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

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Cusco Day Uno Part I : Market eating frenzy, sugar rush, alpaca and more!

Om Nomz Hero Note to Self: My Spanish may suck, but I know pork in every language

Peru was my first solo trip that I have taken. I have traveled to other places on my own but this was the first time I did not plan to meet anyone on the other side. I went to Peru to hike/trek the Inca Trail and see Machu Picchu and it was one of the most rewarding experiences in my life so far. The food was amazing and I met so many people despite the language barrier (me having horrible High School Spanish). This will be a multi-part posts that will be mixed in so here we go with part I: Cusco Day Uno. 

After a flight from Newark to Lima and spending a lovely evening in the Lima Food Court, I took an early flight out to Cusco, which is like the unofficial base camp for anyone that is doing up the Inca Trail and . After a hilarious flight courtesy of Peruvian Airlines (the pilot failed to mention we were landing and I think 30 seconds before we touched down, the flight attendants were scrambling to sit down, get tray tables and seats up) I had a quick taxi ride to my hotel Rumi Punku. Although they offered a complimentary breakfast and I slept all half assed in the Lima Airport, I was hungry and I took a quick shower, changed and went to the market to eat.

I love markets because are pretty much guaranteed to eat well and for a good price. I have visited many markets and this was one I thoroughly enjoyed and spent a lot of time going back to. First off, this is mainly run by women, they were cooking, selling, butchering and ran the whole show. It was sectioned off too in which there was a meat section, fish, veggies, cheese and of course the cooked food section. I ate a lot of things in this market and during my time in Cusco, probably accounted for 40-50% of my diet here. Many would see this as a bad idea and I was advised by many not to go and eat at the market. I like to think that I am pure awesome retarded and I do not have a regular Gringo stomach like others. However, when it comes to eat in a market or in a non-restaurant setting here are some rules that I created for myself. Volume is better, like do not eat from the random lonely dude or lady because you feel bad that no one is there. You won’t feel bad about them later when you are on the toilet later that night and you did it for some probably crappy food. If there is a line of people, or there is a lot people eating there, you have a better chance of not getting sick. High turnover rate generally means food needs to replenished and is general fresher. Also I avoid raw veggies (no salads) and stick to the meats and the fried stuff. In my experience, these very basic rules kept me out of trouble.
Mercado food Pronz after the jump

My Spanish is very bad. My Spanish skills are limited to what I learned in High School, which I did not do a very good job and food. So basically, my Spanish skills are what the kids are calling these days, “Weak Sauce”. They had a “menu” which was maybe some stuff scribbled on a chalk board but I was hungry as anything and I looked around, found a bunch of people sitting around and just sat down. I realized that my hunger chose right and I was at a coffee breakfast stand. So I just looked at the dude sitting next to me and just said, “ una café con leche (one coffee with milk, that is all I really knew was typical order)” and pointed at the sandwich the guy was having next to me and said, “ y pan (and bread)”. 

So my first official meal and food in Cusco and in Peru was a café con leche and a roll with llama cheese. The café con leche was interesting to me well because I never really had it. Basically, I was given a hot cup of milk and passed the communal coffee pitcher. You basically poured as much coffee as I wanted into my milk. The milk was treated as the main while the coffee and sugar seemed like the additions. It did not weaken the strength of the coffee by any means that I drank 3 cups that morning I had the jitters. The roll was slightly sweet and crusty and the llama cheese was tasty. It was a dry cheese, smiliar to queso blanco, saltier and a had a creamy taste. After devouring the roll, I noticed a nice plate of something that looked like butter. Not wanting to pass it up, in my broken Spanish, I got another roll with the creamy looking substance. They told me it was creama de leche, which is translated to milk cream. From my quick analysis, It was churned cream that was insanely fresh. I would not be surprised if the lady creamed that stuff in the morning. Spread onto a roll, it was eating pure cream. No additives, nothing, it was cream in its purist form and it tasted great. It was cool and refreshing as I sat there like a bobblehead saying, “delicioso” as she looked to see if her food pleased the crazy gringo that was eating at the market. 

creama de leche on the left

Coffee and rolls was not going to hold me over so I walked around and found out that they had lechon.

Sign from Heaven

My heart skipped a beat because I am a sucker for pork and I know pork written in any language. As I stood there in awe, a family that was already devouring a good hunk of suckling roasted pig saw me staring and offered me a piece like they were passing me a hit from a joint. After I smiled like an idiot again and told them this was good (muy bueno) they started laughing and then offered me a bit of tamale seeing if this loco gringo like this stuff too. After I devoured a nice morsel of light and fluffy tamale, I felt bad in partaking in so much of this family’s food, I ordered my own food. For 8 soles (about 3 bucks) I got a plate of lechon, a savory tamale and a black coffee and ate at the same table with this family. It was an experience that I could not make up and one that confirmed why I love food. Even with a language barrier, they knew what I wanted and we connected through food. As I talked to them there are originally from Lima but the Father grew up in Cusco and they were there for carnivale celebration. They told me that the meal was not a special occasion and that eating tamales, lechon and coffee was a typical breakfast. As I sat there thinking how much an apartment would cost in Cusco, the thought was suddenly overpowered flooded by pork goodness. 



The pork was soft and succulent and the best was that she gave me a good hunk of the crispy, crispy skin. It was one of those moments were you close your eyes for a bit just to further savor and imprint in your mind how it taste. The skin crackled in my mouth and it was like a death metal concert going on in my head. The proprietor, Gabriella saw my look of ecstasy and nodded and smiled with approval. In retrospect I probably should have gotten sweet tamale but I was not complaining about the savory tamale that was sprinkled with bits of pork and was the complete opposite of the bastardized tamales I previously had in the chain Mexican restaurants in the Northeast. The tamale tasted like actual corn and despite it appearance, it was not gummy or chewy and the coffee was black and strong and the best way to start a morning. This breakfast currently holds the title for best breakfast in my life. I talked with Gabriella and she says they will go through about 45 kilos a weekend alone and that there are special houses in which the pigs are cooked. She would not tell me the spice blend but told me there were salt, pepper and onions. Also, she has been at the same spot in the market for about 25 years. 

 Whoa, Cookies!
After so more sites, churches and finalizing my trek, I realized somehow I arrived back to where I started, the market and I went back to explore it further. I was feeling a bit peckish and I wanted something sweet and I went to the whole juice squeezing section of the market and they had flans and nice treats. I started off with an alfajores, which is shortbread like cookie that is filled with dulce de leche.

Total Om Nomz

It disintegrated when it touched my lips and it was almost like eating a cake. I ventured over to I will call the pudding counter, which there were very colorful puddings and decided to chow down on that too. 

 Colors of the rainbow

 So festive colored. Must. Eat. 

I got a flan later that was topped with chocolate pudding and fruit. The fruit, I avoided and picked around because I was not sure of how it was cleaned. The combination of chocolate pudding and flan was a sweet treat of mushy, gooey, custard.

Layers of gooey and sweet

Part II of Cusco Day Uno in next post!

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