It has to be done; on any trip to the Andes you will be expected to eat come home having sampled some guinea pig. The sight of the little creature, ready-roasted and lying on your plate with its feet in the air, however, might not be too appetizing. Just remember that guinea pigs, or cuy, are not just another source of meat for local people. The symbolism of eating cuy goes back centuries and, to this day, you will often find the creatures running around rural kitchens, waiting for a special occasion or festival for them to be eaten.
Different areas cook their cuy in different ways, so if you don’t like the taste in Cusco, you’ll be told that the recipe is Huaraz is sure to be more to your taste. My recommendation is to have it roasted (al horno). If you don’t like the cuy, the potatoes are always good.
Click here to read an account of eating cuy (in Ecuador).
2. Alpaca steak
It’s a steak, its made of alpaca and its very good. Well worth trying.
To try one of these you will have to get out of town and up in to the mountains. A pachamanca is a feast of meats, potatoes and other tubers cooked in a makeshift oven made of soil and stones. The name itself means pan of the earth in Quechua, and is an ingenious way of preparing a feast high in the mountains.
First, stones are heated, then seasoned meat and vegetables are wrapped in leaves and placed inside the stones. The whole ‘oven’ is then sealed up completely with leaves, soil, grasses and whatever is available. After an hour or so, you essentially have to smash up the oven to get at the food inside. If your timing is right, you have a delicious smoked meal. These meals are an integral part of village life intended to share with other members of the community.
4. Freeze dried potatoes
Another ingenious food from the mountains is freeze dried potatoes. You can often find these grey crumbly potatoes in your soups and their ‘invention’ is vital for starving off hunger in periods between potato harvests. Chuňo, as they are known, are made by simply leaving the potatoes out in the biggest freezer of all: the Andean night. Later, the moisture is squeezed out or dries out in the sun. Way before we had freezers, the people of the Andes knew that a frozen potato lasts longer!
Beef hearts barbequed on a skewer – a firm favorite of Peruvians everywhere. If you see a crowd of people gathering around a grill on their way home from work – it’s the anticucho they are after. If you can stomach it, there’s no better way of becoming a local than chomping down an anticucho on the street.
NB Images from: Pachamanca – http://www.marinera.org, Anticucho -www.flickr.com