Sunday, September 27, 2015

Peru: Los Angeles

CK was feeling well enough to drink some chicken soup by the end of our first day in Cusco, but she didn't want to risk her tummy on anything more than that.  So AG, my sister, and I went out for dinner on our own.  AG and I had a craving for fried rice, since we kept seeing signs for it all over the city when we explored it during the day.

The first place we came across with fried rice was Los Angeles:

We got our fried rice or arroz chaufa at S/.6 or $2 per plate:

My sister refused to eat the fried rice because she said she could tell it wouldn't be any good.  Instead, she got a quarter roast chicken or pollo a la brasa with fries:

We should have listened to her.  The rice was cooked the Peruvian way, slightly hard, and wasn't exactly appetizing.  Thank goodness for free sauces:

We basically had to douse our rice liberally with sauce to be able to enjoy it.  The chicken, on the other hand, was very tender and juicy, though a bit on the salty side.

We actually didn't notice the name of the restaurant until after we finished our meal.  On our way out the door, we finally saw the sign and immediately felt a sense of shame.  I still can't believe we went all the way to Peru from California to eat at a restaurant called Los Angeles.


Los Angeles
Plaza San Francisco 349, Cusco, Peru
+51 947 878 712

Monday, September 21, 2015

Peru: Mercado Central de San Pedro

We rolled into Cusco at 4:00 in the morning.  We almost had to sleep out on the street because nobody answered the door of our Airbnb house when we knocked...and knocked...and knocked.  Luckily, our taxi driver circled back around and used his cell phone to call our hostess.

At a more godly hour, my sister and I set out to explore.  CK was still bedridden due to altitude sickness and AG just needed a couple hours of sleep.

One of the major selling points of our first Airbnb location in Cusco was its proximity to San Pedro Market:

San Pedro Market was literally a wonderland.  You could find just about everything there:

After just one walk through, I knew I would be back again and again.  There was just so much to see and discover.

There was a whole section dedicated just to chicken soup.  The really popular one at the corner was a bit intimidating with all the people crowded around, so we instead went with the chicken soup lady with the friendliest smile:

A bowl of chicken soup with noodles set us back a measly S/.5 or just under $2:

The bowl was assembled in front of our eyes.  The chicken, the noodles, the veggies, and then the hot broth.  The veggies were pickled and significantly cooler in temperature than the rest of the components of the dish, which was a little jarring.  But that broth tho.  That broth.

It was so good we bought one to go to bring back to AG and CK.

On the way out, we found the juice section.  We randomly picked a juice lady:

We loved her so much that we ended up going back to her exclusively for our juice needs.  We later introduced CK and AG to our juice lady and they fell in love with her too.  We went to her stall so often that she noticed when we left Cusco for a few days.

For days, I thought our juice lady's name was Alejandra.  CK backed me up, but my sister insisted that her name was Alejandrina.  It kills me to say this, but my sister was right.  Alejandrina was written clear as day on her stall sign.

Ugh.  I hate it when my sister is right.

Anyway, what we loved about Alejandrina was how generous she was.  She blends so much juice that you basically get two glasses every time.  And when you order to go, you get your drink in a bag:

In.  A.  Bag.  After Southeast Asia, I'm a sucker for drinks in a bag.

Every juice is freshly made with fresh fruit.  Whatever fruit Alejandrina doesn't have at her stall, she runs off to buy from the fruit vendors a few rows down, even chirimoya.

By our second day in Cusco, CK was feeling well enough to venture out.  We started our morning out once again at San Pedro Market.  CK might have bitten off more than she could chew or, well, digest, when she stopped by this vendor:

And ordered a lamb head soup:

No joke.  Lamb head:

That was the smoothest damn brain I've ever tasted in my life.  Almost the texture of cream cheese.  It was freakishly delicious, but a little too much for CK's sensitive stomach to handle.  It took four of us to finish one bowl, but the little old Peruvian lady sitting next to me not only polished off her bowl, but also asked for a refill of soup and veggies.

We returned to Cusco after Machu Picchu.  One of the first things we did was stop by San Pedro Market.  Even though our new Airbnb apartment was further away from the market, we didn't let that deter us.

Restaurant Leo was hoppin', so we grabbed a seat:

We ordered beef tongue with pureed potatoes:

That was the most watery mashed potatoes I'd ever had, but it was AMAZING.  I'm all about mashed potato soup now.

The stewed lamb with beans was also mind blowing:

Love, love, love San Pedro Market.  On our last full day in Cusco, we went in and basically bought all of our souvenirs there in one go.  CK bargained for all of us and we were able to get quite a good deal.

People have said not to spend too much time in Cusco, but I disagree.  San Pedro Market warrants more than one visit.  Cheap meals, cheap gifts, and Alejandrina.

Everybody should go for Alejandrina alone.

Mercado Central de San Pedro
Plazoleta San Pedro, Cusco, Peru

Friday, September 18, 2015

Peru: El Rancho

By the time we got back to our hostel in Puno after our tour of Lake Titicaca, altitude sickness finally caught up to CK and it took her OUT.  Really, like, OUT out.  She was shivering, nauseous, and for a while there we weren't sure she was going to make it onto our bus to Cusco.

While CK was curled up in an aching ball of misery on the couch in our hostel's lobby, my sister and I went out to forage for dinner.  Our hostel host told us about a good chicken restaurant close to the main plaza.  We found a chicken restaurant...but had no idea if it was the one he was referring to:

We went in anyway.

We figured half a chicken would be enough for three people.  We ordered it to go so that we could bring it back to AG at the hostel:

For S/.40 or around $13, the roasted chicken came with two kinds of sauces:

A giant box of fries:

And a 1.5 liter of soda:

Our other option was Inca Cola, but we didn't even need to think about our answer before my sister and I both pointed at the Coke.

The chicken was incredibly juicy.  Poor CK couldn't enjoy it, but AG, my sister, and I ripped into it with our fingers and stuffed ourselves with fries.

We had quite some time to kill before our 10:00pm bus.  My sister and I played catch with the hostel manager's son.  For hours.  That kid had way too much energy for someone so small.  When it came time to leave, CK managed to force herself to her feet and dragged herself into the taxi by sheer force of will.

We all breathed a sigh of relief all four of us made it onto the bus.  I don't know what we would have done if CK had been too sick to travel.

Thank goodness we never had to find out.

El Rancho
Jirón Oquendo 202, Puno, Peru

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Peru: Taquile Island

Our tour of Lake Titicaca took us from the Uros floating islands, where families lived on manmade islands constructed from reeds, to Taquile Island:

It was a long, steep hike up to the town square.  Taquile Island is known for the quality of its handwoven textiles.  The textiles were certainly impressive, but we were honestly more interested in the food.

Particularly when it's alpaca on a stick being grilled on the side of the path:

While my sister and I were dutifully waiting with our tour guide for the group to gather around, CK and AG had already gone ahead to buy a skewer, which came with a giant grilled potato.

Now, I'm not exactly skilled with multitasking.  Eating while walking has always been tricky for me.  Especially when I'm trying to keep up with our group while tearing a huge chunk of meat off of a stick.  All this is to say that while the alpaca was deliciously seasoned, I almost died trying to chew it.

As part of our tour, we were led to a local's house/restaurant for lunch:

There were bowls of soup and plates of bread set all along the giant picnic table where we were directed to sit:

I'm not sure what kind of soup it was, but it was well flavored and went well with the hard bread.

We were given the choice between an omelette and trout for our entree.  That was a no brainer:

All four of us ordered the trout.  Which turned out to be the most delicious trout I'd ever had.  Super fresh.  Cooked just right.

Our only complaint was the rice.  It was so hard that I thought it was mistakenly undercooked.  Funny thing is, each of our rice varied in degrees of edibleness.  CK and I couldn't stomach ours, while AG and my sister found theirs to be unpleasant, but tolerable.

It wasn't until later in our Peru trip that we realized that's just how Peruvians like their rice: hard.

After the meal, the locals showed us how they made their textiles and how they cleaned the wool they harvested from their sheep.  Lunch and a show.

The tour was basically a full day.  We didn't get back to our hostel until around 5:00pm.  Even though it was a lot of time spent on a boat going from one island to the next, we really enjoyed it.  We learned a lot from our tour guide about the amazing way of life of the islanders.  I would definitely recommend taking a day tour of Lake Titicaca if you're ever in Puno.

Jumbo Travel Puno

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Peru: Quechuas Inka Palace

We arrived at Puno pretty late at night after a long, exhausting bus ride from Arequipa.  We barely had enough energy to trudge up the very, very steep hill to our hostel, Quechuas Inka Palace:

Even though it was late, the hostel manager not only showed us to our rooms, but also helped us book a tour of the floating islands for the very next day.

We only had one full day planned in Puno, so we had just enough time to see the islands and then catch our 10:00pm bus to Cusco.  This meant we barely spent any time in our hostel.  We slept, then woke up at the crack of dawn to check out, store our luggage, get in a bag of laundry, and eat breakfast, all before the tour company came to pick us up at 6:30.

For breakfast, Quechuas Inka Palace offered a simple spread.  There was bread and fixings for a sandwich:

There was also fruit and Peruvian cereal and yogurt:

On top of a variety of teabags, Quechuas Inka Palace also offered a basket of coca leaves.  Coca is known for being used to make cocaine.  But the coca leaf is also used to help offset the effects of altitude sickness.  You can either chew the leaves or make them into a tea:

I didn't experience any nausea, but I did suffer some splitting headaches in the middle of the night.  The pain was so bad that I couldn't go back to sleep.  All my tossing and turning woke my sister, who was kind enough to massage my head until the pain was bearable.

Fortunately for me, my headache subsided by the time we had breakfast.  Unfortunately, because of that, I can't speak to the effectiveness of coca tea.  It didn't taste bad though, as I was expecting it to.

Also included in breakfast was fresh fruit juice.  We had the choice between orange and pineapple.  Most of us went with pineapple:

We were pleasantly surprised by breakfast at Quechuas Inka Palace.  It wasn't fancy, but it was filling and fresh.

Actually, we were pleasantly surprised by Quechuas Inka Palace in general.  The rooms were comfy, the showers hot.  The manager was super accomodating as well.  Even though we'd already checked out, he allowed us to store our luggage at the hostel while we were touring the floating islands.  He also let us hang out in the lobby because we had hours to kill between returning from the tour and our 10:00pm bus.

I would definitely recommend staying at Quechuas Inka Palace if you are ever in Puno.

Even though it sits on what feels like Puno's most ridiculously steep hill.

Quechuas Inka Palace
Jirón Independencia, 301, Puno, Peru
+51 51 352194

Monday, September 7, 2015

Peru: Yanahuara Plaza

Our Airbnb hosts gave us many recommendations for food in the neighborhood, many of which were located in the nearby Yanahuara Plaza.

The one we were most excited about was the bunuelo lady.  According to the tip from our hosts, she only opened for business in the late afternoon/early evening hours.  We tried to find her our first day in Arequipa, but we must have gone too late.  On our second day, even though we were out exploring the central Arequipa area, we purposely made a trip back to Yanahuara to see if we could catch her.

We did, but only thanks to my sister's sharp eye.  I definitely wouldn't have see the sign for bunuelos in this tiny spot:

There are tables and benches on one end and the bunuelo lady with her bunuelo team on the other:

One order comes with four bunuelos and costs only S/.3 or $1:

The Peruvian bunuelo is light, with a texture much like a mochi donut.  It is flavored with anise and drizzled with sugar syrup.  Very sticky and very delicious.

On our last day in Arequipa, we went back to Yanahuara Plaza during the early afternoon to see what else we could find.  The bunuelo lady wasn't there, bu the queso helado ladies were out and about:

Queso helado, an Arequipan classic, is literally "frozen cheese", but there's actually no cheese in it.  Instead, it's made with milk, coconut, and cinnamon:

When we rounded the corner and saw another queso helado lady, we couldn't help but stop and get another one:

Compared to the first queso helado, the second one was less savory and tasted more like a slushy horchata:

Though Yanahuara is a bit off the beaten path from central Arequipa, I really recommend making the trek if you have some free time.  It's nice to get away from all the tourist hubbub and see a different side of Arequipa.  Not to mention the views of the surrounding mountain ranges are simply breathtaking.

And the food is good.  Very good.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Peru: Zig Zag

We managed to squeeze a bunch of stuff into one afternoon in Arequipa.  We strolled through a market, nibbled on uni ceviche, froze our butts off to see Juanita the mummy, toured the Santa Catalina Monastery, and took a nap.

We ended the day at Zig Zag, which was recommended to us by the couple we'd sat next to at Chez Wong back in Lima:

The restaurant has two stories.  We were seated on the upper level:

While we were waiting at the bar for our table, CK ordered a glass of chicha morada (S/.6 or $2) to try:

Chichas are beverages typically found in South and Central America that are made from corn.  Chicha morada in particular is a Peruvian drink made from purple corn.  According to my coworker, chichas are traditionally made by women chewing corn and spitting it into water, which is then left to ferment.  Somehow I doubt the chicha we tried was made in that manner.  Zig Zag is a bit too fancy of an establishment for spit drinks.

Our meal started with some complimentary bread:

The bread itself wasn't too memorable:

But the herb butter?  Hot damn:

We saw beef hearts (S/.28 or around $9) on the menu and just couldn't resist:

I think we got a little sidetracked by the steaks that followed because we waited too long to get to the beef hearts.  By the time we remembered their existence, they had gotten cold and a tad overcooked on the hot stone.  What a shame.

The beef hearts came with a choice of side and a choice of veggie.  We elected the fries for our side:

And because we were feeling like fatties, we chose the fresh salad for our veggie:

All the entrees came with four types of dipping sauces.  Or more accurately, three sauces and one butter.  We quickly weeded out which ones were spicy and distributed them around the table accordingly.  It's no secret that I'm total weaksauce when it comes to spicy things, so the non-spicy options were place within easy reach for me.

Even though the sauces were good, I mostly saved them for the french fries.  When it comes to meat, I prefer it untainted.

Zig Zag is known for its steaks.  Alpaca steak in particular.  You can order your steaks in combos of three.  The "gourmet trilogy" comes with beef, alpaca, and the choice between lamb or duck.  We went with lamb:

The price depends on how big you want your steaks.  We got the 200g, which cost S/.54 or around $18 for the steaks, your choice of a side, and your choice of a veggie.  To mix things up, we went with the mashed yellow potatoes for our side.

You really only get two choices for the veggies.  It's either the fresh salad or the ratatouille.  We figured one salad was enough, so for both steak entrees, we got the ratatouille for our veggie:

The "classic trilogy" allows you to choose between pork or chicken to go with your beef and alpaca.  Chicken seemed like a waste of money, so we ordered the pork and picked the quinoa risotto as our side:

For the classic trilogy, we also decided to go with the 200g option, which cost S/.48 or around $16.

Here's a close up of the steaks with their cute little flags letting you know what you're eating:

I was expecting to be completely blown away by the alpaca, but though it was just wasn't very distinctive in flavor or texture.  Honestly, I wouldn't be able to tell the difference between beef and alpaca.  Out of all the steaks we had, I actually enjoyed the lamb the most.

The best thing in that entire meal was surprisingly the mashed potatoes, with the french fries coming in second.  That's kind of sad considering how steak was also on the table.

Would I try alpaca again?  Definitely.  Would I go back to Zig Zag?  Well...

Zig Zag is a good restaurant.  It is.  It's just a little on the pricey side, definitely geared toward tourists, and just a tad bit snobby.  Or maybe that was just our waitress.  She didn't seem happy when we didn't order one entree per person.  When she brought our food, she set down the platters hard enough that we all raised our eyebrows.

To sum everything up, while we enjoyed the food and had fun wearing the bibs, we just weren't all that impressed.  Sorry, Zig Zag.

Zig Zag
Calle Zela 210, Arequipa, Peru
+51 54 206020
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