Cusco, Peru: Food, Coffee, Beer

May 8, 2012

Or Cuzco if you prefer.

I spent about 2 weeks here, and here’s a summary of my findings.

Definitely eat all the cuys, the alpacas, the chicharrones and the antijitos,…they are all worthwhile but at the risk of sounding curmudgeonly I am seeking more. Alpaca steak at restaurant x is roughly equivalent to Medallions d’Alpaca at Chez Y, most of the local fodder is worth eating but not writing home about. I will leave you in the hands of Lonely Planet to find this stuff.

Better, you should wander over to the tin-roofed (awesome place to be in a rainstorm!) Mercado San Pedro and cruise the food areas, looking over people´s shoulders at what’s on their plates. (Ignore the menus and the chalkboards, they simply don’t have what’s advertised). Alongside the ubiquitous sopa de gallina (often delicious) will be offered whatever is fresh and available: tasty sopa de moraya (morels?) one day and fideo the next. A couple of places offer sopa de cabeza but for my money there is not enough meat or flavor in the head to warrant the work and the spatter factor.

Tripe lady with eager client

Even better, wander through the rest of the marketplace, and south on calle 3 Cruces de Oro. Look for the lady with a wok on her cart selling hot Tripa de Res (beef tripe) fried with potatoes or choclo (those fat corn kernels). Greasy and a bit barnyardy, for one Sol (35 cents). Servings are small and make a nice snack.One and a half blocks south of the plaza on Pompa de Castillo you will find a row of tiny restaurants serving lunch to cuzquenos: entire families on weekends. Pick a nice-looking shop and order Adobo, an earthily spiced pork stew with a ferocious hot pepper on top. Be Careful.

Cuzquena con Lechon

Up in San Blas neighborhood on Qanchipata is a sandwich joint called Juanito´s. Here I encountered the seriously satisfying “Cuzqueno con Lechon”, a sandwich of roast pork, cheese, and two entire corn tamales Cuzqueno con Lechon (look like a banana in the picture) on a nice piece of bread. Take my advice; eat this sandwich. Hearty and smells like thanksgiving. I think the “Cuzqueno” sandwich is Juanito’s wry twist on the Cubano because I found it nowhere else.

And when you need a break from local flavor, head for Cicciolina. Hardly a secret, this is Lonely Planet´s “our pick”. But for once they are so, so right. A self-styled tapas bar, this place would not be out of place in NYC or San Francisco.  Spanish country-chic cosmopolitan restaurant & tapas bar, exposed rafters and central, open kitchen. I ate there several times; the squid ink tagliolini is one of the best things I ate in South America, and the Onion Soup is so full of flavor, thick like onion stew. Fresh ingredients, homemade pasta, good service, good wine, a real pleasure to eat here, over and over. Great food and a very cosmopolitan attitude, with real waiters who actually wait on you (unusual in South America).

Beet Ravioli with pesto stuffing at Cicciolina

Coffee-Peru exports some fine coffees, but unfortunately they have no native coffee-drinking culture.  Even in this most touristed of cities, it can be a chore to find a good cup.  Here are a couple:

The Meeting Place – On Plaza San Blas is an expatriate place serving a fine cup of drip coffee as well as nice sandwiches and waffles.  Sunny, covered courtyard.  Very pleasant place to hang out.  Wifi.Cafe Perla and Inkafe – Several locations: barristas know what they are doing but the coffee is a bit nondescript.

And a surprise: Bembo´s, the hamburger chain on the main plaza (and elsewhere), serves an awesome Americano.  The product is Tunki Coffee, a recent award-winner.  The barrisatas are not crafty…stick with an Americano.

Beer –

Cuzquena, the local lager, is actually not bad, for a lager.  If you need more, you have but one choice: Norton´s on the main plaza.  They have a dozen or so Belgians and UK beers.  Even the other expatriate bars are devoid of good ale.  Paddy´s is a nice place to hang out but all they offer above the local brews is Guinness (from cans).

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