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

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Peru: taking it to the streets, food that is! Part I

Om Nomz Hero Note to Self: If it taste good and I do not get sick from it, street meat of dubious origins are okay by me

The good thing about traveling on my own is that I can create my own itinerary and by my own itinerary I mean, I get to eat wherever I want. Sure I like pizza and burgers but I am not that interested in eating the Cusco or Lima version of pizza. As much as I like sitting down and having a good meal, I like snacking which not only optimizes stomach space and allows me to try lots and lots of things. I think street food and snacking is a good way to learn, which I am always trying to do. For example, I learned is that we are busy people. We all got stuff to do and we get hungry and do not have the time to sit down and order something. Sometimes you just need a quick and tasty snack to get you through to the next meal or something late at night to soak up all that booze and get a good night sleep. It is food like this that you meet interesting people and have great experiences and also, 99% you are eating while standing or walking which I always felt makes food taste even better.  

Chips with Mayo and Inca Kola
 I of course start off with a bag or chips and soda. At home, I rarely eat chips unless I am downing a sandwich, and I prefer kettle cooked because I like the tooth-cracking crunch from the chips. When I travel abroad, I am fascinated by the awesome choices of junk food abroad and how they are so much cooler and better than what we got in the US. Okay, not that much better but if you grew up with honey bbq being the exotic flavors; having seaweed flavored Pringles in Japan will blow your mind. The chips cost about…5 cents US and were a step above Lays chips. They were less greasy and not overly salty. The chips may not be a big mind blower, but the chips came with a condiment, specifically a side of mayonnaise. Squirting mayonnaise on the potato chip was…interesting. I am not sure if I really like it nor do I hate it, but I can see why people may like it and it worked well with the drink of choice in Peru, Inka Kola. First time I saw Inka Kola it reminded me of the now defunct soda Surge due to its electric nuclear yellow color and was almost expecting it to be like Surge except for the XTREME part. Inka Kola taste like a grassy version if cream soda and I can see this pairing perfectly with pastrami on rye. Inka Kola is the most popular drink in Peru and bigger that Coca Cola. 
Prickly Pears

 One thing I kind of regret is not eating a variety of fruit while I was here but I did however eat a lot of prickly pears. Mainly indigenous to Latin America although actually has origins from Europe apparently, the prickly pears have a melon-like texture similar to papaya and taste similar to a honeydew but the sweetness is a lot more mellow. There are a lot of seeds in a prickly pear and the Gringo move would be to spit them out, but this is a waste of time. Just eat it seeds and all and hopefully you won’t have a prickly pear patch grow in your stomach. The prickly pears were everywhere and a nice touch that they were carting them around in a wheelbarrow.
Food Porn after the Jump

I am an avid baker so any place that had the words, dulce, pastels or even bakery I was immediately hitting up and going in to try. I cannot count the amount of alfajores that I consumed on this trip and they all ranged in sizes and some were good and some were bad. Pastries are everywhere; every bodega had a little case or section that sold bread and pastries.

Alfajor and Ensaymadas...well thats what they told me

To call an alfajor a cookie seems wrong because the best ones that I had were almost like eating a cake. An alfajor is a delicate sandwich cookie that is filled with dulce leche. It is not crunchy or crispy it is rather tender and sandy and it would be a miracle if you do not get crumbs all over you but it is so worth it. The other pastries that I had were ensaymada or so I was told. Ensaymadas that I have encountered were a coiled pastry that was filled with cream, but this was like a flatten millefeuille that had a sweet filling in the middle. It was made of puff pastry, soft and overall good. The other popular pastry was the creamed horns which were filled with dulce leche. The majority of pastries are filled with dulce leche so if you are not a fan of dulce leche…well they sell Oreos. The creamed horns are best consumed in the morning when they are made fresh so the outside shell, which is basically puff pastry, is still tender and crisp. The ones that I had late in the day were soft but like chocolate, a good dose of dulce leche makes pretty much anything taste good. 
dulce empanada and cream horn

The pop tart looking pastry is what I found out was a dulce empanada. I had to try these because a pop tart looking treat that has sprinkles on it? I am there. Unfortunately after eating a range of dulce empanadas, I did not really like them. They did not have any filling and tasted like a stale cookie. Visually, they looked good, taste wise…okay. I mean, fried pastry with sprinkles how could you go wrong? I did not only stop at bakeries to get my dulce crack fix, if I saw anything that looked like fried dough, I was going for it and that’s how I ended up trying a churro, at least that’s what the 12 year old girl said it was while she was frying it up. I guess it was a good thing that they are a lot looser on the child labor laws because the churro was good. It was more like a donut stick, but it was light and airy and a perfect sugar coating. 

Churro in Cusco
A lot times I would just see people walking around with a plate and chowing down on a piece of cake so natrually, I did the same thing.

Cake on the go
 The cake was nothing really special, but ti was cool that the bottom of the cake was a layer of jello. Other than that it was a simple layer cake with frosting. The cake reminded me of the cakes in Asian bakeries in Chinatown. they are pretty, but other than that they are not much to look at.

Speaking of fried things, I am again, putting out the bounty to find a place that sells picarones either in NYC or New Jersey. Picarones are donuts that are made of either sweet potatoes or squash which ensures a tenderness and lightness to the picarones that put fritters and funnel cakes to shame.

blah, patiently waiting for picarones

 My first encounter with Picarones was during a random neighborhood wander and I saw an old lady with a pot of oil frying these suckers up. She was churning these out by hand, working them into rounds and they got a quick bath in the oil. Real quick, like the second they browned, they were flipped and within 2 minutes, she fried me up perfectly hot picarones. The picarones process does not stop there and they are quickly dosed in a Gatorade squirt bottle of syrup. The syrup is a combination of cinnamon, anise, orange, lemon and honey. 
Fry action

Biting into it is a hot glorious mess. Upon first bite you are welcomed with a mouthful of crispy, tender dough, engulfed in floral, sticky syrup and hot oil that is running down your wrists as you make a futile effort of cleaning yourself off but it is no use. In less than a couple of minutes I was left with sticky hands like I was fondling Mrs. Butterworth, an empty bag of leftover syrup and pure satisfaction. Picarones is my favorite sweet treat and favorite street food I had in Peru and a must eat for anyone visiting Peru. One of my random food finds was this lady named Maria in Augas Calientes that was nice enough to talk to me about Picarones and how it is made and the ingredients. She personally uses pumpkin in hers but squash or some other gourd is usable.He recipe she got from her mother and have been making them ever since, they are a late afternoon snack but all I know if I was eating these as a snack before dinner...i would never make it to dinner because I would be passed out on a stoop with bits of picarones running down my mouth.

Picarone forming action
Picarones drying, they were not greasy at all
I can eat this over and over again

1 comment:

  1. "I was left with sticky hands like I was fondling Mrs. Butterworth" I almost died laughing! Brilliant writing, sir!