Sunday, May 24, 2015

The Peruvian Diet or: How I learned to Stop Worrying and Love Alpaca

Something I quickly noticed about Peruvian society, whether in the city of Cusco or in the various smaller towns I've visited on weekends, is the incredible difference in eating habits that exists here compared to the United States. The Peruvian diet has proven exotic to me, both in terms of plate size (which might explain the USA's obesity epidemic), and in type of meal, which includes various local delicacies. I was a little nervous to try some of these Peruvian dishes, but in the end, I'm here to learn about the culture, so I figured why not just give it a go.

Will I become clothing, or food?
First, the humble Alpaca. I had never eaten alpaca before I came to Cusco. I thought it might be similar to some of the exotic North American meats I've eaten such as elk or buffalo. Nevertheless, I was a little apprehensive. Alpaca's are cute, and fluffy, and there's something about them that makes you not want to eat their roasted flesh - but, in a little restaurant called Kushka Fe, I ordered an alpaca steak with quinoa risotto, and it was delicious. Exquisite. Wonderful. The alpaca tasted like cow, but even better, and it's certainly something I'll miss about the Andean diet. If this was the weirdest thing Peru had to offer, I would be fine. Little did I know how much stranger it would get.

At the risk of going into too much detail, I'll just give a brief overview of some of the other dishes I've been exposed to here in the Andes, and them my rating on a scale of 1 to 10. I'll only be doing exotic dishes. Peruvian standards like lomo saltado are delicious, but will . Alpaca steak with quinoa risotto gets a 7. Chicharron, a Peruvian style of fried pork meat, gets 8 - I had this in a sandwich, multiple times. Anticucho, or braised beef heart skewers, gets a 6 out of 10 for smell, but I didn't taste it at the risk of getting some kind of diseases.

Trout from the Sacred Valley is generally tasty, but I've had both good and bad experiences. Biology majors can back me up, but from what I understand, there are 206 bones in the human body. Well, I can confirm that the trout at Pisac's Blue Llama has 207.  5/10. The town of Chincheros had something different to offer: potatoes literally cooked in an oven of dirt. While I decided to forego the ones with worms in them, the locals assure me that they can cure cancer. 4/10, but 6/10 if you add spicy salsa.

The most prominent side dish we ate was choclo, a thick, starchy corn found only here in the Peruvian mountains. One grain of choclo is about the size of a small basketball, and has about as much fiber as a cardboard box. Did not enjoy. 3/10. Chicha morada, on the other hand, is incredibly sweet and incredibly purple, and I need to find a place in Nashville that serves it during the school year - 7/10. On our train from Ollantaytambo to Aguas Calientes, I tried Peru's other national drink, Inka Cola. Poured out of a glass bottle, Inka Cola tasted like bubblegum, and looked like radioactive waste. I would not be surprised if the Incredible Hulk got his powers from drinking this beverage. Nevertheless, I,ll give it a 5/10 and hope I don't wake up tomorrow with extra arms.

Next on the list: Cuy, or guinea pig, and Ceviche. Hopeing I can get both in Lima and finish my culinary journey.

Kentucky Fried Cuy, a local delicacy

And, in case you were wondering what a 10/10 was on my food scale, I have two words for you. Doner. Kebab.

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