The Time We Cooked Alpaca and Ate Guinea Pig in Peru

After the Inca Trail, we decided to take it easy the remainder of the trip.  Before we left, I booked a cooking class in Cusco with Erick from Marcelo Batata (one of the best restaurants in Cusco).  I was looking forward to it the whole trip, because obviously I love food.

The class was small it was just me, Jesse and a woman from the US who worked for a travel agency in Lima.  The class was awesome.  We learned about all the different native plants, grains, fruits and vegetables, and fun facts like how Peru has about 3,800 different varieties of potato.

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Can you guess what these are?

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Dehydrated potatoes! Crazy right?

Throughout the whole class (which went from 1pm-7pm) we were given small little amuse bouche.

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The first was a mahi mahi ceviche, which was divine.

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Then there was a smoked octopus olive bite,

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And some delicious bruschetta-like goodie with pork ragu and scrambled egg.  All the amuse bouche were what we would call “New Peruvian,” modern twists on traditional dishes.   It was seriously some of the most amazing food I’ve eaten.  The flavor combos were out of this world.  There were a bunch more (probably 3 or 4 more) but I won’t bore you with that.

After talking about native foods of Peru, we got to try a bunch of them!

IMG_6651We tried a passionfruit (a different variety from what we’re used to), a pepino (my favorite, it tasted like a combination of cucumber and cantaloupe), lucuma (super tasty! I brought lucuma jam home!), cherimoya, mango, aguaymanto (Jesse’s favorite, they look like little tomatoes but are sweet and a little tart) and grapes.

After sampling the fruits, we got to the kitchen…

IMG_6657We were preparing two dishes: Causa and Alpaca Saltado

Causa is a traditional Peruvian dish, served cold.  It involves potatoes mashed with aji cream sauce, avocado, black olives, spicy mayonnaise, shredded chicken and hard boiled egg all layered into a wonderful masterpiece.

Here was my causa:

IMG_6668I’m definitely going to try to make this again, because it was delightful and pretty easy!  After we sat down to enjoy our causa, we had a lesson on Pisco along with pisco tasting and cocktail-making.

IMG_6676With out cocktails in hand, we were ready to make alpaca saltado.  So before I tell you about that, I should tell you that Lomo Saltado is pretty much the most common Peruvian dish you can find.  If you go to any Peruvian restaurant, they’re almost guaranteed to have lomo saltado.  It’s a beef stir fry dish (influenced by the large number of Chinese immigrants), it’s served with fried potatoes and rice.

Traditionally, it’s made with beef (lomo=beef), but in this class we made it with alpaca meat.  Honestly, the alpaca meat pretty much tasted like beef.  But back to the cooking… We were ready to go!

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So the chef explained that the reason Lomo Saltado is called such is that Peruvians saw Chinese immigrants flipping beef in their pans and the verb saltar in Spanish means to jump, and thus jumping beef… lomo saltado. Ta-da!

But what that meant for us is that the whole time, we had to flip the veggies and meat around in the pan.  So I started in deep concentration….

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But pretty soon, half my alpaca and vegetables were on the floor…

IMG_6701But oh well, it still turned out great!  It’s a surprisingly easy dish to make.  The only part we didn’t get a photo of is the flambe part!  You pour some pisco in the pan and light it on fire!  That was super fun.

IMG_6713After assembling our dishes, we sat down for dinner.  I was so full from all the appetizers that I didn’t finish the dish, but it was great.  Despite fullness, there’s always room for dessert, right? So the chef brought over a platter of chocolate treats for us to try.

Amazing. Amazing. Amazing.  (But blurry photo womp) Peruvians have a big sweet tooth so we got along well.

The cooking class was definitely one of the highlights of the trip.  It was a lot of fun, and totally worth it.

The next day was our last day in Cusco.  We knew what we HAD to have for lunch: cuy (aka Guinea Pig).  Cuy is another one of those traditional Peruvian things that we just had to try.  So that morning we went to the coca museum, and while I was chatting with the museum attendant (one of the perks of knowing the language), I asked her where we should try cuy.  She recommended a place, which was great because 1. it wasn’t full of tourists and 2. it was cheaper.

There we also got our first taste (of many) of chicha, a local homemade corn beer.  At this place they mixed it with strawberry puree.  It was delicious…

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and also enormous.  So with our delicious beverages (we also got a local beer, Cusqueña) we ordered one portion of cuy, not really knowing what to expect.  But this is what arrived at the table:

IMG_1707Claws, face, teeth and all.  Yup.

IMG_1708I think we sat there for a few minutes sort of unsure what to do with it.  The skin was really tough and there was really little meat on the whole thing.  The little paws and teeth were really off-putting.  IMG_1709We picked at it for a bit and decided that cuy wasn’t really for us.  The meat didn’t taste bad, it was a bit rubbery, but not bad.  I think we both decided that we don’t need to eat it again.  But we tried it so mission accomplished!

We spent the next few hours wandering and sitting in the Plaza de Armas people watching.  Then we headed to the airport for our final destination in Peru: Arequipa!

Coming up… the time we went to a monastery where nuns never leave, and then saw some condors and vicuñas…

Ok so tell me what you think…. are you totally grossed out? Would you try cuy (guinea pig)?

 

Previous Peru Posts:

The Time We Hiked Through the Andes to Machu Picchu

Back from Peru

Hello from Peru

Dinner at Mesa

The folks at Mesa invited Allison from Sweet Potato Bites to try a few new things on their menu. She was super nice and awesome and invited me to be her +1.

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I know I usually do recipes and such on this blog, but I have to tell you guys about it because it was pretty fun and clearly I love food.IMG_4533

Mesa is a Bar/Lounge/Restaurant located in Costa Mesa.  I’ve seen it a bunch of times, because it’s right next to the CAMP but never went because honestly it just seemed a little too swanky for me.  But after this visit, that myth was sort of dispelled.

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This place is definitely the kind of place I want to go for an awesome drink, but the food was also awesome.  We got there at 7 (which is when they open), and it was still light out.  The place has an awesome retractable roof so you feel like you’re outside without having to deal with heat or wind.  FOODIE BONUS: natural light is great for food photography.

Upon arriving we ordered some drinks.  Allison and I both got a glass of wine (after all it was a work night, couldn’t go too crazy), but they had an awesome array of cocktails.  I would love to go back someday for an afternoon Negroni.

The staff at Mesa was super nice.  They told us about the hand-drawn “secret menu” that included special cocktails and small plates.

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We ended up ordering a bunch of things to share.  All in all, it was quite a spread for two ladies…

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We tried the sweet potato fries

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Because Allison could never pass those up.  Seriously guys, they were amazing.  Perfectly crispy and I loved the spicy dipping sauce.  Normally, I prefer regular fries to sweet potato fries, but I would definitely get those again.

Smoked Chorizo Meatballs from the secret menu.

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Delicious.  Loved the little spicy kick to them.  And the grilled bread they came with… Delicious and eaten entirely by me since Allison is avoiding gluten right now.

Free-Range Chicken Breast with potatoes, mushrooms and a delicious cream sauce

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This was seriously tasty.  I won’t lie.  The chicken was chicken; I really only wanted to eat the potatoes and mushrooms, because they were awesome.  I would order that again just for the potatoes and mushrooms

Roasted Beet Salad

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I’m always a fan of anything with beets and goat cheese.  This salad had feta and roasted hazelnuts.  Super tasty and light.

For dessert, because we know I can never pass up dessert… we got the ice cream trio.

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Vanilla Maple Ice Cream with bacon, Blackberry Sage and Espresso Chipotle Stout.  These were all awesomely intense flavors.  Allison and I both agreed the maple bacon was the best.  It’s definitely on my list of things to recreate.

They also made us a special after dinner cocktail.  It was super intense but delicious.  I probably could have drank the whole thing but decided to keep it classy…

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I wish I could remember all the things in there but it was amazingly herby and sweet (maybe a little too sweet).

Overall, it was a fantastic meal.  I wish this place was open before 7pm, because it would seriously be the perfect place for weekend (4pm?) afternoon cocktails.

Thanks so much to Allison for letting me tag along with you and thanks to Mesa for taking care of us.

Ok so tell me.  What was the last great meal you had out?