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Peru 2018: Lima, Cusco, Aguas Calientes

Peru 2018: Lima, Cusco, Aguas Calientes
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  • Peru 2018: Lima, Cusco, Aguas Calientes

    Post #1 - February 26th, 2018, 10:02 am
    Post #1 - February 26th, 2018, 10:02 am Post #1 - February 26th, 2018, 10:02 am
    I'll recap a couple days per post below, but I wanted to get some top-of-my-head thoughts down first.
    #1: Peru is one heck of a dining destination. Gaston Acurio brought it to light, and I'd say their cooking can delight me in ways that only Thai has done. It's got bright fresh flavors, lots of fat and umami, and the cooks seem, almost without exception, to really give a damn. Even the dump of a Chifa (Chinese) place we walked into made Cantonese food better than any place here outside of Chinatown.

    It's also a relative bargain: the most expensive meal we had was about S/400 (S/ is the symbol for Peruvian Soles), or around $130 for two, with drinks. If you're willing to eat the Tourist Menus in places like Cusco and Aguas Calientes (the gateway town to Machu Picchu), it's really cheap: S/15 (under $5) can get you a two-course meal with a Pisco sour or lemonade -- we never did, opting to go a couple levels higher and having great food for about our regular-dining-out budget on most days.

    There are some downsides, though: Lima is not set up for tourism like most European capitol cities: no major transportation network (although it's estimated 1/7 of all cars are licensed or unlicensed taxis) -- museums, high street shopping, etc., may be all over the place, although Miraflores district has a lot of shopping and dining. Clean water is an issue, although the higher-end restaurants say their fresh produce and iced beverages are safe (we didn't have any problems). Many restaurants are closed, or only open for lunch, on Sundays -- Lunch is a big deal in Lima, but we don't tend to do lunch when we travel: we usually fill up on breakfast at hotels, snack between tourist attractions, then have a big dinner. There are some top-rated restaurants that are only open at lunch time.

    But back to the food: wow. With the Chinese influence (called Chifa), Japanese influence (Nikkei), fresh seafood and tropical produce, great pork, exotic animals to try, it deserves its reputation. There's spicy when you need it (often in the cebiche, but rocoto chiles are nothing to sneeze at and aji amarillo is a wonderful warmth), but you're not likely to be knocked on your butt from the heat. I was extremely skeptical when I saw that three of the World's 50 Best Restaurants were in Lima, figuring there's some observation error, but daaaaaaaaaaaam.

    There were a few things I missed:
    • Cuy - it was always expensive, and usually not as interesting-sounding as other items on the menu -- most places just roast it (although I did see a cuy canneloni at one restaurant)
    • Chicha - I'm not much of a drinker to begin with, and as exhausted as the altitude made me, I had very little booze on the areas outside of Lima, usually just a sip of Sue's wine (There are some very, very good Peruvian wines, many with Tannat grape)
    • Coca - Just Say No. Our company is switching to outsourced HR, you never know when drug testing could happen. Muña is another herb which is supposed to help with breathing at altitude, it's pleasantly minty as a tea.
    • Choclo y Queso - Choclo, the large-kernel corn, is used all over the place, especially stews, and ground into cornmeal, also roasted (corn nuts) and popped, but it was suggested that this might not be the safest of things to eat from the street vendors. I kept hoping to find it on a menu.

    One interesting note: Agave is grown, mainly as erosion control along roads. The guide we hired for a couple days (run by the sister and brother-in-law of someone Sue works with, highly recommended) said they don't know what to do with it.

    More to come soon.
    What is patriotism, but the love of good things we ate in our childhood?
    -- Lin Yutang
  • Post #2 - February 27th, 2018, 5:01 pm
    Post #2 - February 27th, 2018, 5:01 pm Post #2 - February 27th, 2018, 5:01 pm
    Our first full day in Lima involved learning the public transportation system (lesson: avoid! It's a dedicated bus lane without enough buses running, very hot and crowded), wandering around the Mercado Central (when Sue uploads her photos, I'll grab a couple from there, I didn't get any on my phone) and Chinatown. We picked up some cheese and pecans to snack on. The pecans were enormous, and shelled whole (you have to break apart the halves and remove the "cardboard" between them),


    The Chifa restaurant that had been recommended on a list Sue'd found was long gone, so we settled for the next place we saw, we were hungry. I think this is the place:

    Chifa Gran Chino Siu
    Jirón Andahuaylas, Cercado de Lima 15001, Peru
    (no website)

    It was a dump, with a booth selling direct-to-street some dim sum and roast pork, and shabbily-built booths. But the food was solid. S/12 got us a half-dozen siu mai. They came two-to-a-skewer, and weren't very hot, but they were tasty. Another S/14 (about $4.50) for a Pollo con something-or-other which turned out to be broccoli and scallions was really very good, came with a decent wonton soup and fried rice. Great wok hay, deep soy flavor and a decent amount of ginger. If it was in the Chicago burbs, it'd have to clean up, but I'd be there regularly.

    For dinner I'd sent an email reservation request to Rafael, which had come highly recommended and was only a few blocks from our hotel. We hadn't gotten a response back, so we thought we'd just walk over (finding a cool candy shop selling caramel-nougaty things called chocotejas we saw all over, and an Amazonian craft shop where we bought a textile that'll become a wall hanging), and it was closed for February for remodeling. But just across the street was Maido, on the 50 Best Restaurants list. They didn't have any openings, but they had several reservations that hadn't shown yet -- if we were willing to wait 15 minutes we might get a table. Another person came in and was put in the same queue, and when time was up for the late arrival we were asked if we'd be willing to sit together at a 4-top. He turned out to be a very interesting Swiss guy who does marketing videos, with Ugandan/Ukrainian parents, we had a great evening talking politics, children, and travel.

    (to be continued)
    What is patriotism, but the love of good things we ate in our childhood?
    -- Lin Yutang
  • Post #3 - February 28th, 2018, 6:16 pm
    Post #3 - February 28th, 2018, 6:16 pm Post #3 - February 28th, 2018, 6:16 pm
    Excited to hear your thoughts on Maido!

    The best restaurant I dined at while in Peru and also one the best I've been to anywhere.

    Edit: Just realized I recommended it to you back in January when you asked for suggestions. Waiting to see if you tried any of my other recs for Peru :)
  • Post #4 - March 6th, 2018, 4:40 pm
    Post #4 - March 6th, 2018, 4:40 pm Post #4 - March 6th, 2018, 4:40 pm
    Ack! I've been neglecting my duties here. On to the food porn at Maido:

    Tannat-based Peruvian wine called Plenilunium -- quite tasty -- and an Incan Mule, with Pisco and ginger beer.

    Amuse of beef heart, but for the life of me, I've forgotten what the other components are, except the bottom was crisp, and creamy in between. Probably fried potato with huacaina sauce?

    Rocotto Relleno (stuffed pepper). Not as spicy as other versions we've had, with a cheesy sauce, and wonderful delicate flavor.

    "Sansei" Cebiche with leche de tigre, silverside, scallop and a couple other elements. The leche de tigre was brought out as a bowl of liquid nitrogen-frozen powder, which liquified when stirred into the fish (didn't get a chance to snap the original composed dish)

    Our companion's octopus dish. Didn't taste, but beautiful plating. Bonus finger in front of the lens (new phone, haven't gotten used to it yet)

    Cabrito "dim sum". Baby lamb dumpling in a savory tomato sauce. Really really good.

    Crispy Pancetta served with potato salad. We had a lot of good pork here, but this was the best. Shatterable skin and succulent meat.

    Companion's main course, a fish of some sort, cooked at low temperature

    The crispest, lightest churros I've ever had, filled with caramel, and vanilla ice cream for dipping.

    Calle San Martin 399, Miraflores 15074, Peru
    Phone: +51 1 4462512
    Last edited by JoelF on March 14th, 2018, 1:59 pm, edited 3 times in total.
    What is patriotism, but the love of good things we ate in our childhood?
    -- Lin Yutang
  • Post #5 - March 6th, 2018, 4:54 pm
    Post #5 - March 6th, 2018, 4:54 pm Post #5 - March 6th, 2018, 4:54 pm
    Sundays are tough in Lima: A lot of restaurants are closed, or open at lunch but not dinner. There was a restaurant recommended on a pier we were going to try, but alas, not on Sunday, and we were flying to Cusco the next day. The hotel concierge recommended Cala ("Creek"), also on the shore. Regrettably, it was cloudy, we didn't get much of a sunset, but the shore was beautiful


    There was an amuse we forgot to photograph - a bit of fried fish with huacaina sauce.

    Something crispy-fried sounded good to start (we didn't expect an amuse), so we went with the calamari which came with a tartar sauce and a olive oil sauce with just an hint of cinnamon that gave the impression of five-spice. The slivers of red onion and chile were a nice accompaniment.

    "Southern Tuna" with yellow chile, yucca, and oca. The server recommended it "medium," should have gone for "rare". Also pictured, a pisco sour with a heck of a whallop.

    Agnolotti with wild mushrooms, foie gras and pine nuts

    Chocolate "sponge", broken over ganache

    Circuito de Playas, Barranco 15063, Peru
    Phone : +51 1 4772020
    Last edited by JoelF on March 13th, 2018, 11:21 am, edited 2 times in total.
    What is patriotism, but the love of good things we ate in our childhood?
    -- Lin Yutang
  • Post #6 - March 6th, 2018, 5:10 pm
    Post #6 - March 6th, 2018, 5:10 pm Post #6 - March 6th, 2018, 5:10 pm
    The next day we flew LCPeru from Lima to Cusco. Warning: I don't know if all in-country airlines are like this, but anyone over about 5'3" would find the seat pitch unacceptable. I got an exit row on the way back, but this was a miserable flight.

    Cusco, at 11,000 feet, really knocked me out (Sue, less so). I felt like anything alcoholic would just knock me out, and Sue would have to carry me the three blocks straight up to our hotel. Cicciolina, a block off the Plaza de Armas, was a wonderful Italian-inspired restaurant.

    Bread with tomato sauce and some really, really good olives.

    Soup sounded like a good idea as a restorative. We split starters including consomme with grilled beef, potato, corn, cilantro and pepper leaf,

    ...and house-cured duck prosciutto draped over fried polenta with an orange salsa. Perfect.

    The Osso Bucco was described as being in a dark beer sauce, with pumpkin ravioli, serrano cheese, mint and toasted pecans. A huge serving, with a nice hunk of marrow. That sauce was fantastic: sweet with the right amount of savory and acid and umami.

    Alpaca tenderloin with a four-pepper sauce ("au poive", not chiles) with yucca "souffle" and roasted tomatoes. Alpaca is very lean (extremely low in cholesterol apparently), and not that tender, rather chewy. A very good dish, but the brochette I had later in the week was better.

    Triunfo 393 2nd Floor, Cusco 08000, Peru
    +51 (84) 239510
    Last edited by JoelF on March 13th, 2018, 11:19 am, edited 1 time in total.
    What is patriotism, but the love of good things we ate in our childhood?
    -- Lin Yutang
  • Post #7 - March 9th, 2018, 1:07 pm
    Post #7 - March 9th, 2018, 1:07 pm Post #7 - March 9th, 2018, 1:07 pm
    Aguas Calientes is the gateway to Machu Picchu. There are a lot of budget hostels, tourist restaurants (those S/15 meals with lemonade or pisco sour included), and lots of shops serving tourist needs for water, bug spray, etc. Cusco had better prices for souvenirs (Alpaca sweaters, etc.).

    We paid the (rather expensive) bus to get up to Machu Picchu, we'd thought that there were trails we could take without going into the park, but we were wrong, and it was raining, so we had a hot drink (tea and cocoa) in the Belmond Sanctuary Hotel, the drinks were expensive but they brought out fried corn and plaintain.
    As we were leaving, they were setting up for a beautiful high tea, I didn't see the cost.

    Belmond Sanctuary Lodge
    Carretera Hiram Bingham KM 7.5, Machu Picchu, Peru
    Phone: +51 984 816 956 ... ary-lodge/

    From Google reviews and others, we chose a place called Chullpi (the Ls are pronounced, it's Quechua, not Spanish), as it sounded like it had interesting dishes, and we were right. They opened a little later than other places -- they were just opening when we found them.

    Here's great evidence of how seriously Peruvians run their restaurants: This is a little place, relatively casual, the whole meal with wine ran us the equivalent of $55 or so, and we got an amuse that looks like this:
    Alpaca tartare over a piece of fried cheese. Awesome

    Appetizer: Choclo (corn) cake with beef. Rich, very tasty.

    Chicharones (Crispy pork belly) with beet/sweet potato puree and mushroom sauce

    A sort of deconstructed version of Lomo Saltado

    Everything was wonderfully balanced, brightly flavored and gorgeous to look at.

    140 Av Imperio de los Incas, Aguas Calientes, Peru
    Phone : +51 84 211350
    Last edited by JoelF on March 13th, 2018, 11:23 am, edited 3 times in total.
    What is patriotism, but the love of good things we ate in our childhood?
    -- Lin Yutang
  • Post #8 - March 13th, 2018, 11:10 am
    Post #8 - March 13th, 2018, 11:10 am Post #8 - March 13th, 2018, 11:10 am
    We spent the next day at Macchu Picchhu (you can see my whole album on Flickr). Bring lots of water and energetic snacks -- there's no vending inside the park, and pack all your trash out (theoretically water bottles, walking sticks, etc. are all banned, but there's no enforcement).
    When we got back, we decided we'd try something a little less Peruvian. There are a lot of places with woodburning pizza ovens in Aguas Calientes, Incontri del Pueblo Viejo claimed to be real Neapolitan, and even at the high altitude, did not disappoint. The place had a beautiful open wood fire pit in the center of the restaurant, and a big

    These were labeled as quinoa "meatballs" although I'm pretty sure there was no meat, more of a dumpling. Soft, delicate, with a delicious sauce.

    This pizza had a sauce of porcini mushrooms, with prosciutto and truffle oil. Nice crispness to the crust, very savory. I asked for crushed peppers, and was given a rocotto chile sauce. Very tasty, but not what I expected for a pizza condiment.

    Incontri del Pueblo Viejo
    Av. Pachacutec S/N, Aguas Calientes, Peru
    Phone: +51 84 211072
    What is patriotism, but the love of good things we ate in our childhood?
    -- Lin Yutang
  • Post #9 - March 14th, 2018, 2:17 pm
    Post #9 - March 14th, 2018, 2:17 pm Post #9 - March 14th, 2018, 2:17 pm
    Back to Cusco and its lack of oxygen (about 3000 feet higher than Aguas Calientes), but plenty of rain. We visited a few touristy places around the Plaza de Armas, and checked out menus. Tunupa had one of the more interesting-sounding menus, but proved to be the only disappointment of the week. Nothing terrible, but nothing great; service was spotty, and as we're being served, they're setting up this lush buffet that they didn't even bother telling us about, featuring everything from sushi rolls to Peruvian standards, a half-dozen potato dishes, salads, stews, etc. etc.

    It did have a nice view of the plaza, for a rainy evening:

    Like the first night in Cusco, the altitude drew us to soup. Mine was a creole soup, with beef, angel hair, and a poached egg; Sue had a carrot soup with ginger and honey. These were pretty good, better than the entrees.

    I had the "trout medallions" which came with a quinoa risotto. The menu described it as filets, and while boneless, it was more of a cross-section. Unfortunately overcooked. The risotto was pretty good, but mostly tasted of parmesan.

    Sue had the grilled pork ribs, which were mistranslated -- it should have been chops. Regrettably, these were also overcooked and dry.

    Portal de Confituria 233, Cusco 08000, Peru
    Phone: +51 252936
    What is patriotism, but the love of good things we ate in our childhood?
    -- Lin Yutang
  • Post #10 - March 21st, 2018, 9:53 am
    Post #10 - March 21st, 2018, 9:53 am Post #10 - March 21st, 2018, 9:53 am
    It's been most of a month, about time I wrap up this report.
    Our last full day in Cusco, we took a tour run by the brother-in-law of one of Sue's co-workers. I highly recommend -- Silverio is very knowledgeable, and we had a lot of fun, at the Maras salt pools and Moray agricultural experimental station, and a village with traditional weavers.

    The salt pools get rather muddy in the rainy season, but it's still awfully cool. This has supposedly been "mined" for about 2000 years. We picked up some pink "fleur de sel"-style salt and some very tasty smoked salt, plus some fried beans and corn for snacking.

    The Moray pits (or as I like to call them, the Vegan Sarlac) are where the Incas brought earth from across the empire and created microclimates to test various breeds of potatoes and corn:

    That evening we ate at Pachupapa in the San Blas artisan district not far from the Cusco Plaza de Armas (but it's uphill, the altitude is still killing me here). It started raining as we got there, so we passed on sitting in the courtyard near the ovens, where they make these tiny rolls not much bigger than my thumb, seem to be the standard all over Cusco, it may be an altitude thing? They were served with a spicy tomato sauce, and a green sauce that reminded me a lot of Indian cilantro chutney.


    (Sue's wine in the background is another Tannat blend)

    For a starter, we had the potatoes (which we realized we hadn't eaten many of in the land they came from), which were served cold, with huacaina (yellow) and ocopa (green, very similar to the bread spread), sliced boiled egg and olives.

    Sue had one of the national dishes, Aji de Gallina, succulent chicken in a yellow chile sauce.

    I had the Pachupapa -- their combo platter: Alpaca brochette (nicely marinated, very tender and tasty), tamal with aji chile, stuffed rocoto chile and potatoes.

    Great food, highly recommended.
    Carmen Bajo 120, Cusco 08000, Peru
    Phone: +51 84 241318
    (menu only in Spanish)

    The following day, we did a little more touring of Incan sites near Cusco. When we got to the airport, they asked if we wanted to leave earlier -- now -- and we got to Lima much earlier than expected. We were able to move our dinner reservation up an hour and still wander around the Miraflores neighborhood for a couple hours.

    A nearby park had some sort of event going on (some folk dancing, some flea market stuff, some artists), and we got an order of what I thought were onion rings from a cart, but turned out to be something more like a ring-shaped sweet-potato fritter called "picarones." I didn't get a picture, because they were dripping with sticky syrup and we were dodging yellowjackets.

    Prior to dinner, we came across a small mall, bought some chocolates at one store, and wandered through a Target-like store called Wong (mostly groceries, a fair amount of housewares, some furniture and electronics), where we bought some hot sauces, and some aji pepper paste.
    Balta Shopping, Malecón Balta 626
    +51 990 280 132

    Dinner was at Panchita, billed as Criolla (creole) cuisine. We'd seen a note that the portions here are huge, and the prices were not unreasonable, and the appetizers all sounded so interesting, we ordered four appetizers, but probably could have been satiated on two (especially if one was the tamales):

    Cassava fries with five sauces: a salsa-like one, aji, mustard, cilantro and an aoili. This should have been our warning about portion sizes, those planks of cassava are huge.

    But then we were fooled by a couple dainty empanadas, filled with stir-fried beef

    The Peruvian wings were tasty, but I'd have liked a little more heat. The onions added a nice contrast, but hard to eat because they don't stick to the wings

    And five tamales, each one about the size of Sue's fist. Two cilantro (they were out of the artichoke), corn with aji (the best of the bunch and we still didn't finish it), creole maize filled with pork, and the Marthita made with quinoa. I need to figure out how to make the aji, which did not have any meat in it, but fresh and ground corn, and a great, warm, chile and garlic flavor.

    I definitely want to try this restaurant again, hopefully with a bunch of people, and maybe get past the first page of the menu to the grilled, fried, and stewed items.

    Panchita Miraflores
    Calle 2 de Mayo 298, Lima, Perú
    (51-1) 242-5957

    And that wraps the eating part of our adventure up, except for breakfast sandwiches from Potbelly at the Houston airport.
    What is patriotism, but the love of good things we ate in our childhood?
    -- Lin Yutang
  • Post #11 - October 30th, 2018, 4:38 pm
    Post #11 - October 30th, 2018, 4:38 pm Post #11 - October 30th, 2018, 4:38 pm
    First, though we went other places (and visited a number of small towns in the Sacred Valley), thanks to JoelF for his enormously helpful series of posts.
    I'll start off with a meal toward the end of our time in Peru. Gaston Acurio (of Astrid y Gaston in Lima) has a burger place in Cusco with a very American-feel to it. Everything from the decoration to the menu to the vibe itself seems to scream "burger place." Which, of course, is what it is. Except that it's Gaston Acurio's burger place.
    We'd had a very, very long morning and needed a place to sit and relax. And fate placed us close to Papacho's. It seemed to be populated mostly by tourists (surprise) and was very reasonably priced (a genuine surprise--most burgers right around $10-$11). So we ordered a veggie burger with sweet potato fries and a Cusco burger with onion rings. The third and best surprise: some of the best burgers we've ever had in our lives and very possibly the best onion rings I've ever had.
    Don't ask what's on the burgers...very Peruvian. (Just take a gander at the latest version of their menu online and you'll see how close to home he stays.) But oh, those burgers! Wow! Perfectly cooked, great beef, great bun (and toppings--whatever they were). It was the only non-Peruvian meal we had in two weeks but boy, was it ever worth it.

    Veggie burger and sweet potato fries

    Cusco burger and onion rings

    We tried Astrid y Gaston in Lima and many other places worth reporting on in Pisac, Ollantaytambo, and Cusco (and even a few in Lima)...but they'll be coming.

    Sta Catalina Angosta 115
    Cusco 08000, Peru
    Gypsy Boy

    "I am not a glutton--I am an explorer of food." (Erma Bombeck)
  • Post #12 - November 1st, 2018, 10:07 am
    Post #12 - November 1st, 2018, 10:07 am Post #12 - November 1st, 2018, 10:07 am
    First stop, Pisac. After arriving in Lima, we flew to Cusco and, because of its altitude, decided to drive immediately to Pisac. Although Pisac sits at an elevation of over 9,700 feet, it is still significantly lower than Cusco (at about 11,150 feet). Neither of us has ever really suffered much from altitude sickness (excluding a couple days spent at over 17,000 near Everest Base Camp), but why take chances?
    We would only spend a day or so in Pisac, a small town of about 10,000 at one end of the Sacred Valley (most famous for Machu Picchu, which we would be slowly working our way toward). There are a surprising number of eating options for so small a town, due no doubt to the significant presence of tourists, not only overnight tourists but also bused in every day by the bucketload.
    In the event, we ended up, more by default than anything else, at Ulrike's Cafe. It gets good reviews pretty much throughout the range of guidebooks we consulted as well as online, so we figured it was a safe bet. It was. It wouldn't likely be my choice again--a little too tourist-oriented for me. Still, they had a number of Peruvian options and it turned out to be "reliable." We also learned two things: that trout is ever-present on Peruvian menus (we were proudly informed elsewhere that it is mostly farm-raised) and that empanada may not always mean empanada, at least as we had previously understood the term. Thus, Lovely Dining Companion's empanada de trucha, quinoa-crusted with Peruvian equivalent of polenta:


    And my aji de gallina, a Peruvian standard (a shredded chicken stew with a cream sauce made from ground walnuts and aji amarillo peppers traditionally served over boiled yellow potatoes and with rice, as here).


    Both meals were fine; neither worth going out of one's way for. Should we ever find ourselves in Pisac again, we would likely look around to try other options. But good, safe eating in a vaguely hippie-ish place.

    Ulrike's Cafe
    Calle Pardo 613, Pisac 08106, Peru
    Gypsy Boy

    "I am not a glutton--I am an explorer of food." (Erma Bombeck)