I hate people who are not serious about their meals. -- Oscar Wilde

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Cusco Day Dos: Tamales, street meat, and ill have the chicken

Om Nomz Hero note to Self: Tamales count as a light breakfast. End of discussion.

I woke up with a slight headache. The altitude was slightly affecting me a bit and I was still a bit full from the pervious day of eating myself to Bourdianesque oblivion. So I started off real light, with some Coca tea which according Peruvians, is the magic elixir that cures all problems and aliments. Yes, coca tea uses the leave that is used to make cocaine, however, the amount that you drink in a tea is not enough or even close to dope so do not worry about getting “high” or freaking out or whatever. 

 Lonely Tamale Lady at off of Ave. de Sol

I walked around the Plaza de Armas and found a group of people, huddled around a corner of the square and from a distance; they looked like they were eating. Naturally I went over hoping that it was food or maybe they were trying to get in a couple of games of dice before breakfast. The people were huddled around a lady just chilling there with a huge covered basket. What was in this basket? Cookies? Candies? Puppies? It was tamales. The crash course definition of a tamale is that is a dumpling-like cake that is made primarily of corn, water and oil and they are wrapped in corn husks and steamed. They can be savory or sweet, and can have fillings ranging from meat to raisins. Oh and so you do not look dumb, you do not eat the corn husks. 

 Bag of warm tamale goodness, the Tamale Lady of Plaza de Armas

Unfortunately my experience with tamales up until I got to Peru has been dense, gummy and somewhat processed and just dull. The tamale at the market was probably the first good tamale I had and I was excited to eat more. From observation, tamales are a typical street food that it mainly eaten in the morning and early afternoon. Already a fan of breakfast in Peru, I got a tamale and decided to go sweet. The tamales here in Peru has now set the standard for what a tamale should be. It was still warm and wafting with steam when she handed it to me and upon unwrapping it, it was not the nuclear yellow that I was used to but a vibrant shade of white, signaling freshness and actual usage of corn. The tamale crumbled delicately yet moist enough to prevent it from being a crumbly mess. This tasted great; you could actually taste the corn. The dulce tamale was sprinkled with bits of raisins. The sweetness of the tamales came from the corn and the bits of raisins which was subtle but perfect and naturally let the corn flavors come through. 
tamales and more food pronz after jump

 Dulce Tamale

One tamale was not going to hold me over so I also got a savory (sal) one, which was just as tasty and delectable. It was not a salt bomb at all and the combination of sweetness from the corn and salty, savory bits of pork made this a satisfying treat. The lady that regularly sells tamales in the Plaza and in my food research of the area was just simply known as the Tamale Lady in the Plaza.

 Sal Tamale

I asked her how long she has been selling tamales and said since 1982 and she makes them everyday by hand. That is some commitment. I noticed that there were other tamales ladies as well when I ventured down Ave. de Sol and I tried the tamales at the lady that was setup across from the Church of San Blas which was good, but denser in comparison to the one at Plaza de Armas. I later noticed another tamale lady by the Church of Santo Domingo.

Tamale Lady at San Blas...she wasn't so nice

I see a recurring theme of tamales and churches and squares. On of the plus side was that these tamales cost about .80 soles. That is about…30 cents US. That morning I bought a water for 1 soles and had a total of 3 tamales. That came to about 3.40 Soles. One US dollar is equal to 2.75 Soles. Some quick math, I realized I had the cheapest and quiet filling breakfast ever totaling $1.24 US. I totally just destroyed Rachel Ray’s 40 Dollars a Day (and I could have given a substantial tip!).

It was Sunday, but not just any ordinary Sunday, I came at a good time and got to see the Carnivale parade and celebration here at Cusco. Shops closed and the plaza was filled by Noon with people. It was not at the level or drunken craziness that you would except at maybe Venice or Rio but this was special in its own way and lots of fun. It was more of a cultural celebration in which people donned traditional garb and costumes and did some dancing, but the fun part was that people would go around with water balloons and buckets or water and start dumping it random people. Not only that, they had cans of foam and spray it on each other or just straight up in someone’s face. No one was really safe from this, except for the blatant tourist; I for one did get hit by a water balloon by a little kid (its ok kid, your parents don’t love you anyways). The people performing in the parade were not safe at all, in which onlookers would throw water balloons or spray foam at them as they passed by. It was awesome and everyone was thoroughly enjoying themselves. It did not only happen at the parade area but all around Cusco when I saw people getting ambushed with a hose by a pollo la brasa restaurant!

That afternoon I decided to treat myself up and go eat at Cicciolina, which is a Peruvian Mediterranean Restaurant which was so good, before I left Cusco, I went there for breakfast. That I will save for a post on its own entirely. 

Afterwards, I went and again did the whole touristy walk around the city. One thing to keep in mind is that this is a very, hilly city. Staying here for a bit, you will develop some serious leg muscles. Since it was Carnivale the street vendors started up a bit earlier so I snacked on various street foods and trying antichuos (street meat on a stick) and against my better the locale drink of chicha marado, however since I ate so much street food, which will be combined in a separate post entirely.

Saw her wash bucket after drinking the Chicha marado (purple drink on the left)...not the best idea i had.

One thing I need to mention as I rarely blast people or restaurants is that when I was purchasing and waiting for my antichuos to warm up, a pair of Leave it to Beaver looking tourists, maybe a couple of years older than me walked up to the lady in awe and giggling. Picked up a stick of antichuos looking like having the intention of buying it, took a picture and put it back. This is the reason that the rest of the World hates us you stupid fucks. This is straight up disrespect and ignorance. No one says that you have to eat the food, but at least have the common decency to not disrespect a lady trying to make a living. End of rant.

That night, I went up to San Blas, and I say up because there is a hell of a lot of steps to get to that part of Cusco. Those with knee problems, invest in some tiger balm for those knees if you come to Cusco. I went to eat at Panchapapa, which focuses on Peruvian classics and even has an outdoor wood burning oven for roasts and pizzas (pizzas to cater to the less adventurous eaters).

This is apparently a romantic spot, so naturally I was there on my own. The space was cozy and had a fire going which was great because it was cold that night. 


Though I was dining solo, they insisted on creating I guess an ambiance for me and lit a candle for the table. Touching. 

Candle all to myself

Since the night was cold, I decided to go for some heartier dishes and started of with papa pachita and the aji de gallina, a classic Peruvian chicken stew dish.

Tomato sauce on left I will pass on, the huacatay sauce on the right,give that to me all day long

To start I got two nice little rolls of bread with a side of tomato sauce and the green aji huacatay sauce. The tomatoes sauce was not my style at all and tasted disgusting sweet and ketchup like. It reminded me of the Asian style ketchups but even sweeter than that. The huacatay sauce on the other hand, was light and refreshing and had the hint of spice from the aji pepper. I am digging the aji peppers in this country and will probably be on a manhunt for these peppers her in the United States. As usual, the bounty for finding stuff will be ONE WHOLE DOLLAR (or 2.75 soles).

Papas, simple and delicious

I started off with a potato dish because when in Peru, you have to eat the potatoes, and nothing starts off a meal like starchy goodness right? It is cliché, but the potatoes truly taste different here and does not taste like any potatoes that I have eaten in the United States. It relates to the concept of ‘Terrior” which mean land in Frenchie speaks and how the geography plays a direct role in the way food is produced and taste. This is exactly the case with the potatoes. The potatoes were not overtly starchy were lighter in texture. They were simply dressed in butter, garlic, parsley with a sprinkle of cheese for a bit of extra saltiness. The potatoes were divine and usually after eating a dish of potatoes, I am feeling full but this was not the case.

aji del gallina- great for a cool night

It was a cool night so I decided to go with the aji de gallina, which is a classic Peruvian dish that uses aji yellow peppers, cheese and generally thickened with either bread crumbs, peanuts or a combination of the two. The chicken in this case was shredded which I do not like because it results in dry tasting meat, however Panchapapa does a good enough job keeping the chicken flavorful and shredding it help soak up a lot of the sauce. The sauce had the underlying taste of peanuts which made me think of African food that I have had previously and the pepper itself was more smoky than spicy. It was a dish that fit perfectly for the cool evening.

Panchapapa was a great place that served classic Peruvian dishes with a bit of refinement. I was happy that I decided to dine here despite eating here alone. I left full and satisfied and ready to trek the Inca Trail the next day.

No comments:

Post a Comment