Last week, I had the chance to travel to Peru – for a trip that I have been dreaming of for a while – to Machu Picchu! I had announced it and spoken about some travel preparations I was doing in an earlier post. I was super excited for the trip, on one hand, because I had always wanted to go there for the longest time – but also, because I have heard that Quinoa was a popular staple in Peru. Therefore, I was expecting to get some great recipe inspirations and to discover many culinary particularities about this beautiful country.
We traveled to Peru out of Brazil (another post about my discoveries in Brazil will follow in a post next week ), we first flew to Lima, then to Cusco. Cusco is a city full of amazing and wonderful restaurants, almost like a little gourmet paradise! We had fantastic food there, here are some of the restaurants I would highly recommend if you go to Cusco:
- Cicciolina (innovative fusion cuisine, inspired by Peruvian traditional dishes: please order the salad with passion fruit vinaigrette and Quinoa-breaded shrimps – amazing!)
- Limo (great restaurant and Pisco bar, also serves sushi rolls)
- Inkazuela (their speciality are stew dishes in all kind of flavors: please order the Caribbean chicken one, with coconut milk and exotic spices)
- Chicha (owned by a famous chef, Gaston, fantastic, modern Peruvian food)
We went to all these places for dinner, and we also had breakfast at Cicciolina, which was divine, as we could sit next to the open window and the sun was shining on the table and warming us, it was so beautiful! And the yogurt-granola-fruit bowl that I had was just as amazing. They also make all kind of fresh fruit juices, must-try as well.
And as I had hope for, I also had to chance to sample several kinds of dishes with Quinoa, the most memorable ones were probably following:
- Quinoa soup (at Chicha, they prepare it with lemongrass and a hint of curry)
- Quinoa-breaded shrimps (at Cicciolina)
- Quinoa Risotto (tried at the buffet at El Mapi hotel in Aguascalientes)
What you can also see a lot in the city of Cusco are the traditionally dressed women, in beautiful colored dresses.
From Cusco we took the train to Aguascalientes. It was a pleasant 3 1/2 hour train ride and if you take the “Vistadome” train (there are various types of trains, depending on how much you want to spend), they even serve you a snack of typical Peruvian dishes during the journey. On the way to Auguascalientes, we had the opportunity to sample some Quinoa pancakes with “sauco” sauce. “Sauco” is the elderberry, a sweet and sour fruit. I could imagine that these pancakes would also taste great with a warm blueberry sauce – my favorite
Besides the great food, the view from the train is quite spectacular and absolutely stunning. You can see green valleys, rivers and snow-covered mountains like these:
When you arrive in Aguascalientes, you will probably also find that it is a bit of a no-mans land. The whole purpose of this town is actually to cater to overnight tourists that just stay for one day and whose sole goal is to visit Machu Picchu. As a consequence, the food, hotels and service are fine, but not as amazing as in Cusco. We stayed at hotel “La Cabaña” which was not too bad though, but definitely you would get a much better place to stay in Cusco for the same price.
Some thoughts about activities in Aguascalientes:
- Hot springs: On top of the village, there are some hot springs where you can go and soak in. I would not really recommend them from my point of view (and neither did my friends who visited before us), the baths looked quite murky (= dirty?) and over-crowded although it was not high season when we were there. Well, look at the pictures and decide for yourself
- Massage: There are tons of massage places for the tired hikers. I think we had a pretty amazing one, it was about 10 Peruvian Soles (= US $4) more expensive than other places, but totally worth it – as the whole massage costs only about 20 dollars anyways for a full hour. The name of the place we used was “Happy Hands massage” and it was close to our hotel, in the upper end of the village. We had a hot stone massage and I must say it was quite fantastic – and I consider myself some sort of a massage expert
- Food: Indio Feliz was a nice place with a really cute and cozy interior and a fresh menu, see below the dish I had there
The next day after our arrival in Aguascalientes, the big day came: We would finally go to Machu Picchu!! Starting from 5 am, there are buses every 5 – 10 minutes that take you from the town of Aguascalientes up to the main entrance to Machu Picchu. You can buy the bus tickets at the bus stop and they cost about $ 20 for the return trip. You must purchase the Machu Picchu tickets before you board the bus. They can be purchased at the Cultural center in town and it’s no problem to get the Machu Picchu only ticket the day before. However, we had asked our hotel to buy them for us before, as we also wanted to buy the ticket to climb the Machu Picchu mountain, for which the availability is more limited. Usually, it is more popular to climb the mountain behind the city of Machu Picchu (called Huayna Picchu), however, we wanted to try the mountain, as it is the highest point of the area and the view was supposed to be amazing. The ascent was really super tough, but we made it and were rewarded with the most incredible view, vibe and happiness about the achievement. We had climbed 600 m in height difference, from 2400 m to 3000 m!
After visiting Machu Picchu, we took the train back from Aguascalientes to Cusco. I really wanted to visit some markets the following days to take pictures of the local food and also discover new ones. Below pictures were taken at “Mercado San Pedro” in Cusco, where we had a fruit juice and I also discovered a health food snack stand where they offered Chia seeds as a healthy topping! Very nice to see it!
We also visited another market during a day tour in the Sacred Valley (highly recommended – just join a group tour or hire your own driver for about $120 a day). Below are images of some of the amazing foods sold at the local market in Urubamba, loved that place!!
When I arrived home from the trip, one of the first thing I had to do, was to try to recreate ad cook the Quinoa soup that I had tried at Chicha restaurant in Cusco, because it was just so good and the taste combination exotic and fascinating Therefore I will feature this recipe in this post. The soup contains the following Superfoods:
- Soy (tofu)
- 2 cups of stock
- 2 teaspoons red curry paste
- 1-2 tbsp lemongrass paste (or if you can’t find this, cook 3 – 4 lemongrass roots in the stock until the flavor comes out)
- 4 tbsp Quinoa
- 1/2 cup tofu, cut in small cubes
- 1/2 cup carrots, cut in small cubes
- 1/2 cup pumpkin, cut in small cubes
- 1/4 cup yellow beans, cut in 1/2 inch (1.5 cm) pieces
- 1/4 cup frozen peas
- Bean sprouts
- Mint leaves, finely chopped
- Bring the stock to boil, add the curry paste, lemongrass, Quinoa, pumpkin, yellow beans and carrots
- Cook for about 15 minutes until all ingredients are almost done
- Add the tofu, peas, bean sprouts and some of the mint leaves, cook for about another 2 – 3 minutes, until tender
- If needed, add some pepper and salt to taste
- Serve in a soup bowl and garnish with some more fresh mint leaves and bean sprouts on top
- Enjoy this delicious dish, full of vitamins, fibers and Superfoods and low fat content!
On a side note, I would love to mention a great site about Peruvian Superfoods that I discovered when checking more information about the popularity of Quinoa in Peru. I learned from our guide that took us through the ruins in Machu Picchu that Quinoa was not an original grain from Peru, but from other parts of the Andes. However, now, it’s super popular in Peru and used in a variety of recipes. A really traditional grain of Peru would be “Kiwicha”, which is similar to Quinoa. Anyways, check out this blog if you want to learn more about the amazing Peruvian and Andean Superfoods.