S. American Cuisine: Good, Bad and Ugly
EDITOR'S NOTE: Jana Sanford-Heller is an Occupational Therapy Assistant with offices in St. Augustine and Gainesville, profesional photographer, world traveler, food lover, and mom to Penelope, and Leo Heller, the GLOB Master's grandchildren
Being the daughter of the GLOB Master, I have become used to taking photos of my food everywhere I go to send to my Dad. Every trip we take he asks me to photograph my meals and send him anything interesting and unique. Usually I do, occasionally I actually send him one, and rarely does it prove interesting enough to actually make it to the Gainsville's Lunch Out Blog. The shrimp trucks in Hawaii's North Shore from our 2013 honeymoon were the last to make it in, if I remember correctly.
This year though, I think we have another winner. My husband and I went to South America for 2 weeks, the first week in Peru and the second visiting friends who live in Galapagos (I know, don't hate them, they're awesome). And yes, it seemed everyone I know, and probably their grandmothers, and most likely yourself have all been there and know about the foods, drinks and Machu Picchu so I will spare you the details of the cheesy tourists sights and instead, in honor of the GLOB Master, focus only on the more memorable and unique meals we tried. Guinea Pigs on a stick and food poisoning included for your reading pleasure :)
After 12 hours of flights and 2 hours of bumpy, winding roads into Peru's Sacred Valley, we finally stopped for our first meal in the tiny town of Pisac. It was 7 a.m. when we arrived, so the merchants were all just beginning to set up their market booths, and breakfast was the agenda. Our group of four (myself, my husband Chris, and our friends Jenn and Jose from New York) had been up for 24 hours traveling so it felt like a little slice of heaven when our guide, Americo ushered us into a cozy little breakfast spot complete with a fire, dim lighting and fresh café con leches. Here we ordered the Pancakes de Maiz y Kiwicha, which were made up of corn and aramanth pancakes with a touch of chia seeds, topped with roasted brazil nuts and a sweet orange anaise infused chancaca syrup and a side of fresh fruit. Amazing and different, and sort of like a corn muffin texture but more silky. The syrup was sweet but light and the fresh fruit was picked that morning from the garden out back. Perfecto way to begin a trip for this bunch of foodie gringos.
OILYANTAYTAMBO, PERU - So we spent the rest of our first day hiking the Sacred Valley, named sacred for it being the only place in the world to grow giant, sweet white corn. It's delicious, and each kernel is the size of your eyeball. We settled that afternoon at our hotel, El Albergue , which was beautiful and boasted it's own organic farm and restaurant. We wandered the streets of Ollyantaytambo and grabbed a coffee at a little spot overlooking the raging Patakancha River, free Peruvian Sacred Corn Nuts included.
We ate dinner at a small restaurant that our guide and now friend, Americo suggested, as he knew the owners. It was cozy and overlooked the tiny village square, and had a giant velveteen poster of Bob Marley over our table so we knew Americo had done us right. Americo told us about the sweet drink made from Peruvian purple corn that all the locals enjoyed, Chica Morada, which we all sampled and agreed was like a sweeter, more spunky chai tea. The highlight from this meal was our friend Jose's alpaca steak. Yes, those cute animals with all the expressions are also quite tasty and widely eaten in Peru. They are also used for making backpacks, sweaters, and snuggly toys (we bought one for our daughter and it smelled so lifelike that our dog promptly attacked and ate it). The steak was served with coconut rice topped with a fried egg and yucca sticks. And although I did not try it ( I was the most meat-shy of our group and tend to be in everyday life as well), it was a hit with all the meat eaters at the table. A touch gamey, but more like a solid pork chop than venison.
AGUAS CALIENTE, PERU:
Our next 2 days were spent hiking Machu Pichu and exploring the lovely village of Aguas Calientes. Along our hike, Americo asked us if we ate guinea pig in the states. I am a recovering vegetarian, mom of a 5 year old and a baby, and an animal lover of all kinds and I laughed when he asked that question. I told him about the guinea pig in our daughter's class that they all take care of and how most people in the states would consider the guinea pig a good family pet for young children. That was when he pointed out the cute little Peruvian girl in authentic alpaca dress waiting for the bus. She was swinging one arm and was so cherubic and cute that I was pretty sure Walt Disney had her in mind when crafting the Peru dolls for the "It's a Small World" ride. Right before we passed her I noticed that in her other hand was a guinea pig on a stick. Yep, a rotiserried guinea pig, stick through the mouth and out the end other end like a giant turkey leg you'd see at the Gainesville's Ye Olde Medieval Fair. Looked like a giant cooked rat on a stick. My response was shock and silence. Chris and Jose's response was, "Where can we get one?" The answer to that was everywhere. Our last night in Peru Chris ordered the dish at a restaurant near our hotel, which was served with a small salad and a tomato carved into a tiny rose, because what's fancier than grilled guinea pig with it's head still on and butterflied on your dinner plate? Chris and Jose both ate it agreed that it was quite tasty, similar to a pork chop, with a ham-like flavor. So, porky, I guess.
Peru was beautiful and amazing and we loved every step, but my stomach wasn't quire agreeing with the food (or maybe water) and it was cold and rainy the whole time, so when it was time to head to Santa Cruz to visit our friends in Galapagos I was ecstatic. Chris, on the other hand was having some serious tummy troubles. I won't blame the guinea pig entirely because it could have easily been the airport food, but......guinea pig. Just sayin'.
I was ready to try every kind of ceviche Galapagos had to offer, and I found out that generally it is served as a breakfast food. So our first morning in Santa Crus before heading out to see some blue-footed boobies and do some snorkeling, I ordered the fresh ceviche and fried plantains to start my day. It was juicy and tangy and spicy and consisted of fresh fish, octopus, shrimp and squid, lime juice, peppers and onions. Best. Meal. Ever.
We visited a beautiful island off the coast of Santa Cruz that day and did a long, hot hike with our guide, a French woman with a thick accent and a high-pitched voice. She kept referring to the indigenous birds, the frigate birds, which sounded exactly like she was saying "friggin' birds". Granted, I myself can only speak my native language where this woman can speak 3 so I have no room to talk, but after an hour cooking in the sun on bird poop island I couldn't help but get the giggles every time I heard, "Now over here we have some more friggin' birds. Oh look, here are some beautiful friggin' birds!" Ah, good times. I will always remember those friggin' birds.
We also had the chance to visit our friends' coffee bean farm, which was such a treat! Here we walked the trails with the giant Galapagos tortoises in the rain, and explored lava tunnel caves. Those lava tunnels made us feel just like The Goonies, but without the slide and treasure at the end. Before heading home they made us homemade queso empanadas, a fruit salad picked from the farm, and fresh squeezed papaya juice. De-lish!
Our last stop is the tiny, sleepy surf island of Isabella. The island itself is magical. Small enough to walk everywhere, but big enough to have over 15 restaurants to choose from. If you want to surf there, you get to the break by boat and it's in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. This is the island where we got to swim with sea lions, sea turtles and sharks, and snorkel a cave at Quatros Hermanos, the highlight of the trip for me. In Isabella Chris ate the lovely local white rice because he was still battling the tummy bug (guinea pig). (SApic8) Our friends and I dined on more fresh ceviche, fresh grilled shrimp, yucca fries, streetcar empanadas, and coco-locos before taking the tiny plane back to the Baltra airport and heading home to reality.
It was indeed a trip of a lifetime, though we were super excited to get home to our babies. Next time we will bring them, and I have vowed to myself that I will teach our 5-year-old daughter to snorkel this summer so we can bring her back with us next year to Galapagos. Next time we want to visit more islands, eat more ceviche, and stay far, far away from guinea pigs. FOLLOW THIS LINK for more information on our friends' farm and tour company. We love you Jill and Javier!