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:
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.