Sunday, February 25, 2007

Chicken, Soup, Pizza and Desserts!

Now that Tyler´s feeling better (though still on a somewhat limited diet), we´re back to enjoying the local Peruvian cuisine. While it´s pretty straightforward meat-and-potatoes/rice affair, it´s filling and good. And the chicken tastes like chicken!

Since arriving in Cusco´s somewhat cooler climate, we´ve had more opportunities to enjoy the restaurants´ sopa (soup) offerings. More often here than in the hotter cities we´ve visited, one of the first courses on the set menus is a soup, and generally it´s followed by a word we´re not entirely familiar with. But we´ve had some tasty ones--such as a chicken soup with lots of vegetables, including celery, carrots, squash, tomatoes and corn. And the broth--remember how I said chicken actually tastes like chicken?--is really good. The local corn is also really different and good. The individual kernels of corn are about 3-4 times as big as corn in the US, and it tastes starchier. At one restaurant, they had little bowls of these roasted corn kernels out sprinkled with salt, the best corn nuts I could imagine.

But every once in awhile we start to crave non-Peruvian food. Despite what I said earlier about Peruvian versions of Italian food, they have surprisingly good pizza. We had some in Arequipa when we ran into some familiar travellers from our hostel in Miraflores. We hadn´t intended to eat pizza that night, but seeing some semi-familiar faces and having some additional dinner companions made us change our dinner plans. The places we´ve been to with pizzas have had wood burning ovens and very fresh tasting ingredients. Last night we had more pizza at a place in Cusco on the Plaza de Armas. We ended up with a tasty chicken pie, watching the Cusco/Lima football (soccer) game with all the staff along with bottles of the local Cusquena beer.

Earlier in the day, we had visited the Cusco Main Market, where we wandered through the stalls. Though we had read some warnings about pickpockets and such in our guidebook, it actually was less frenetic and a little more welcoming than the Arequipa market. It´s always fun to wander the markets; there´s the fruit area, juice area, seafood area, chicken, beef, clothes, hats, breads, cheeses, you name it, but all arranged in the same areas of the market.

There are also very different ideas about refrigeration here. Except for a few coolers for soft drinks, I haven´t really seen any refrigerators. And markets have everything just out in the open, waving fans or other material around to keep most of the flies off the fresh cut meat.

Another interesting thing we noticed in Arequipa was a huge number of dessert places--chocolate places, places with cakes and pies. It seemed every street we walked on, in addition to the usual ice cream coolers, were these little shops. Unfortunately due to my own questionable stomach at the time, I only enjoyed these postres once at the Santa Domingo Monastery. I had a delicious torta de fresa, or strawberry cake. It was much like my traditional birthday dessert--a three-layer white cake with whipped cream and strawberries. Delightful!

The only other funny food-related note is that Tyler and I were desperate for a really cold beverage while we were in Lima, Pisco and Nazca, where it was hot and dusty. Best we could generally do was lukewarm or slightly below room temperature. Since we been in colder climes, there has been icy cold water at almost every restaurant we´ve been to!

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