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A TASTE OF PERU: Part Two

Cusco & Machu Picchu

                                                                                                                                  

 
Pizza maker in Cusco 
pizza maker final

by Lee Klein

Photos by  Lee Klein

In last week’s article (http://www.southfloridagourmet.com/site/travel/1881-2013-07-05-21-53-08.html) we flew JetBlue’s (http://www.jetblue.com/) first non-stop flight to Lima, Peru, and offered readers an ephemeral glimpse of that gastronomically charged city. But let’s move on to Cusco

Cusco’s popularity has swelled concurrently with that of Machu Picchu. In 2007, the population here was 358,935; today it is 600,000-plus and soaring. As tourists continue to converge on this charming city, it has responded with a string of new boutique hotels, fashionable shops, and chic restaurants.

Where to stay: El Mercado Tunquí Hotel (elmercadotunqui.com). It’s new, charming, endearingly appointed, well situated (just three-and-a-half blocks from Plaza de Armas), and operated by the most hospitable of staffs. Plus the 32 rooms are quaint and comfy (junior suites come with fireplace and stand-alone bathtubs), and there’s a great breakfast buffet replete with fresh fruit juice bar. 

What to do: Take a PeruRail Vistadome train (http://www.perurail.com/) to Aguas Calientes, the landing station for the Historic Sanctuary of Machu Picchu. That’s why you’re here, right? The three-and-a-half-hour ride is almost as awe-inspiring as Machu Picchu itself. 

What to do in Machu Picchu: Stare. Gape. Let your jaw hang. Say “wow” numerous times. Take photos. Be careful not to trip – some of those stone stairs are hairy steep. Have lunch in the Machu Picchu Sanctuary Lodge Tinkuy Restaurant. It’s a cafeteria where you’ll be privy to fresh carvings of roast suckling pig and Peruvian specialties such as stuffed rocoto peppers and ají de gallina. 

What to do in Cusco: Head to the Plaza de Armas, which is the center of town and believed to be the former epicenter of the Inca empire (and thus of the earth). Take a seat on one of the benches between the lawns of the grand square. On one side of the Plaza stands the prodigious Cathedral of Santo Domingo; on another, the Templo de la Compañía. Spanish colonial architecture colors in the other two borders. If you sit here long enough, the whole town will seemingly pass by, including the indigenous Quechua people wearing their colorfully woven costumes and bowler-style hats (the latter introduced to the country by British railway workers in the 1920s).

What not to do in Cusco: Too much on your first day. The 11,000-feet altitude can be tricky adjusting to, so drink plenty of bottled water, a cup or two of acclimatizing Mate de Coca tea, and take it slow. Another thing not to do is walk around sans sunscreen; in 2006, Cusco was found to have the highest level of ultraviolet light on earth.

What to do the next morning: By now you should be ready to take a steep, cobblestoned hike four blocks north (it will feel like more) from Plaza de Armas to the picturesque San Blas neighborhood. With its whitewashed houses, blue doors, and wobbly streets, you might think you’ve wandered onto a Greek island. Views of the city are top-notch from here, and the shops and galleries reflect the artsy, Bohemian roots that this district has been long renowned for. It likewise boasts trendy restaurants, cafes and bars.

The Inca ruins of Sacsayhuamán located high above Cusco are worth a look too, and don’t miss the San Pedro Market, where you can purchase anything from alpaca jerky to Peruvian Pink salt to ready-to-eat guinea pigs (called cuy, it is considered a delicacy).

Where to eat in Cusco: Cicciolina (http://www.cicciolinacuzco.com/english/cicciolina_home.html) is located on the second floor of a quaint old colonial house (downstairs, an artist sells his watercolors of local scenes for as little as $10). A bar up front is ideal for nibbling on tapas and sipping a glass of wine or Cusqueña beer (“The Gold of the Incas”). The main dining room serves modern interpretations of traditional dishes as well as fusion-style global foods – which is only natural, as Peruvian cuisine encompasses Japanese, Chinese, Spanish, Italian, German, African, Andean and other South American influences. The local diet in this region remains based on corn, potatoes, chili peppers and numerous other types of tubers and root vegetables, and quinoa is omnipresent on menus. Alpacas and guinea pigs are the indigenous meats, but imported livestock has made lamb, beef, pork and chicken part of the diet as well.

Cicciolina’s alpaca carpaccio was surprisingly tasty – lighter in flavor than I’d have guessed (not dissimilar to beef), and very tender considering how lean a meat it is. Less daring diners can opt for beef tenderloin with two sauces: one culled from blue cheese, the other from local berries. A small strip of grilled beef also comes nestled below a smoked paprika-spiked broth, along with kernels of choclo and a bevy of local vegetables.

Try to make it to Limo Cocina Peruano & Pisco Bar for afternoon cocktails. The second floor locale overlooks Plaza de Armas and affords a view of the sun setting over the mountains. Try one of their specialty pisco drinks -- like, say, a coca-infused pisco sour. Limo is likewise known for its ceviches, tiraditos and sushi. They make a mean pisco sour at El Mercado Tunquí Hotel as well.

Photo: Breakfast at El Mercado Tunquí 

Plus, as I noted in Part One, the pizza is quite good in Cusco, and there are quite a few pizzerias to choose from. There is also a falafel joint that I wanted to check out, although admittedly it was mainly to see whether they might have sold llama shawarma. But that’s the thing about traveling: You never get to do everything you set out to do. 

How to get any pertinent information you may need on Peru, or to inquire about Peruvian products available in the U.S: Call The Trade Commission of Peru in Los Angeles. (www.perutradeoffice.us)  310.496.7411.

In the final installment of this travel opus, we’ll take an in-depth look at a dinner at Malabar that was emblematic of the exciting cuisine taking place in Peru. The meal was prepared by Pedro Miguel Schiaffino in collaboration with Miami’s Todd Erickson (Haven http://havenlounge.com/ and Huahua’s Taqueria).

 

 

 Cusco women selling food

 Aereal view of Cusco

Mt. Veronica, as seen from the Vistadome train

  Macchu Picchu

  Soup

beef dish

pizza

 



 

 

Comments  

0 #1 google plus agenda 2014-03-18 11:53
Aw, this was a very good post. Spending some time
and actual effort to produce a very good article…
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