean. And in the mall is a location of Pardo's Chicken, the largest Pollo a la Brasa (rotisserie chicken) chain in Peru. There seemed to be a Pollo a la Brasa shop on every street corner in Lima. People here are crazy about it.
We were headed home the next day, and were bushed, and Pardo's seemed to fit the bill. As good as the chicken was....
It was the Papas Fritas (French Fries) which we enjoyed the best. The potatoes were a nice yellow in color (Papas Amarillas - like Yukon Gold), which tasted like the soul of a potato. I can still taste them.......
And with a dip in the Aji Sauce...sort of like an Aji Aioli....man was this good. There's something to be said for having just the right food, at the right time.
Which takes us to Siem Reap and...
Maharajah Royal Indian Cuisine (Siem Reap):
After a day of hiking among ruins, and tired of Fish Amok, we wanted something different. An acquaintance of mine had mentioned that the Indian Food in Siem Reap is not half bad. And we just stumbled into Maharajah.
Gotta love the "spicy scale" provided on the menu....
The unfortunate thing about the restaurant was the lighting, it was a horrible "bug killer green", which made everything look pretty unappetizing.
The Missus enjoyed Her Special Vegetarian Thali (meal set - $3/US), which was an absolute bargain!
I got the most expensive item on the menu; the Mutton Thali ($6/US). And yes, it was indeed mutton, very gamy, and pretty tough. But the Dal was very good.
It was just the right meal at the right time. In fact, the Missus wanted Indian the following night as well.
It's funny how these meals stuck in our mind. Just the right thing, at the right time. Our memories of these places are quite varied as well. For all of the photos of Inca Treasures....
And the magnificent temples of Angkor.....
It's the photos of things like this dog "scratching an itch" in the fresh grass in Calca,
or the children learning traditional dances at school in Cusco,
And the children in Siem Reap.....
With smiles that are priceless..... that we remember the most.
Funny thing, it's the people, and our experiences with those people that the Missus and I discuss the most. The kindnesses of strangers, the stories of the folks we encounter, the understanding that we are all more alike than different.
Yes, I think soon it'll be time to get on a plane and go somewhere....not quite sure where yet, but we'll be sure to let you know. And hopefully I'll finish all those Cambodia posts before I head off on another vacation.
You know, my week has suddenly gotten better. I hope you have a great one! If you've hang around till the end I thank you.
Knowing how much the Missus loves Cebiche, it would have been a crime to leave Lima without another meal at a Cebicheria, restaurants specializing in seafood, especially, well what else, Cebiche! In doing research for out meal, I came across several great sources, one was of course, Peru Food, another being the restaurant reviews in klephblog, and finally, this excellent article written by Jonathan Yardley for the Washington Post. In the end, it came down to meals at either Gaston Acurio's Cebicheria, La Mar, or the highly regarded Pescados Capitales. Interestingly enough, the two restaurants are located blocks from each other, in what is slowly becoming the "Cebicheria district", Avenida La Mar. Another well regarded Cebicheria, La Red, is also located on the same street. Since we had already eaten at Astrid & Gaston the evening before, and since Pescados Capitales takes reservations, we decided on Pescados Capitales. It was a bit tough getting reservations, we could never find anyone who spoke English. Luckily, the very nice Concierge at the Marriott, made reservations for us. She did wonder how I knew about Pescados Capitales since it's according to her a "mostly a local place". Later on, when she saw me, she followed up, curious as to how we enjoyed our meal. So, after a busy morning, we flagged down a cab on Larcomar got a price (6 Soles), and headed off. The young man, who looked part Chinese, was amiable, and he humored the Missus who used her survival Spanish on him. When she mentioned taxi drivers in Lima, he made a clucking sound, and told the Missus, "taxi all loco, allll loco, in Lima!" Of course he was in the process of cutting several cars off, and making a left turn from the center lane without using the turn signal at the time.......
Avenida La Mar, is an interesting street, a mixture of auto repair shops, small industrial businesses, residential, and as mentioned before, several upscale Cebicherias. Cebicherias are strictly lunchtime eateries, so location is not such a big issue. Oh, one more thing, in Lima, lunch can mean any time between noon and 6pm! I had heard that Peruvians like to eat late, and we did notice how Astrid & Gaston got busier as the night wore on. In keeping with that, when we arrived for our 1230 reservation, the restaurant was almost totally empty:
The Missus looked at me and went, "humph, you needed reservations for this?" But by 1 pm, it looked like this:
Before we left....packed to the rafters!
Just after sitting we were brought an Amuse of uber-fresh Scallops with Bloody Mary mix:
So simple, yet so very good. The sweet, tender orbs, was like a spicy-tomatoey kiss of the ocean. When the Missus mentioned how good this was, the Server, brought Her two more!
I had read that the name of the restaurant was a play on words, "pescado" in Spanish means fish, you'd think the word "pescados" would probably be the plural of the former word. But it is not, "pescados" is translated as "sin". So using this play on words, many of the dishes at Pescados Capitales are named for the Seven Deadly Sins or the Seven Virtues. A double order of Paciencia (patience) anyone? On some days I could perhaps use a triple order........ In addition, the Owners of Pescados Capitales are of Peruvian-Chinese descent, and there are several dishes on the menu that reflect this.
The Aji was brought to the table, and was really good, and a bit different from other versions. It had a distinct smokey flavor to it, almost as if some chipotle was in the mixture. The cancha(fried corn kernals) were nice and salty, though very dry. It was best eaten mixed with the Leche de Tigre(Tigers Milk), the cebiche marinade.
Oh, and how good that Leche de Tigre was! We started with the classic Cebiche de Leguado (sole cebiche s/30 - approx $10).
Though the fish was good, not excellent, the Leche de Tigre was the best we've ever had, just the right amounts of sour-salty that is as bracing as the spray created by waves crashing on a rocky shoreline. Mildly pungent and sweet onions, and very spicy red peppers added heat, and the camote, with the slight hint of cinnamon in the background made this a very pleasing dish. To this day, when we think of Cebiche, this is the version that comes to mind.
We also ordered the Caridad ("Charity" s/ 30, approx $10 US), and interesting Eurasian mix of flavors.
Pacific Rockfish had been lightly studded with sesame seeds, lightly dusted with togarashi, and lightly seared, giving it good texture. The reduction which I read contained mirin, dashi, lime, among several other items was much better than I thought it would be. The combination of sweet-salty-sour was quite good. It was accompanied by a nice green salad, with a mild vinaigrette. The only item we didn't care for was the parmesian cheese, the sour cheese along with very rare fish was not a combination we enjoyed.
I also wanted to try a tiradito, so I selected the Tiradito Capital(s/ 31 - approx $10.50 US):
This was one beautiful dish, and the tuna was really nice and fresh. The rest of it was a mish-mash of confusing flavors...a very strong oyster sauce reduction, that tasted like it had dijon mustard in it on top, Leche de Tigre on the bottom...too many clashing flavors, you really couldn't taste anything. Maybe this was a little bit too over the top for us. I was wishing I could just have that maguro........ Still you can't blame them for trying.
The menu at Pescados Capitales is fairly large and diverse. Don't let our meal fool you, there are many cooked seafood dishes like "Lust" stuffed squid, grilled over coals, a very popular risotto we saw many people ordering, and a huge plate of Pulpo! I'm sure next time we're in Miraflores we'll be checking out Punta Azul, a Cebicheria we passed several times on a side street, and La Mar.....but I'd come back to Pescados Capitales in a minute!
Pescados Capitales Avenida La Mar 1337 Miraflores, Lima, Peru
Would you believe me if I said that this charming little house on side street right off of Avenida Larco is the home of one of the top 100 restaurants in the world?
According to Pellegrino, Astrid & Gaston is one of the Top 100 restaurants in the world in 2007, right up there with Robuchon at the Four Seasons, Guy Savoy, Peter Lugar, Zuni Cafe, and many others. I usually don't do posts on fine dining establishments, but I'm sure you'll humor me in this case. A&G was the one "must-eat" restaurant on my list for our vacation. In fact, I had the Missus call the restaurant from Cusco, and we had no problems getting reservations on a Friday evening. When I first started making plans for our vacation, I had been a bit hesitant about eating at Astrid & Gaston. We'd be traveling light, and I had second thoughts about proper attire. But that was soon remedied after a quick email to Alejandro who does the excellent Peru Food blog. In response to my question about attire, Alejandro wrote; "you'll get cut a lot of slack as tourists". Which we found to be true when we arrived at the restaurant. We were seated in the "Wine Cellar" section, a very warm, quiet, and comfortable area of the restaurant. We could pick out the tourists right away, the sweaters and jeans were the tourists, the sports coats were the locals. I had packed a nice dress shirt, slacks, and dress shoes, and they had traveled unused through our trip until this evening.
Our Server, a very kind and friendly young man brought us our menus....
Written in Spanish! This one was going to be much harder than ordering from a chalk board in a Picanteria! So we ordered some drinks, the Missus had some Chicha, and I ordered a Coca Sour, which was pretty strong:
And tried to go through the menu and figure out what was what.
The wonderful bread basket came out, with the uber-addictive bread sticks studded with Quinoa, when dipped in the wonderful spicy-tart Aji, was fantastic.
Our Server brought the Maitre d' over, who was not only very helpful, but had a great sense of humor as well! There were a few dishes that I was looking for, and he provided some assistance in finding them.
Of course the Missus had to start with some Cebiche, and I managed to find the Dos Cebiche Puritanos, basically the two traditional styles of cebiche, the mixto(mixed seafood cebiche), and the cebiche pescado (white fish).
The cebiche mixto was just plain fantastic. A variety of top notch seafood bathed in a creamy-mild marinade. I was amazed at how tender the calamari was.....literally melt in your mouth.
The quality of the fish in the Cebiche Classico, in this case Corvina (White Sea Bass) was a revelation. It was melt in your mouth tender....it would have not been out of place on nigiri sushi.
If I were to have any complaint at all, it would be that the Leche de Tigre(Tiger's milk - Cebiche marinade) was very, very mild. The strong sour-salty flavors were muted, but oh that fish was so good!
I had been looking for the causitas, which are minature versions of Causa, a classic dish which consist of cold mashed potatoes topped or filled with various ingredients. After looking over the menu, I found it called "La 5 Razas". These beautiful little mashed potato "cakes" were topped with various items. From what I found to be rather mundane(for me) items, such as the mayo-crab mixture which tasted like California roll filling.
To the very interesting....
This interesting causita was topped with preserved fish that tasted like less oily, top notch anchovy. In fact I thought it was anchovy, but was told it was "Atun", or preserved tuna. Salty and rich, this went well with the potato cake.
My favorite by far was the Conchas a la Huacaina (scallop in yellow cheese sauce).
Sweet scallops, in a slightly salty-rich cheese sauce. Really good stuff.
For Her main course the Missus ordered the Cuy in Orange Sauce:
The Missus adored Her Cuy(Guinea Pig), and it was fitting substitute for duck which is usually prepared in this manner. I had a taste of the Cuy, and it really did have a nice pork-dark meat chicken flavor. As for the potatoes and the relleno, I never had a shot, but the Missus said they were excellent. She still mentions this dish in conversations all the time.
I ordered one of Astrid & Gaston's signature dishes, the 3 Week Old Suckling Pig Confit, on the menu it's called "El Cochinillo de tres semanas del invierno 2007":
When it first arrived it was fantastic. The thin crisp laquered skin of the pork leg was amazing, and the meat was melt in your mouth tender and rich. It was a bit mildly flavored, I had expected more of the rich essense of pork. The cocoa reduction added a nice flavor as well. After a few minutes, the pork really got dried out and was not as palatable. The real treasure of this dish was the minced blood sausage, served on a stewed Quince.
After consuming our entrees, we were stuffed, and couldn't even manage to find room for one of Astrid's desserts. The Maitre d' dropped by, and asked if we had room for dessert. The Missus replied, "oh no, we are too full", raising Her glass She told Him, "I'm just going to finish this so I can kill the Cuy." To which he cracked up and said, "yes, yes, you must kill the Cuy...."
So how much did you think this cost? Well, including 10% automatic service charge, the dinner came out to s/250....or about $80 US! Yes, eighty bucks for dinner for two at a world class restaurant. We found the service to be warm, helpful, and friendly. We will be back, there's so much more to explore on the menu, wonderful sounding Tiraditos, Lechon, Foie Gras Tamale anyone? I'm sometimes a bit skeptical when restaurants fuse and modernize traditional dishes, but Gaston Acurio has done a masterful job. He is true to the dishes, uses excellent ingredients, and most of all everything is prepared well.
We returned to Lima from Cusco, and were met by our driver. As we drove to our hotel, we noticed riot police, armored vehicles, helicopters flying above, and soldiers on the roofs of several buildings. When our driver noticed we were staring out the window, he told us: "today Fujimori is coming back to Peru." Yes, not only did we return to Lima, this was also the day that Ex-President Alberto Fujimori was being extradited to Peru. The whole city was buzzing......
The rest of the drive to Miraflores was uneventful, and our driver was a pretty quiet fellow, until we started talking about Cebiche and Tiradito. He ended up making a few recommendations fairly close to the hotel. One of these was Alfresco, a nice restaurant on a side street of a mostly residential area in Miraflores.
The interior of the restaurant was bright, casual, and understated.
In search of just a light lunch, the Missus ordered the Ceviche Alfresco (Alfresco style ceviche - s/28.50 - approx $9.50US). In this case the marinade for the ceviche was of the "creamy" variety, and served with standard sweet potato and corn.
As mentioned before, the Missus has never met a camote(sweet potato) She didn't like. The quality of the fish was excellent, tender and just slightly chewy. The leche de tigre(ceviche marinade) in this case was pretty mild, much too mild for the Missus. She told me it lacked the zip that She enjoys so much.
I ordered the Tiradito Alfresco(s/24.50 - approx $8US). This was a very unique version of Tiradito. The flavors were distinct, yet very delicate at the same time. You could make out the taste of garlic, but the sour tones were not lime, and there was a bit of "fruitiness" to the flavor and fragrance.
The Sole (Lenguado) was very fresh, and the texture was classic Shiromi(Japanese for White fish) firm, light, with a mild, yet tender, chewiness. That marinade had me hooked. We finally inquired about the Tiradito, and our Server, who spoke perfect English, told us the marinade consisted of Garlic, Lemon Juice in place of Lime Juice, and good Extra Virgin Olive Oil. This European treatment of Tiradito suited me well, I truly enjoyed it.
It seemed that so far on this trip, the Tiraditos had the upper hand on the Cebiches. We discussed that as we walked back to our hotel. We had taken a taxi ride from our hotel to Alfresco, but found that Alfresco was close enough to walk, which we enjoyed.
Alfresco Malecon Balta 790 Miraflores
In stark contrast to our earlier stay in intense Central Lima, Miraflores was much more laid back and upscale. You still felt like you were playing out a real life version of Frogger, taking your life into your hands when crossing the street, but you could drop Miraflores right into any large coastal city in the US and not miss a beat. We stayed at the very sleek and modern JW Marriott.
The Marriott in Miraflores rises like a monolith over the Pacific Ocean. The hotel itself is built on those cliffs, and every room is supposed to have an ocean view. When I originally booked our rooms, I had thought that a few nights at the hotel would be a nice segue before returning home. The hotel is very modern, with excellent facilities, and like most 4-5 star hotels, the service was superb. There is also a small and modern shopping mall, Larcomar (more on Larcomar in a future post) right across the street, and most of the cafe culture of Miraflores is just a 10-15 minute walk away. The hotel is rather staid and cold looking, and the charm and warmth of a smaller boutique hotel was missing, but we had no complaints.
The view from our room of the Pacific Ocean, and part of Larcomar, which is built into the cliffs overlooking the ocean. I was told that the best time for the beach here is from December through March, when it is more humid and sunny. During other months, the shoreline is usually shrouded in fog and mist.
Taxis are located right across the street, though they are everywhere. For our initial ride to Alfresco, we approached the line-up of taxis, and a woman aggressively walked up to us. We mentioned Alfresco, and she told us "15 soles, it is far....". Fortunately, the Missus had asked our driver about the going prices of taxi fares to get around Miraflores, and we were told, "No more than 3-5 soles", so we tried to bargain. But this woman insisted on 15 soles. As I stood back, I made eye contact with a kindly looking driver, and he walked up and said, "Si, Alfresco 5 soles...." Sold! The woman, had a few choice words for the gentleman, who just shrugged his shoulders....... We found that various taxi rides in Lima can be a bit of an adventure in themselves, more on that later.
I created a category for our Peru posts, they can be found here.
The morning after our wonderful dinner, we were scheduled to leave Cusco for Lima. Our flight was at noon on a Star Peru "Boing" 737. Since we still had time before Oscar was scheduled to pick us up, we decided to walk on over to the Mercado de Wanchaq. During the previous afternoon we were searching for flowers to bring to dinner. The really helpful Bellhop recommended a stop at the local Mercado right down the street.(Thanks Erick!) We rushed in, and managed to get a decent bouquet....we really didn't notice until we were walking out of market, how much we stood out! Even though we saw a few other tourists at Mercado Central, this vibrant and busy Mercado seemed totally local.
Though smaller than Mercado Central, this market had a real community feel to it. We had arrived just as business was starting to pick up, by the time we left, the isles were buzzing.....
Along with the vast amount of produce, there were 2 barber shops, a few lower stands, a section for fresh seafood:
Meat and Poultry
I found this stand with prepared sauces and marinades to be interesting....
The hardware section! I was surprised at the comprehensive selection. Everything from chain link and rope, to drills, to toilet plungers at this little stand. Home Depot ain't got nothin' on this place.
And of course the food stalls.
As with Mercado Central, the food stands were organized in sections, the saltados(stir fries) in one section, sopas(soups) in another. The fragrances were quite tempting.
But the Missus was after something a bit different. Unfortunately, Her craving for Choclo(Corn on the cob) was left unfulfilled as all the vendors were just getting the water started, and the corn wouldn't be ready for a few hours.
Well, at least we have a reason to return to Cusco! The Missus than turned Her attention to these:
These are called Pepino (cucumber melon), and large stacks of them were featured at every produce stand in the market. The vendor helped the Missus pick one out, and we walked it back to the hotel. This was breakfast for the Missus.
So while everyone was having croissants and muffins, the Missus had Her Pepino. I thought the flavor to be much like honeydew melon, maybe a bit milder. The texture was like very ripe cantaloupe, not too crisp, but with a little "give". I also thought the melon had a weird aftertaste that I really didn't enjoy, but the Missus loved it.
After breakfast we finished packing and checked out at the hotel. Soon enough Oscar picked us up and drove us to the airport. Oscar even brought his wife along to meet us! It was a wonderful little drive to the airport, full of anecdotes and laughter. We realized something, Cusco had grown on us, and the proud, generous, and warm hearted people had as well. Usually, when on vacation, after the third day or so, the Missus and I are ready to leave and move on, but for the very first time, we wanted more time in a city. We told Oscar that we'd probably be returning in 2009....I had an added incentive as well. Oscar promised me a list of the best local restaurants, and what they specialize in, on my next visit, so you know I have to come back!
El Puma Hotel:
We spent our last night in Cusco at the El Puma Hotel. This was a pretty modern, and new hotel, and was a big change from the quaint Hotel Rumi Punku. El Puma was also located in a busy area, just one block from Avenida del Sol, Cusco's main drag.
The rooms looked modern, though with the same type of "central heating". A couple of funny things associated with El Puma occurred as well. As you can see, the entrance of El Puma has very modern looking "sliding doors".....well, I guess in my Americanized mind, sliding doors are "automatic doors", that slide open when you approach. These are literally sliding doors, that you slide open.....which I walked into as I tried to enter hotel!
I also mentioned that the El Puma was fairly new....in fact we found that most taxi drivers had no idea where El Puma was! Luckily, the Missus had the foresight to grab one of the hotel pens(see, I told you it was modern!) with the address on it - Garcilaso 320. We soon found out that there are two streets named Garcilaso in Cusco. In fact, our driver on the return trip from Mercado Central, insisted that we had arrived at our destination, Garcilaso 320.......only thing was, this Garcilaso 320 was a Auto Parts store! Even though the pen we showed him said EL PUMA HOTEL, I guess we must have looked like we were staying at an auto parts store.......
One of the main reasons we arranged for an extra day in Cusco, was to attend a very special dinner. Just before we left for Peru, we had gotten an invitation to have dinner at the home of the parents of an acquaintance of ours. We felt really honored to be invited, and it was obvious to us that this was an invitation that could not, and would not be turned down, under any circumstances. And so, we found ourselves in a taxi winding its way through cobblestone side streets on the outskirts of Cusco. Until we came to a very narrow street. It was obvious that driving on this little strip of cobblestone was not an easy thing. When we arrived, a car was stalled at the entrance of the street, our taxi driver got out and helped to push the car out of the way. (When we left, another car was stalled at the entrance of the street. The driver had to parked and walk down the street to get us.) We drove up the street, around a tight corner, back around and up the street again, but we could not find the address. The young man stopped at the corner, told us to wait for a minute in pseudo sign language, got out of the car. Were we abandoned here on the outskirts of Cusco? Of course not, our driver had gone to find a pay phone and called the phone number on our little scrap of paper with the address. We were going to be met.....unfortunately, the driver put his taxi in reverse, and the car was stuck!! Luckily, he managed to correct the problem. At this point, we thought this poor dedicated cabbie had gone through enough....for s/3 ($1 US). We told him we'd walk, gave him s/10 for his troubles. Just then we were met, and walked over to a doorway......Through that doorway and down a flight of stairs, lay a courtyard, a lovely gazebo, wonderful foliage, with several buildings making up the compound. We were guided to a seating room, and made at home by Victor(our friend's kind, gentle Step-Dad), and soon enough met Tatiana(his friendly, warm cousin), and eventually Rosa(his Mom....who made dinner, and BTW is 86!). We enjoyed sitting and chatting, Tatiana spoke excellent English which made everything much easier for us. Our conversation drifted from Cusco, to food, to a few quips the Missus had....most of which had me, and the word "gordo" as the subject.....
Soon dinner was served:
Yes, it was Cuy(Guinea Pig), amazingly good Cuy! It seems that many people believe that Cuy is some kind of ubiquitous rite-of-passage, I dare you, "Andrew Zimmern-nized", badge of courage. Before we left for Peru, and Cusco, we did a bit of research, and found that Cuy is traditionally served on special occasions and played a large part in Andean religious practices. We were truly honored to be guests for this wonderful meal.
Even though Cuy has quite a history, and a serious role in Andean culture, history, and cuisine, there is still much good humor in "Cuy conversations" . We notice that many people do what we call "the Cuy". Never seen it? Well, "the Cuy" is done by putting your arms to your sides, and bringing your hands up, sort of similar to the Kung Fu Crane Form. At the same time create an overbite using your central incisors, and make a "pffff" sound. Even our waiter at Astrid y Gaston did "the Cuy"! Notice below......
Like I said, this was an amazingly good dish. The Cuy had been roasted in a traditional wood fired oven. A basting with olive oil, salt, huacatay, and other seasonings, had been key in creating a wonderful dish. The skin was like the best lacquered pork "skin/chicharron". Cuy is all dark meat, moist, and full of flavor. The texture of the meat is almost like duck, but much milder in flavor, with just a very mild gaminess. Does it taste like chicken? Well, perhaps really moist, free range, all dark meat chicken, maybe..... My favorite parts were the legs...crunchy, salty, great for gnawing, bones and all, and the meat along the back of the spine, and near the ribs...tender with a flavor akin to dark meat pork, with a touch of sweetness. Tatiana told us that Cuy is high in protein, low in fat and cholesterol. I was sucking bones clean at the end.......
Along with fire roasted potatoes, some really flavorful aji salsa, and the company, this was an unforgettable meal. Discussions ran the gamut, from Coca, to Japan, to San Diego, and beyond.... Some other things we learned:
- The reason the Cuy we had before tasted fishy, was that they were fed a diet of meal that included fish meal and other ingredients to make them grow large quickly. The traditional food for Cuy is Alfalfa. Now we know what all the alfalfa those women were carrying was for!
- As a whole, the locals don't eat Alpaca(other than anticuchos), it is tourist food. It is also very expensive.
- It is customary to have a beverage, either beer or wine, after eating Cuy. We were told this was to "kill the Cuy" for good.
After dinner we had a short tour of the grounds, and though it was quite dark, we managed to meet...
The Cuy, which are housed in the same area as the oven to keep them warm. When the door opened, they scattered everywhere.....they are really fast little critters.
They are kinda cute....the Missus said that She "was glad that I saw them after dinner....."
I should've taken notes.....the Missus had a free tour of the garden, and all the different herbs were described. Here's a really bad picture of the Gallina(Hens), Victor told me they were really good egg layers....
By this time it was getting late, and our cab to the hotel arrived. We said our goodbyes. The ride back was fairly quiet, the Missus and I were still taking in, and thinking about, what a very special meal we had. What can I say.......to be guests of a warm and generous family who opened up their home to us, to have shared conversation, laughter, and food, it is a wonderful thing that I can't describe in words. It was one of the moments that made this trip so memorable.
After leaving the Mercado Central, and an interesting cab ride back to the hotel, we arrived to find our room ready. We freshened up a bit, I went to pick up some bottled water (sin gas), and we took a walk down Avenida del Sol, Cusco's busy main drag. Most of the government buildings, banks, and other businesses are located on this street. Even though there weren't many eateries on del Sol, there were a few fruit vendors:
We also dropped by a "Lavanderia"(laundry service). We had only taken carry on luggage to Peru, and though we needed to bring clothes for 2 dinners, we managed by using a couple of compression bags, and one visit to a good lavanderia. The Lavanderia's charge by the kilo, and if I recall our bill came out to s/12 ($4 US)....to us, a great deal.
We managed a visit to Museo Inka (admission $3 US). Oscar told us that this was the best museum in Cusco when it came to Inca history. Though there is a lack of English signs, we could figure out what most of the displays were about. Of course I enjoyed the ancient and traditional foods display, with items such a Tarwi, and there is a fascinating collection of skulls that display the use of trepanning(the oldest surgery known to man). I'm sorry to say that photos aren't allowed in the museum, but I found some photos here. The Missus also added to Her Alpaca scarf selection, by purchasing a scarf from one of the artisans in the courtyard. We were told that half the proceeds goes to the museum, and half to the artisan, which was good enough for us.
After the museum we were getting hungry, so we headed off to a Picanteria recommended by the Server at Pachapapa. The name of the place is La Chomba, and is located on a street called Tullumayo. We had asked Oscar about La Chomba, and he told us the food there is good, and was quite impressed that we wanted to eat there. He drove by on the way to the hotel, and showed us where La Chomba was located. We were surprised at how close La Chomba was.....the street we had been staying on, Choquechaca, becomes Tullumayo at Cuesta San Blas, so it was basically 5 blocks away from us!
La Chomba is not much to look at from the street, all you see is a door front.
Walk through the doors, and you enter a dusty courtyard. There are children and dogs running around, laundry is hanging to dry, you realize that there are people living here!
In the back corner of the courtyard is a doorway that says "La Chomba Ajha Whasi", and there was a group of musicians hanging out outside. We walked down the hallway.......and into a pretty busy bar/restaurant!
The place was rocking, and the kitchen was running full blast, we saw plates of fried and roasted meats flying past us! The wonderful frangrances floated in there, they smelled so amazing that I wished I could take a bite. Every few minutes a dog would run into the place and make "rounds".... Da' Boyz should be so lucky!
A bowl of Aji Salsa was placed on the table, along with a pad and pencil.....
The Missus gave me a look that said, "ok, now what?" But it was just a matter of what the Missus wanted to eat...I just went down the menu, and could pretty much tell Her what everything was. And yes, those prices are in soles. What made things complicated was that the Missus wanted everything that came out of the kitchen..."wow, that looks good, I want that....no...wait, that is what I want, no, no....pardon Senor, como se llama esto?"(To the Guy running the food to the tables) By then I had written down our order......and the band had started playing.
The Frutillada, the strawberry flavored Chicha de Jora served in pitchers filled from a huge plastic trash cans were flowing! The Missus didn't care for the taste of the fruit flavored Chicha, so we stuck with our standard...Inca Cola. And soon our food arrived!
I ordered the Chicharron:
Oscar had recommended the Lechon (Suckling pig), but it wasn't on the menu....I shoulda asked, because later on I saw it coming out of the kitchen! But this was just fine by me...seasoned and deep fried pork, you gotta love it. We had noticed that much of the meat in Peru is quite lean...except for the pork, goat, and lamb! There were four large chunks of pork, coming from different parts of the pig.....the best was the pieces of rib which were, slightly sweet, salty, and very rich! Along with some marinated onions, mint, and Aji, this was pretty good! It came with the standard corn, a favorite of the Missus, and Papas Amarilla...the flavorful yellow potatoes.
But as good as the Chicharron was, it couldn't hold a candle to the Cabrito al Horno(roasted kid), that I ordered for the Missus, a certified Goat/Lamb/Mutton lover:
That photo doesn't do the cabrito justice....oh man, was this good! The meat was tender, and the rib pieces were tender enough to pull off the bone....but not mushy. The meat was seasoned with a simple, but flavorful rub, just enough to let the wonderful wildness of the cabrito come through! I had a taste, and the Missus asked me what I thought....."I loooove Cusco!"
Now this may be pub-grub...but I'll take this over almost anything! So what about the price? All together, including a "grande" Inca Cola, this was s/22....22 soles, a tad over 7 bucks! Funny thing, normally I could finish everything myself......but here we had leftovers, better for El Mayor I guess. So let's review the magic words....they are Cebicheria, Chicheria, Chicharroneria, and Picanteria. That's all you have to know.
I was curious about what a Picanteria was.....and most references said something like, "a Peruvian eatery serving traditional foods." I'll take that anytime!
La Chomba 339 Tullumayo Cusco
A funny thing happened while we were eating. The two nice women in front of us, were a bit curious about who we were. They asked the Missus a few questions...and the Missus answered. After answering She told them "no habla Español". They cracked up, and one lady said to the other something along the lines of "she's telling me she doesn't speak Spanish, but she's talking to me in Spanish!"
You won't believe this, but it got even better from here, so stay tuned!