Como Sur | South American Gastronomy

All posts tagged #Cusco

Origins: Cuy, How This Adorable Pet Ended Up On The Table

Today, we are excited to launch a new series called Origins. Although dishes like ceviche, arepas, and big fat pieces of Argentine meat have become popular outside of Latin America, there are a variety of other foods that have yet to be discovered. Our expert researcher and travel writer Joanna Marracelli will dig into the foods of South and Latin America, uncovering their history, and a little more about how they’re used. Enjoy. 

[Laurent Lhomond]

[Laurent Lhomond]

By Joanna Marracelli

Guinea pigs. Yes, I’m talking about those cute, cuddly creatures that are often found as domesticated pets in the homes of North American, European or Australian families. It’s what you do when your kid begs and pleads with you to get a cat or a dog yet you really don’t want to take on that extra added responsibility. Despite sincere promises of walking the dog or changing the litter box, you know deep down that your child will never do it.  But you hate to disappoint. So what’s the solution?  Why, strut down to your local pet store and return home with a guinea pig of course. 

Expired Chicken And Other Products Were Found In Several Cusco Restaurants (ES)

By Patrick Hieger

[Andina / Percy Hurtado Santillán]

[Andina / Percy Hurtado Santillán]

A major raid took place on several fast food restaurants in Cusco, Peru yesterday, including burger chain Bembos, Burger King, Popeye’s, and China Wok, who were all found to have expired products, including numerous kilos of chicken, as well as workers without sanitation permits.  According to Andina, more than 45 kilos of expired chicken still in bags was removed from China Wok, along with expired oyster sauce, and other products.  This is the second offense for China Wok, who were previously found to have expired wontons. The other locations’ expired products included frozen chicken, french fries, sauces, and more. Both Bembos and China Wok could be shut down, pending further investigation.

Una gran redada pasó ayer en varios locales de comida rápida en Cusco, Peru incluyendo a Bembos, Burger King, Popeye’s, y China Wok, todos utilizando productos vencidos que incluyeron varios kilos de pollo, y también trabajadores sin registro sanitario.  Según Andina, se retiraron más de 45 kilos de pollo vencido todavía en bolsas de China Wok, y también salsa de ostión vencida, entre otros productos.  Esta es la segunda infracción para China Wok, que anteriormente estaba utilizando wontones vencidos.  Los productos vencidos de los otros locales incluyeron pollo congelado, papas fritas, salsas, y más.  Se podría clausurar a Bembos y China Wok, después de más investigación.

Follow-Up Reactions: Chile’s Aurelio Montes Wants To Test Vines In Peru’s Sacred Valley

By Patrick Hieger

[Wikimedia Commons]

[Wikimedia Commons]

Late last Friday, we gave mention to a story that Decanter had written about Chilean wine maker Aurelio Montes’ plan to test growing grape vines in Peru’s Sacred Valley, near Machu Picchu, in partnership with an importer who, as of then, had yet to be named. Seemingly standard reporting of the news for us, the post managed to cause a decent reaction, particularly with wine makers and other experts, but not just in Peru. Many said that both our and Decanter‘s articles were poorly written, occluding details, and not taking the issue seriously enough. Some accused us of not knowing our geography.  And then there was a whole conversation about whether wine should even be grown in the Sacred Valley at all.  In short, we caused a stink, which was never our intention.

Our goal in writing the piece was not to offend local Peruvian cultures, nor to suggest that simply throwing a few vines up on the side of the Sacred Valley just to see if they’ll grow is standard, or acceptable practice.  In all honesty, it seems that Montes’ words might have been taken out of their original context, considering the wine maker’s status in the region, as well as his coming in as a foreign investor.  If, however, Montes does see this simply as a fun experiment, he might want to reconsider his approach to the proposed land, as well as to the people around it.

(Best Of Year 1) Virgilio Martínez: The Man Within The Chef

In the second part of her story on eating and spending time in Cusco, Peru with chef Virgilio Martínez, staff writer Lauren Barragan gives us a closer look at who the chef really is.  In her first piece, we got to hear about the experience of dining at Senzo, the chef’s Cusco outpost that focuses on food sourced exclusively from the region.  Here, we get to know a little more about what drives the chef and how he handles fame, celebrity status, and a whirlwind lifestyle.  Serenity is in the mountains.

[photo: Andrew Dare / Zenith]

Brewing With Cusco’s Zenith Cervecería

By Lauren Barragan

Tucked away just past the beautiful hills of the Sacred Valley lay the constantly booming center of Cusco, Peru, the Plaza de Armas.  It is here that you can find all the usual suspects present in any plaza: a beautiful cathedral that’s almost as old as God himself, tourist vendors selling local goods moderately priced because, well, convenience should cost extra, as well as restaurants that rock local foods for visitors to experience.  What you might not expect to find right in the heart of a city as historical as Cusco, though, is a good and proper beer, one that quenches your thirst after a day of discovering an ancient city, but that also awakens your taste buds to the fact that something very new and progressive is happening in this very same city.

[photo: Lauren Barragan]

[photo: Lauren Barragan]

Here in the Plaza de Armas of Cusco that you can walk into Norton Rat’s Tavern (Norton’s, to locals), a very centrally-located bar that, due to the altitude, you will grow to love after a few days of acclimating in Cusco.  You might be thinking, “Sports bar?  Why would I come all the way to Cusco to drink at a sports bar?”  You’d be doing yourself a great disservice by giving into this question and not experiencing it for yourself.  Because if you don’t make the trip upstairs to Norton’s, you simply miss out on enjoying one of the exquisitely hand crafted Zenith beers that are offered exclusively at this bar and this bar alone.

[photo: Andrew Dare / Zenith]

[photo: Andrew Dare / Zenith]

While you may be asking, “Who is this new beer kid on the block that I’ve never heard of?”, Zenith has a more than legitimate background in beer making than most of the new up and coming microbreweries you’ve been hearing about in the Southern Cone. And, quite frankly, the proof is in the pudding.  Owners and creators of Zenith, Zac Lanham and wife Milka Sotomayor, have shared their love and passion for beer in each of their styles.  Currently you can find three to four of Zenith’s beers on tap at Norton’s, including their pale ale, porter, and brown ale.  It was their seasonal Navidad beer that caused quite a stir during the holiday season, a promising blend of festive spices like cinnamon and clove, giving drinkers all of the nostalgic fuzzies one may have experienced as a child while sipping on family recipes for spicy holiday beverages.  While the Navidad didn’t last long after the holiday itself–because fans couldn’t consume enough of it–there are still many beautiful flavors to be enjoyed in each and every one of their beers.

[photo: Andrew Dare / Zenith]

[photo: Andrew Dare / Zenith]

The porter holds up its end of the bargain by allowing its malty, nuttier notes to shine through, while holding a somewhat lighter body that makes this the most drinkable porter to be had in summer months.  Of course, every yin has its yang, and in this case the pale ale would be just that to its darker sister, the porter.  This pale ale holds such a beautiful, light, floral aroma that in one whiff sweeps you away deep into the Sacred Valley and its grassy hills.  It is apparent when you take your first sip of any of Zenith’s creations that they put their heart and soul into it.

While catching up with the Zac and Milka, both spoke of their work in a way that almost gave off a twinkle in their eyes.  They love beer, plain and simple.  They love to make beer and they enjoy sharing it with others.  Between the married couple, along with Zac’s parents who spent a good part of the year away from their home in Austrailia to help out at the brewery, Zenith has all of the feel to go right along side the fact that it really is a big family.  One immediately feels welcome when they share one of the thoughtfully made beers with them.  Zac was kind enough to share a little more about his history of migrating from Australia to Peru, making beer back in college and how that has evolved for him, as well as what’s next in the future for Zenith.  With their popularity growing rapidly and bringing tons of foot traffic to the only bar in Cusco where you can get it, Zac says that they will be expanding this year and begin bottle production in the upcoming months.  In addition to the exciting news of their expansion, Zenith will also be making their first fruit beer and possibly some new seasonal cameos as well.  But not to worry–if you weren’t one of the lucky ones in Cusco for the Christmas holiday last year, they have assured us that it will be making a comeback for this year’s season, by popular demand.

[photo: Andrew Dare / Zenith]

[photo: Andrew Dare / Zenith]

The name Zenith comes from the word meaning the top of a point or the highest peak that celestial objects can reach.  It couldn’t be a more fitting name for this beer, since the sky is the limit for them with a line up of beers this good.  We look forward to seeing them make their way down from the peak and over to our neck of the woods, so we, along with the rest of the world, can enjoy them.

[image: Como Sur]

Destinos: Cusco, Peru

By Lauren Barragan

[photo: Lauren Barragan]

[photo: Lauren Barragan]

You might think that to take a vacation is to lay around near sandy beaches and be spoon-fed a piña colada, only moving to even out your tan and turn over.  If you are that vacation-goer then you may need to wait for the next edition of Travel Tuesday.  This week we’re talking about Cusco, Peru, a place with a reputation for its historical place in archeological discoveries, jaw-dropping natural beauty and an endless list of outdoor activities.  Cusco is for that ‘other’ group of travelers: the ones that like to sweat, be outdoors, and appreciate history and nature engulfing them, rather than get sucked into a modern world of technology and laying around lethargically.  If you’re looking for a place to fall in love with your inner historian, cub scout, hippie or just nature lover, Cusco is where you should head for your next vacation.

How does one sift through the endless list of things to do in a city like Cusco?  Well not to worry, just take a deep breath and revel in the fact that Cusco is not nearly as daunting as its large, congested, sister city Lima.  The city, while relatively big, allows for people to sprawl out across its land and enjoy their own personal space.

For the purist, the number one go-to is of course, a visit to Machu Picchu.  The sacred Incan city ruins await tourists, young and old, tame and adventurous alike in more than one fashion.  One can opt for the PeruRail and train their way to the mysterious city, enjoying the view of being swallowed by mountains from every direction, sipping on coca tea and relaxing.  Then, of course, for the adventurous traveler there is the Inca Trail.  This trek is not for the faint-hearted.  It is four days of pushing yourself up and down steep inclines, narrow pathways nearly a thousand years old, never letting Rocky Balboa and  ‘Eye of the Tiger’ exit your mind.  Either way you choose, both end with a day spent amongst the greenest of green backdrops and mind-blowing buildings constructed with such care and precision, showing all of the brilliant engineering skills that the Quechuan people possessed.

[photo: Lauren Barragan]

[photo: Lauren Barragan]

While taking in the beautiful surroundings, the Sacred Valley has much to offer.  You could stop to see Maras, where the salt beds are, bringing some back home for Sunday BBQs, possibly infused with rosemary or local chilies.  Not far away from there is Moray, home of Incan ruins of agricultural experiments, where each level of the ruins holds a different climate, allowing Incans to play with their crops, growing in different conditions.  It was enough to make me marvel at the skill held by this lost civilization and enough to make me bow my head down in shame, thinking about the sad vinegar/baking soda volcano I took to the science fair in fourth grade.  These people were brilliant beyond words, and all without the ability to Google or find tutorials on YouTube.

[photo: Lauren Barragan]

[photo: Lauren Barragan]

If you’re planning on staying in Cusco itself, you won’t run out of things to do.  For the early risers, Mercado San Pedro is a great way to start the day.  It’s an indoor market that showcases all of the natural riches and resources Cusco has to offer, such as beautiful purple ears of corn, whole pigs, alphaca jerky, local cheeses, made-to-order juices from passion fruit to papaya to watermelon, and of course local crafts such as hand woven blankets, purses and more!  Walking the market is a great way to immerse yourself in the community, as it is a popular place for locals and tourists alike.  While walking through the colorful and crowded aisles, you must plan to eat at least one meal here.

[photo: Lauren Barragan]

[photo: Lauren Barragan]

There is an entire food area of the market, with over 20 different stands for buying as close to a “home cooked meal” as you can get while on vacation.  Natives serve up all of the traditional fare such as lomo saltado, aji de gallina and ceviche.  However, the must-have that simply cannot be ignored is simply “choclo con queso.”  It’s simple, no hassle and probably one of the best things I’ve eaten while visiting, so much so that it had me smacking my forehead asking, “Why didn’t I think of that?”  Essentially there is one woman who sits on the steps inside the market selling something I like to refer to as “Honey I blew up the ear of corn”, boiled to perfection so the giant Peruvian kernals literally just fall right off into your mouth, accompanied by a generous wedge of soft, salty, locally made cheese.  Your life begins when you have your first bite of choclo con queso…really!

[photo: Lauren Barragan]

[photo: Lauren Barragan]

You could stroll Plaza de Armas and view the Cathedral and it’s eyebrow-raising painting of The Last Supper, showing Christ and his disciples about to dig into “cuy”, a roasted guinea pig on a platter.  Near the church there is a bar (because yes, church often equates to “Where can I get a drink” shortly after) called Paddy’s Pub, which is recorded as the worlds’ highest Irish pub, due to the altitude of where it sits (I can now cross that off my bucket list!)  And if Irish Pub is too close to home for you, there is a great local bar, just caddy corner to Paddy’s, called Norton’s.  It makes you wonder what kind of one-named tourists were walking around drunk before staking their piece of the colonial city and slaughtering the business with a gringo name, rather than something more kitchy like “Quechuan Sechwan” or “Cerveceria de los Incas”.  Plane Jane name aside, Norton’s is all that you want in a bar:  billiards, balcony seating and an amazing beer selection, both bottle and draught, including Cusco’s very own Zenith brewery, occupying most of the taps in the bar.

[photo: Lauren Barragan]

[photo: Lauren Barragan]

If you’re a chocolate lover, there is no excuse to not stop by Museo de Choco, one of Peru’s three locations.  Here you can see the history of chocolate, bridging the gap between the perspective of both consumer and farmer.  Enjoy a tempting cup of Mayan hot chocolate from the café, where you play barista and blend ingredients to your liking, from thick dark chocolate, freshly steamed cream, local honey and of course red chili flake for that Mayan heat.  If you want to deepen your experience and awaken your inner chocolatier, you can take one of the three workshops offered each day.  Here you make your own chocolate from stage one of roasting the cacao bean, to mashing in in your own personal molcajete (mortar and pestle) and eventually adding your own natural ingredients to your chocolate for take away, ranging from coca leaves, to Maras salt, to chili and so on.  It’s a great museum experience for hands-on people, rather that just staring and reading.  This museum gives full reign to those of us who can’t sit still without touching things around us.

[photo: Lauren Barragan]

[photo: Lauren Barragan]


You may find, as I did, that you work up an appetite quite easily when in Cusco.  I’d like to take a moment to simply blame it on the altitude!  When this happens to you, there are two suggestions to scratch your hunger itch, both of which are actually not typical Peruvian fare, but so good they’re worth going to.  For a quick and dirty stop, like oh, say after too many chilcanos at Paddy’s epically high Irish pub, you could swing by La Casa de Kebab near Plaza de Armas.  It’s a tiny hole in the wall spot that always has a line out the door and is open until the wee hours of the morning for the intoxicated to sober up on.  It is, without a doubt, one of the best shawarma and falafel places in Peru, and possibly further than that.  Avoid take-out for the sake of getting to sit at a table and take full advantage of the endless house made tzatziki sauce.

[photo: Lauren Barragan]

[photo: Lauren Barragan]

Your other “must experience” option is to eat one square meal at La Bodega.  This place is the topic of conversation for food lovers in Cusco.  They serve an array of wood fired pizzas with fresh local ingredients ranging from corn, to gooseberry.  It’s their pastas, however, that keep guests coming back.  The Bolognese lasagna is not to be missed, with layers of cheesy, meaty goodness, swimming in a personal crock of béchamel sauce.  La Bodega features two of Lima’s hottest beers from Cumbres  brewery, a Maiz Morada beer made from the local purple corn, as well as a Quinoa Kolsch,  that captures the fruity aroma of the very air you breathe while walking through the Sacred Valley.

[photo: Lauren Barragan]

[photo: Lauren Barragan]

If you’re looking for a more fine dining experience, there are still plenty of options for the foodie in you.  You could take a stroll to Palacio Nazarenas to experience Senzo, the restaurant of Lima superstar chef Virgilio Martínez.  Or you could go the other direction towards Plaza de Regocijo and visit renowned chef Gastón Acurio’s Chicha, both for getting the best interpretations of Peruvian fare fused in a non-conventional way.

All full and nowhere to go?  Burn off some of the eats with an after dinner cocktail at Museo del Pisco, which houses over 100 types of Pisco, including 32 house infused bottles, with flavors like wasabi, eucalyptus and gooseberry.  Still need to burn some of that food off?  Walk uphill to Plaza San Blas and you will immediately see the door where everyone is crowding around.  Km.0 is a local bar with live music every night, playing the best of reggae and Latin beats, allowing you to dance the night away.  This is a great place to have fun, meet other free spirited people and of course have a drink, as their happy hour is from 9 to midnight every day.

Rest assured, there are still mountains of things to do and places to see that are not listed above.  With a mere week in Cusco, there just isn’t enough time to see it all.  You will need more than that or the works to planning your next trip back so you can get in as much as possible.  Cusco, with all of its natural beauty and deeply rooted history, still manages to keep up with the modern traveler and slows down for no one.  You may need a vacation upon returning from your vacation.

[photo: Lauren Barragan]

Virgilio Martínez: The Man Within The Chef

In the second part of her story on eating and spending time in Cusco, Peru with chef Virgilio Martínez, staff writer Lauren Barragan gives us a closer look at who the chef really is.  In her first piece, we got to hear about the experience of dining at Senzo, the chef’s Cusco outpost that focuses on food sourced exclusively from the region.  Here, we get to know a little more about what drives the chef and how he handles fame, celebrity status, and a whirlwind lifestyle.  Serenity is in the mountains.

By Lauren Barragan

When one thinks of Cusco, there are a few first things that come to mind.  Machu Picchu, the Sacred Valley, and beautiful land surrounding you in every direction, all with a deeply rooted story of the locals’ history.  It is here that a beautiful story can be told through all of the resources Cuscqueños have embedded in their rich, lush soil.

[photo: Lauren Barragan]

[photo: Lauren Barragan]

For Chef Virgilio Martinez, this is the foundation and principle of his latest talked about restaurant, Senzo.  Senzo is one of several namesakes that Martinez has staked and transformed into an epicenter for people from all over the globe to come and try to get a piece of the experience.  There are many great chefs who can create a beautiful dish that is both aesthetically pleasing to the eye, as well as enticing to the senses.  Martinez has managed to check those both off in all of his restaurants, from Lima’s hot spot that never dies down, Central, to his international and first Peruvian Michelin star awarded Lima in fog city, London.  However, Senzo has something that the other metropolitan beauties cannot ever replicate–it rests within the very corazón that is Peruvian cuisine: Cusco.  And there is no question when you have tasted your first bite of a Martinez masterpiece on a plate, that it is, without a doubt, channeling all of the mystical beauty and timelessness that is Cusco.

[photo: Lauren Barragan]

[photo: Lauren Barragan]

To be fair, here is the disclaimer.  The man behind the curtain is about to be revealed for what he really is.  This chef is anything but the typical hyped up, spotlight consuming, too-cool-for-school chef that one easily runs across in this industry.  Chef Martinez, in fact, upon meeting, seems very much more like Virgilio; a Peruvian every day person, just like you or I, with a passion for the land and a huge heart for anyone who shares his love of food.  While in Cusco, he was kind enough to take the time to meet an eager food enthusiast, with no known name and not even so much as a business card to hide behind.  I walked into Senzo, a non-Spanish speaking gringa with a passion for good food, admiration for anyone who can create it with soul, and not much more.  Back home in California that wouldn’t take you far, aside from being the equivalent to a chef groupie, which means little to nothing.  However, this chef is no ordinary chef.  He is his sous chef.  He is his prep cooks.  He is his hostess that greets you at the entrance.  He is his farmers that pluck the very food you eat from the earth, leaving their fingerprints upon your meal.  Virgilio is as true as they come and I was so very lucky to spend a day with him and get to know the man behind the chef coat.

[photo: Lauren Barragan]

[photo: Lauren Barragan]

Upon arriving in Cusco, I happened to catch Virgilio Martinez on his one day in Cusco, away from the bustle of Central, to check in on his restaurant and “reconnect with his inspiration” as he referred to it.  Within mere minutes I was asked to accompany him and his good friend to spend the day in the Sacred Valley. Just like that, they both welcomed me with open arms. It was a no brainer of course, taking me all but the two and a half seconds to compose my internal excitement, to say yes.  And just like that we were off.  Chef Martinez sat with me on the drive, telling me about Mater Iniciativa, an initiative started by he and his team, in an effort to explore the vast world of undiscovered or long forgotten ingredients that are resting in every corner of Peru’s mountains, ocean, valleys and rivers.  His team is comprised of other chefs, anthropologists and specialists in botany, medicine and nutrition, to name a few.  He sat talking to me about everything native, from rare edible flowers that grow rapidly in Peru and nowhere else, to cushuro, a beautifully fresh tasting bacteria that grows in lakes of the Andes at high altitudes.  His goal seemed very clear:  to expose as much of the riches that were hidden in Peruvian soil, as possible.  While Chef certainly has seen the world and probably has access to any ingredient wanted, near or far, he remains true to his identity.  He doesn’t cook anything out of the boundaries of his home.  And he doesn’t pretend to be anything he’s not: Peruvian, to the very core, and proud of it.

[photo: Lauren Barragan]

[photo: Lauren Barragan]

[photo: Lauren Barragan]

[photo: Lauren Barragan]

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It wasn’t just hearing a knowledgeable chef talk about rare-to-find ingredients.  It was being educated by an enthusiast with so much love and pride in his heritage, that it literally poured out in the words he used to describe such treasures from the earth.  He shared with me some of the Cusqueño history, from the ancient Incan ways of testing their agriculture at different climates with the brilliant engineering that you can see in the ruins of Moray, to the struggles many endured during the more recent history only three decades ago, where terrorism took a chokehold on the country.  And through all of the melodic anecdotes he shared with me, amidst the most serene of backdrops in the lush Sacred Valley, the thing he conveyed, or at least the message I got most from him was this: Peru has persevered.  Peru has withstood the tests of time, of change, of war, natural disaster, empires risen and fallen and perhaps scariest of all, modern development that threatens the preservation of a vivacious culture and history.  Yet it’s because of people like Virgilio Martinez, who stay true to their land and the people that make it, that no change great or small has been able to touch Peru.  Its culture is as deeply rooted as the rare ingredients that Virgilio and his team discover when working in the field, searching high and low for unnoticed foods of their ancestors.  In many ways, when listening to his stories of findings, one can’t help but see the parallel these edible discoveries have with ancient fossils that fill in the missing puzzle pieces of ancient cultures past.

[photo: Lauren Barragan]

[photo: Lauren Barragan]

The team that Virgilio Martinez works closely with extends not just within his kitchen on the line, but to the fields where every ingredient is harvested.  He and his team have begun a new exchange with the farmers who work in the Andes harvesting.  In addition to coming to learn from them and harvest with them, the kitchen team then shows their gratitude by sharing their culinary knowledge in teaching the locals how to prepare these ingredients, in an effort to boost the diets of local Peruanos, who up until now, have not really had the exposure nor means to eat in a healthy and sustainable way.  Virgilio seemed to be incredibly humble in sharing this, expressing that he and his team are the ones who are lucky to be included in learning the farm workers skills directly from them.

[photo: Lauren Barragan]

[photo: Lauren Barragan]

It’s very clear, that despite a Michelin star, several successful restaurants, traveling the world to cook with the best and endless press spotlights, these things have had no impact on his ability to maintain his modesty.  Virgilio is the kind of guy that has everything it takes to be the best, and hold his place at the top for a very long time, leaving a legacy on each plate.  And yet he is exactly the kind of guy who rocks his tattered skinny jeans, rips open a bag of coca leaves offering them to a complete stranger and invites them into his home, his kitchen, and for a brief time while you’re in his presence, even into a glimpse of his world everyday, from past, to present, to future.  I feel so incredibly lucky to have seen the source of his inspiration through his eyes and alongside him in the beautiful Sacred Valley.  And anyone who wants to see it as well, can just taste it in a plate that he creates.  Because it’s transparent and pure and has all the heart that the very majestic mountains of Cusco themselves possess.

[photo: Museo del Pisco]

Meet Adam Weintraub Of Cusco’s Museo Del Pisco

In yet another success story of travelers from the northern hemisphere finding their way to success in the southern hemisphere, Cusco’s Museo del Pisco owner Adam Weintraub has added to his achievements.  The former Seattle-based photographer turned honorary Peruvian and lover of all things Pisco sits down with Peru This Week, amidst the opening of his restaurant’s newest addition, to discuss just how he came to call Cusco home.  Needless to say, there was a woman, some liquor, and a lot of travel involved.  Salud! [via Peru This Week]