Saturday, October 31, 2015

Houston: Whataburger

On our way to Peru, we had a layover in Houston.  My sister and I looked up what lunch options we had and I got extremely excited when I saw Whataburger on the list.  Ever since I watched a Buzzfeed video on Whataburger, I really wanted to try it out.

Unfortunately, Whataburger was in a different terminal and we didn't have enough time to get there and back before our flight to Lima.  So instead, we ate at Wendy's and schemed.

On the way back from Peru, we had a slightly longer layover in Houston.  We got a little nervous when our flight in was delayed, causing CK and AG to miss their flight back to Chicago.  By the time they ironed out everything, we had to sprint to Whataburger.

Or I wanted to sprint.  AG goes through life at his own pace and there's no known way to speed him up (off the basketball court).  I was tempted to leave him behind, but I settled for a brisk walk and left it to CK to make sure AG was keeping up.

When we got to Whataburger, we found ourselves at the back of a long line:

It went fairly quickly, however.  In no time at all, we were at the cashier giving our order.

One of the things I wanted to try was the honey butter chicken biscuit.  But it was part of the breakfast menu and breakfast had just ended before we arrived.  I was bummed to say the least, but my sister figured it wouldn't hurt to ask if we could still order one.

Thank goodness she asked:

That biscuit.  That fried chicken.  That honey butter sauce!

We also got the patty melt:

It doesn't look too appetizing in this photo, but trust me, it was delicious.  Two beef patties, two slices of Monterey Jack cheese, grilled onions, some kind of creamy pepper sauce, and thick Texas toast.

We ordered both sandwiches as meals.  The patty melt came with fries, while the biscuit came with hash browns:

It's definitely true that everything is bigger in Texas.  Just look at that drink!

The taters on their own weren't exactly special, but the spicy ketchup kicked everything up a notch:

Once you try spicy ketchup, regular ketchup will never satisfy you.

Whataburger was everything I dreamed of and more.  No froufrou stuff.  Just hearty sandwiches that will clog your arteries.

In the best way possible.

George Bush Intercontinental Airport
Terminal B
3100 N Terminal Rd
Houston, TX 77032
(281) 233-3347

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Peru: Cusco Street Eats

Something from our dinner at Kusikuy didn't sit well with AG's tummy.  He woke up the next morning feeling very, very sick.  Being the good friends that we are, we dumped him at Starbucks with a bottle of pepto bismol.

What?  It was our last day in Peru and we had a food festival to check out:

From what we could piece together based on snippets we overheard from other tourists' conversations, it seemed to be some kind of national holiday.  No clue what holiday it was, but look ma, food tents!

Our first stop was the chicha tent:

We thought about sharing two drinks between the three of us, but then we realized we shouldn't kid ourselves.  One each it was.  We got the passionfruit, the strawberry, and the quinoa chichas:

A lot watered down and not nearly as tasty as the chicha we had in Aguas Calientes, but still refreshing on a sunny day.

Our attention was snagged by the chicharron lady:

An order of chicharron cost S/.10 (around $3).  It came with thin slices of potatoes and some kind of bean:

We moved aside all the shrubbery to get to this beauty:

With our savory taste buds satisfied, we moved on to dessert.  This stall was particularly popular:

These fried dough rings drizzled with sugar syrup were exactly like what we had in Arequipa:

The doughnuts we had in Arequipa were called bunelos, while these were called picarones.  According to Wiki, the difference is that picarones are made from sweet potatoes and squash while bunuelos are made from yeast dough flavored with anise.  From experience, I can tell you that both are delicious.  Especially when an order of four only costs S/.3 or $1.

Our dessert quest continued next door to this stand:

We got a slice of tres leches cake:

And a slice of lime cheesecake:

Neither were particularly good.  The texture of the cheesecake was too gummy to be enjoyable.

To wash out the taste of disappointment, we headed to San Pedro Market one last time to see our dear friend, Alejandrina the juice lady.

While we were sipping away at our juices, AG sent us an SOS via text.  He'd left Starbucks because he was feeling cold.  He tried to lay on a bench in the plaza, but was asked by a police officer to sit up.

Feeling sorry for the guy, we rushed toward the plaza.  Only to stop partway when my sister spotted this chicharron lady on the side of the street:

We'd seen these chicharron ladies multiple times during our stay in Cusco, but my sister had been hesitant to buy street meat and risk possible stomach issues.  Since we were leaving Peru that night, she figured, what the heck.  YOLO.

Thank goodness we stopped because that pork was SO DAMN GOOD:

It was so delicious that we finished our bag and had to stop at another chicharron lady closer to the plaza where AG was so piteously waiting.

Sorry, AG.  I know you were suffering, but dat fried pork tho.  Especially the fatty pieces.  Hot damn.

We eventually made it to AG.  We ended up letting him rest at a hostel close to our AirBnb apartment until it was time to catch our cab to the airport.  By the time we flew into Lima, AG was thankfully feeling better.  So much better that when my sister and CK nearly followed two strangers out of the airport just to try to figure out where they got their Papa John's pizza, he was totally onboard with the idea of pizza for dinner.

Thanks to my sister's Internet sleuthing skills, we ultimately tracked the pizza to the upstairs food court.  You might judge us for having pizza as our last meal (especially Papa John's) in Peru, but I have no regrets.

And so ended my grand Peruvian adventure.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Peru: Kusikuy Restaurant

There's no way you can go to Peru and NOT eat guinea pig (called kuy in Spanish).  It's basically a requirement for all tourists.  You can't escape it.  There are guinea pigs listed on menus.  There are guinea pig plushies at the souvenir stalls.  There are guinea pig carcasses hanging out in baskets at the market.

Can't unsee that last one.

We figured instead of eating kuy at a market, we should probably play it safe and eat it at a restaurant.  When we still hadn't had kuy by our last night in Peru, we knew it was time to do or die.  So we called up Kusikuy and made reservations for dinner:

Located midway up the most unnecessary flight of stairs ever, I was huffing and puffing when we finally made it inside:

Turns out we really didn't need reservations.  The place was pretty empty.  Regardless, the decor was quirky and fun and we enjoyed that.

After the arduous hike to the restaurant, the first thing we ordered was a pitcher of limonade (S/.15 or $5):

The limonade was fresh and minty and I ended up chugging my glass.

We started our meal with some tomales:

They were slightly sweet, but a bit too try for my tastes:

We saw rocoto relleno (S/.30 or $10) on the menu, so we gave it another shot:

These hot peppers were stuffed full with meat and veggies and then deep fried:

I liked it a lot more than the one we had in Arequipa, but probably only because it was fried so well.  Well, at least I enjoyed it up until the heat built up and my tongue caught on fire.

We figured we should order something besides just guinea pig, so we decided to give alpaca another try.  The grilled alpaca (S/.33 or $11) came with two sides:

The fried potato thingies were so freakin amazing that we asked for an additional order:

Think fried mashed potatoes.  So.  Good.

Asking for an extra order turned out to be a major mistake because our kuy came with more than we could finish.  It also came with an extra rocoto relleno.

Before we could process all the extra food we weren't expecting, we had to take in the glory of the kuy (S/.65 or around $22) itself:

I actually felt a bit sorry for the little guy.  Not only was he roasted, he had to suffer through such indignity after his demise.  That didn't stop me from ripping into his tiny body though.

Guinea pig doesn't really taste like anything.  To me, it was just a lot of work for very little meat.  It's not fatty at all, just basically skin and bones.  My sister seemed to really enjoy it though.  She practially ate the whole thing.

With the kuy out of the way, we had to deal with the extra rocoto relleno and fried potato thingies.

CK didn't believe me when I previously told her the pepper was hot.  She cut into the new one and was taken aback by the kick this pepper had.  Pleased by how spicy it was, she gave a bite to her husband.  It would later come back to haunt him.  (I'll explain in my next post.)

We tried our best, but we couldn't finish it all.  We took the leftovers home, but forgot all about them in our refrigerator, which was devastating because we were all looking forward to having more potato thingies.

If you want to try guinea pig in Cusco and you're looking for some dramatic flair, Kusikuy is the place for you.  It's definitely geared for tourists, but you're paying for the quirky atmosphere and the presentation.  The food isn't bad either.

Kusikuy Restaurant
Amargura 140 Cusco, Cusco, Peru
+51 84 262870

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Peru: Aguas Calientes Market

Rolling into Aguas Calientes, we were resigned to shelling over cash at restaurants geared toward tourists.  We figured that's just the price one has to pay to get to Machu Picchu.  But then...hope came in the form of a hidden in plain sight market:

We ventured out of our hostel at around 5:00pm.  We learned that hard way that most of the market was closed by then:

Luckily, there were still a couple of stalls open.  All the menus were pretty much the same at each stall, so we picked one with the friendliest looking lady:

We ordered the estofado de pollo, which was some kind of chicken stew:

The tortilla de verduras, which was essentially a veggie fritatta on top of fries and rice:

And two trucha fritas or fried trout:

We were pleasantly surprised by the food.  A little heavy on the salt, but we'd come to expect that in Peru.  All the dishes were the same price, around S/. 5 or close to $2.  Not bad at all.

On the way out, our attention was caught by these chicha ladies:

We didn't know much about chicha, just that it's some kind of fermented drink made from maize.  We certainly didn't know it came in so many flavors...or colors.  Our Spanish wasn't nearly good enough to figure out what was what, so we just pointed at random buckets.  Each bag only cost S/.1, so...yolo.

Chicha morada is the most basic and can be found in just about every Peruvian restaurant:

I have no idea what kind of chicha this was, but I didn't like it:

It was a bit too ferment-y for my tastes.

We woke up the next morning at the buttcrack of dawn to get breakfast and then get in line for our bus up to Machu Picchu.  The line was quite daunting and it felt like a dozen buses left before it was finally our turn.  But when we actually got up to Machu Picchu, the ruins were so massive that it seemed like there were barely any people there.

Machu Picchu was magical.  I'm sure I don't have to say anything more.  Well, that and I almost died on Huayna Picchu.  Those were some pretty ridiculous stairs.

I had this plan of taking the bus up to Machu Picchu and then slowly hiking our way down.  Yea.  That didn't happen.  We ended up taking the bus both ways.

We got back to Aguas Calientes in time for a late lunch.  We didn't even hesitate and went directly back to the market.  This time, the market was fairly bustling and we picked a stall that seemed quite popular.

By sheer luck, we discovered that you can get each soup along with your entree for an extra S/. 2.  Oh hell yea:

I'm not sure what kind of soup it was, but it was creamy and savory and pretty filling on its own.

My mistake was ordering the aji olluquito:

Olluquito is made with some kind of root vegetable.  It looked like it would be good with rice, but it was bland and not all that appetizing.  I should have known better than to order something without meat in it...

CK was curious about the tallarin verde:

It turned out to be some kind of strange mix of rice and noodles.

AG figured he couldn't go wrong with lomo saltado:

Which turned out the be the best thing we had that meal, after the soup.

On the way out, we again stopped for some chicha.  I found my favorite flavor, which I think is barley:

So refreshing.

My sister, as usual, gravitated toward the most vibrantly colored chicha:

No clue what it was, but the barley one was 1000% tastier.

AG must have been pooped by the early morning wake up call because he crashed once we got back to the hostel.  CK, my sister, and I went back to the market later for dinner without him.  We bought a fried trout to go for AG and of course, we couldn't help but get more chicha on the way out.

After I returned to the States, my coworker asked me if I had any chicha in Peru.  When I said I did, she laughed and asked if the chicha was made from little old Peruvian lady spit.  Apparently, the most traditional way of making chicha is by having women chew corn, spit it into water, and then let the liquid sit for weeks.  I have no idea whether the chicha we had contained spit or not, but the barley one was so good that I'm not bothered by the possibility at all.  If it tastes that good, bring on the little old lady spit!

Anyway, the main point of this post is to let people know that it is possible to find affordable and authentic Peruvian food in Aguas Calientes.  Avoid all the tourist traps and go where the locals go: straight to the market.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Peru: PeruRail

While I was planning my trip to Peru, I told a friend of mine that there was no way in hell I would do the Inca Trail.  She warned me that I would regret it if I didn't.

Um.  No.

I took the train to Aguas Calientes from Ollantaytambo:

Ask me how many regrets I have.  Ask me.


While Inca Trail trekkers were freezing their asses off, digging holes to go number two in, and suffering days without bathing, I relaxed in my air conditioned train and took in this view:


On top of that, PeruRail served us refreshments during our journey.  There were two pastries to choose from, one savory and one sweet.  To maximize our options, my sister chose one while I went with the other.

Here's the savory pastry:

And here's the sweet:

The savory pastry was breadier, whereas the sweet one was flaky as all hell.  And can we say sprinkles?

We also got to select a drink of our choice.  I was missing soda, so I asked for coke.  Not very adventurous, but whatever.  It hit the spot.

We read online that PeruRail only allowes one piece of luggage less than 11 lbs per person.  We were a little concerned because AG and CK had packed more than one luggage each and they weren't exactly small either.  It turns out that nobody cared.  We all got onboard, massive luggage and all, with absolutely no fuss.  Thank goodness.

The two-hour train ride to Aguas Calientes was everything I hoped for.  Killer views, comfortable seats, Peruvian pipe music soundtrack, and most importantly, no physical exertion.  It was just as good the way back from Aguas Calientes as it was getting there.

For any of you who don't care to "rough it" or "challenge yourself", PeruRail is the way to go.  Trust me.  ZERO REGRETS.


Monday, October 12, 2015

Peru: Inka Paradise Hotel

We only stayed one night in Ollantaytambo, but it was quite a comfortable one at Inka Paradise:

Our room was essentially four beds crammed into one space.  Not that we minded, when we had hot showers and this amazing view:

Guh.  I can't even.

Breakfast is included when you stay at Inka Paradise.  We woke up early to get first dibs on the food and so we could squeeze in a hike before our train to Aguas Calientes.

There were a lot of tea bags to choose from, but I took the boring route and chose chamomile:

Peruvians apparently like their bread with butter and jam:

Or maybe that's what Peruvians think foreigners like with their bread.  I can't disagree.  It was delicious.

The bread itself was flat and a little hard.  No fluffy buns here.  It was a little hard to swallow at first, but butter solves all problems.

We were asked how we wanted eggs.  I requested a scramble:

In hindsight, I should have gone with over easy, but an egg is an egg is an egg.  And it's even better when you get two eggs.  Woooo!

After breakfast, we took on the mountain across from the Ollantaytambo ruins.  The goal was to get up to Pinkuylluna (the granaries):

I don't typically post photos that are unrelated to food, but Pinkuylluna is too majestic not to share.

And now I must admit that I didn't make it all the way up to the ruins.

Yea.  I wimped out.

The path just got rockier and rockier and I let my fear of the climb down deter me from reaching the top.  Instead, I sat at the midpoint and watched as my sister, CK, and AG gingerly pick their way up to the granaries.

I regret not sticking through it, but I don't regret my alone time on the side of that mountain.  That silence.  That sense of peace.  That view.

On our way down, we were joined by a new friend:

Unlike me, this puppy had absolutely no fear.  He scampered circles around us on that mountainside and ultimately followed us all the way back to our hostel.  We played with him until it was time to head to the train station.

It broke our heart a little to see him staring forlornly at us as we climbed into our taxi, but alas, with the main event of our trip just around the corner, we could only move forward.


Inka Paradise Hotel
Mascabamba s/n, 084 Ollantaytambo, Peru
+51 084 204062
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