Criolla Food in Peru

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Papa rellana ready for frying, above bags of choclo. 

Peru is also a “melting pot” and the Spanish, Chinese, Japanese, Italian immigrations added to this pot. But what did the Peruvians eat before?

The original inhabitants of Peru ate the foods that today are called “criolla” or creole. I think of “queso y choclo” — cheese and corn — when I think of local food. The “queso fresco” or fresh cheese is just that, non-aged cheese so think feta but not salty or sour (which feta should not be, but that’s a whole different discussion.) Some creole dishes are tacu tacu (refried hash), beans, habas (roasted fava bean snack), rice with duck, papa rellena (large stuffed mashed potato croquette), tamales, soups (sopa criolla is a noodle soup with cubed beef and milk), butiffara (a pork sandwich), and anything with an egg on it. Every single restaurant will know how to make a delicious home made soup called “sopa dieta” which is what would be called “Jewish noodle soup” in other places. It’s a soup that can cure all.

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A word about “dare” or “scary” foods. Guinea pig or “cuy” in Peruvian is convenient and easy to raise. A Peruvian told me that traditionally you would only be served a portion — not the whole thing with head frozen in its death scream. Cuy, pronounced “koo-wee” is more common in the mountains. Yes, one can also eat alpaca, llama, vicuna, and other camelids. And, the one that people always seem to “dare” tourists to eat — the suri worm or maggot. Maggots are fatty sources of protein (According to experts, bugs could be the protein of the future). Many cultures eat bugs — crickets, grasshoppers, ants, and so on. But, you don’t have to eat it. Many modern restaurants will serve cuy or llama in a way that you might find more palatable. At Astrid and Gaston’s, the cuy is served as a mini Peking Duck bite. My “word” about scary or dare foods is that you don’t have to eat them. Many Peruvians don’t. There is so much available that is much more delicious.

The weirdest thing I ate in Peru (no, I didn’t eat the maggot) was a vegan “jerky” stick. So odd. I don’t know what was in it, but it wasn’t criolla!

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Trying the National Dishes of Colombia? Ajiaco, Sancocho, Empanadas, and Arepas

Ajiaco, soup with chicken breast, guasco, rice, corn, and avocado.
Ajiaco, soup with chicken breast, guasco, rice, corn, and avocado.

Every place has it’s national dishes. Here in Colombia, if you ask, they’ll probably mention the two most famous soups: sancocho and ajiaco. Or the empanadas and arepas.

I really like ajiaco because it’s got cream on it and you can add your own rice and avocado (like bacon, avocado makes everything better). The distinctive taste and color of ajiaco is a herb called “guasca” which is translated into English to “gallant soldier” but I’ve never heard anyone call it that. It also has medicinal uses. There are many types of corn in the world. The cob in my soup was different than in the corn in the U.S. The corn that most of the world, outside from the birthplace of corn — the central Americas, eats is the small and sweet variety. This corn was starchier and each kernel was much larger (choclo, like what I’ve had in Peruvian restaurants). The way to eat the cob in the soup is to take the handy skewer, turn the cob, and spear the skewer into the end of the corn. Then it’s easy to bite the kernels off the cob. I’ll write more about the restaurant where I had the ajiaco another time.

Freshly deep fried empanada and salsa.
Freshly deep fried empanada and salsa.

Every country has a dumpling of some sort, sometimes boiled, steamed, or fried. The other day, I had a delicious fried Bogotano empanada. The sauce was surprisingly spicy. Everyone told me that Colombians don’t like spicy food. That may be, but this salsa did not take prisoners. Wowza. Eating these empanadas from a street stall reminded me of the fuchka of Bangladesh.

Inside is rice, beef, and chicken.
Inside is rice, beef, and chicken.

As for the arepa. This one was made of white corn, griddled and brushed with butter. Inside was a center of melted cheese. I didn’t actually like this very much as it had a slightly soured yogurt-like tang to it which I didn’t find all that appealing although I love that flavor in dairy products (more about dairy another time). I’ve had arepas before which were spliced and stuffed like sandwiches but this one was more like a pupusa. Will have to try others along the way.

Arepa, straight up with melted butter.
Arepa, straight up with melted butter.