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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A Food Adventure in DC – Oaxaca Off the Map

“Are you up for a food adventure?” YES!

The most photogenic dish - a tostada with chicken.
The most photogenic dish – a tostada with chicken.

While there are thousands of restaurants in Washington, DC, few of them truly transport you overseas with one bite of huitlacoche. Sitting around the card table at Taqueria Jugalita will make you feel like you are on an adventure. If you want to go too, here’s how:

1. “Atencion: Solamente Sabado y Domingo, 7 am A 7 pm”

2. Choose your teammates… exclude anyone who cannot handle sitting on a plastic chair in someone’s living room.

3. Cash only. BYOB if you want B. Otherwise, they sell soft drinks.

4.Go to 1445 Park Road, #211, Washington, DC 20010 (That block of Park Road is a tiny example of world fusion with Los Hermanos and a pho restaurant side by side). Ring on the doorbell, wait for the keys to be thrown down to you. Go up to apartment (do not take elevator as it may not work).

5. Try something “bizarre” like beef tongue taco, corn smut (“huitlacoche” – “wheat la coach eh” in my non-phonetic phonetic), or organ meat. Try the sauces on the table. The portion sizes are also “normal” so not as huge (for example, the quesadilla is about the size of a taco since it’s made from one home made corn tortilla — see photo below).

Two servings of quesadillas.
One pork skin quesadilla and one potato and pepper quesadilla.

6. Expect to pay $3.50 per taco (so $7 for a plate or around $14 for a meal). It’s not dirt cheap food and not as cheap as street food from a food truck.

7. Practice your Spanish. Enjoy.

This green "salsa" is spicy!
This green “salsa” is spicy!

Three Amigos ~ Mexican Food In Dhaka

Americans are obsessed with “Mexican food” of which there is a dearth of in Dhaka. But, as I have tried 100 restaurants in Dhaka, here are the three “Mexican” places (and my review rating of them):

Uno ~ El Toro, Gulshan 1 (3/13): Mexican. Must try: going on a night when they have avocados (!!!). This is the only real contender and yet…

Dos ~ Quesadilla, Road 11, Banani (3/13); The quesadilla was actually okay. Edible and not greasy. The “Mexican pizza” was a basic frozen pizza with some charred crumbled beef added plus a few loops of green pepper. The nachos were a plate of fried wonton skins covered in brown beans, cheese, and decorated with swirls of “mexican” sauce — a slightly sweet pink sauce. The garlic bread with melted cheese was so tasteless as to be useless.

Tres ~ Rush Tex Mex, Road 6, Banani (3/13): Burgers and fries. The advertised Mexican dishes were mysteriously not available… small place with two booths. Fries were okay.

As I mentioned in a FAQ, Panini has the best nachos I’ve had here.

Chips and salsa are so easy to serve in the U.S.
Chips and salsa are so easy to buy and serve in the U.S.

Like a lot of things in the expat life, if you want it, you gotta make it. So we started our own Mexican Monthly Club. Getting enough avocados is the hardest part of making Mexican food in Dhaka. Let us see how it goes. Buen provecho!