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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Middle Eastern Food in Bogota

The menu is certainly sexy.
The menu is certainly sexy.

Despite the expectation that due to Shakira’s existence, middle eastern food should be common here in Bogota — it’s not. These are the restaurants that I’ve tried and my review of them.

Al Khalifa, various locations, (5/13): I actually was quite awash in memories of Jordan, Bangladesh, and other Muslim and middle eastern countries when I ate here. Instead of Jesus Christ of Superstar, there was a Muslim version on the TV. The food wasn’t great but my memories are.

Beirut, Calle 117 #6-30, Usaquen, (12/13): It’s the upscale version of middle eastern food. Large and lofty.

Panaderia La 85 (Lebanese Bakery), Calle 85 near Carrera 12, (10/13): It’s not fancy. They sell Lebanese pita bread and products. They make kibbeh, hummus, and stuffed grape leaves, but I’m never sure if they have all the products all the time. I went with a friend of the owner.

Chicken on a stick, tabouleh salad, and falafel at Beirut.
Chicken on a stick, tabouleh salad, and falafel at Beirut.

Zatar, Carrera 5 #69-15, Zona G, (12/13): It was described as a hole-in-the-wall to me but it’s not. It’s hard to find only because they are in plain sight. Their awning is black with no signage. Just walk down the street from the Starbucks (oh, right, that doesn’t help). The food is good although a bit on the wet (saucy) and sweet side. The people who work there seem rather nice. At least that’s the vibe I got.

One final gripe… even I can make flat bread hot off the fire/oven… so I can’t understand why all these places serve me cold pre-made bread.

The bread spread at Beirut. The chile sauce is perhaps their version of harissa? It was HOT!
The bread spread at Beirut. The chile sauce is perhaps their version of harissa? It was HOT!

Diverse Food Cultures in DC – H Street

Three kinds of fancy ham and a stuffed artichoke.
Three kinds of fancy ham and a stuffed artichoke.

As I’ve mentioned before, Washington, DC, is filled with food adventures. Newly gentrified H Street in northeast DC is the newest “hot” area of international food eclecticism. It has quirky pubs, rice dives, and even the chain pizza restaurant has fancy pants “jamon iberico” on the menu. Plus, this being DC, you can even get pizza with sweet potato. And, of course, they bake the pizza in a wood burning oven.

The orange pieces are the sweet potato/yam.
The orange pieces are the sweet potato/yam.

At the Lebanese restaurant, they sell “ayran,” a salty yogurt drink, “mamoul,” a Fig Newton-like treat, plus the usual middle eastern treats like baklava. An extra experience we had was getting good¬† tips on Iraqi music from the guy behind the counter (there’s an app for that!).

Not as sweet as a Fig Newton.
Not as sweet as a Fig Newton.