Monday, April 20, 2015

Peru, Day 7: Lima

Since international flights tend to leave Lima very late at night, we had a day to enjoy Lima after departing Cusco.  We bid farewell to our Cusco team from Kuoda and were met at the airport by our Lima driver and guide.  First, we were driven to the beautiful Miraflores neighborhood on the coast, to enjoy lunch and the view.

Then, we were driven to downtown/historic Lima to view some of the architecture and main sights.  It was a Good Friday, so the city was jam-packed with people celebrating and walking between churches.  We were able to see the main plaza with their large cathedral and Presidential palace, both built on former Incan sites of importance by the colonial powers.

We also visited a very special old house, Casa de Aliaga.  Reputed to be the oldest Colonial mansion in Lima and possibly South America, it is a stone's throw from the Presidential palace with an unassuming entrance.  Definitely a hidden gem you wouldn't even know about unless you read or heard about it!  It has a beautiful interior and has been continuously occupied by the same family since it was built.

After the house, we visited another church, the Iglesia y Convento de San Francisco. We did not go inside due to the crowds, but I loved the color and architecture.

We then set off on a driving tour through Lima, back towards Miraflores.  We saw an old archaeological site that is still being excavated, and finished at a seaside park, El Parque del Amor, a romantic spot that signaled the end of our Peru adventures.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Peru, Day 6: Cooking Class

One of the highlights of our trip was our afternoon spent at Marcelo Batata Cooking Class with Chef Ebelin.  I looooooove food, and when I saw a cooking class on my friend's old Peru itinerary I had to add it to ours too.

The class begins with an introduction to Peruvian food.  Ebelin introduced us to the native ingredients and techniques of the area, described what Peruvians eat, and more.  I was surprised by how much I didn't know that I didn't know... about food in general!  (Did you know the quinoa trend started in Peru?  Or that the country doesn't permit GMOs?  Superfood!)

The special room for learning about Peruvian ingredients!

Throughout the class, the restaurant brought us little bites of hors d'oeuvres, including delicious ceviche, a popular offering in Peru.


Next, we had a fruit tasting, focused on native fruits that Americans don't see every day.  We tried aguaymanto, tumbo, and passion fruits, and more.  The weirdest one to me was lucuma, which tasted kind of caramel-y!  Not like a fruit at all, which means it's a great healthy sweetener that can be used in ice cream and other things.

The first dish we actually prepared ourselves was a mahi mahi ceviche.  I'm not into seafood, but this was really tasty!  Chef Ebelin walked us through everything step-by-step, including reminding us not to touch our faces after de-seeding hot peppers.  I totally would have forgotten that!  (You let them know your dietary restrictions before class starts, by the way!)

Chef Ebelin
Dan's plated appetizer: ceviche!
After enjoying our appetizer, we then went into a history of pisco, a brandy famous in the region.  We tasted three varieties of pisco (woo!  It's like sipping vodka or something, a clear liquor around 40% ABV) and then learned to make two cocktails: pisco sour, and chilcano.  I really liked that Ebelin incorporated some creatively-infused piscos; it made me want to infuse alcohol back home!

After getting sufficiently tipsy on pisco, I got to play with fire.  Kidding!  But there were flames and smoke, as we kicked off our main event: alpaca saltado.  We'd been eating lomo saltado during our trip, and this stir-fry version replaced the beef with alpaca.  Alpaca is very lean, and low-fat...  it's kind of the perfect red meat without the unhealthy stuff.  Ebelin demonstrated the technique for us first.

Then, it was our turn!  Ebelin gave us each step, and we made our own stir-fry.  The climactic moment was when we tossed some pisco into the pan, creating big flames for effect.

Notice my face is red from the pisco tasting... LOLZ

Overall, I had a lot of fun with the wok.  I wasn't as good at flipping stuff in it as Dan, but I had a good time nonetheless.  We plated up the alpaca saltado with the requisite fries and rice, then headed to the dining room to eat it.

Our dessert was prepared for us, a death by chocolate platter with truffle, mousse, and molten cake.  Incredible.  I ate soooo much throughout this class.  You don't really need to eat anything beforehand, because you basically never stop eating.  (I didn't even include photos of everything we ate, because I was too busy stuffing my face to take photos.)  It was such a cool experience!  I really enjoyed getting to know Peru's gastronomy via the class, and I'm glad we were able to spend the afternoon learning from Ebelin.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Peru, Day 6: Cusco Walking Tour

We were only in Cusco briefly at the beginning of our trip, so after two days at Machu Picchu we were excited to explore more of the city.  Cusco is actually at a higher elevation than Machu Picchu, so it was strategic to spend time there towards the end of our journey.

After waking up at our adorable boutique hotel Casa San Blas Boutique, we walked up the hill with our guide to the Plazoleta de San Blas where we had our very first lunch in-country.  It was Holy Thursday at the time, so the churches were packed with people as schools and officers were closed.

Iglesia de San Blas
We toured the Iglesia de San Blas, a Catholic church circa the 1500s.  Like many churches from the time, it was built on top of a former Incan religious site.  While the church is small, it has intricate woodworking, beautiful paintings, a one-of-a-kind pulpit, and other decorative features that are truly beautiful.  Our guide explained to us that the Spaniards had art "schools" (perhaps more like sweatshops, depending on the situation) where Peruvian/Andean artists were trained in European styles.  These artists were responsible for the art in the churches, though the pieces are largely uncredited.

After the church, we walked down to the main Plaza de Armas, to see the beautiful square and its churches and university.

Iglesia de la Compania de Jesus, the Jesuit Church



We walked from there to the busy Mercado Central de San Pedro, a bustling market where you can get fresh foods and other eats.  It was as packed with locals more than tourists, doing their daily market shopping.  It was awesome to see the piles of caviar, meats, and special Easter pastries.

Walking towards the market

Iglesia de San Pedro, near the market

Mercado Central de San Pedro

I must mention how safe I felt in Cusco.  I did wear my camera around my neck and my bag slung in front of me in the crowded areas.  We saw lots of policemen around, and even a soccer "parade" of fans marching through with security to help them cross safely.  It was so culturally rich, and the restaurants were tasty to boot.  We really enjoyed the city, and I would have spent another day there if I could.

Catedral at Night

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