I believe that one of the richest ways to experience a different culture is to try their food. Southern Peruvian food consists of a lot of potatoes; lentils, beans and/or rice; and meat (chicken and beef being the most common, followed by pork and on special occasions duck, turkey or “cuy” ie. guinea pig). Alpaca steak is also a delicacy although I think it’s more commonly served in tourist restaurants than at home. While ceviche (raw fish marinated with citrus juices, spiced with chilli peppers and often served with chopped onions and avocado) is probably Peru’s most famous dish, it’s not too commonly consumed in Cuzco since the city does not lie on the coast.
In my experience of food here so far, it is rare to be served a meal without potatoes. It makes sense once you find out just how many varieties of potato are grown in Peru – over 2000! Apparently there are more kinds of potato grown in Peru than in any other country in the world. Furthermore, the diversity when it comes to corn is also quite incredible – there are approximately 35 different kinds of corn cultivated here. The locals not only use corn to prepare various dishes, but they use it to make a drink called “chicha” (one can have this drink cold, warm, non-alcoholic or alcoholic). So far throughout my stay in Cuzco, I have been served warm “chich morada” made with purple corn several times for breakfast. Though it’s not something that I might crave or order at a café or restaurant, with every mug I’m getting more accustomed to the taste.
Additionally, in order to explore the culture of Peruvian food, I’ve been attending cooking classes at FairPlay (my Spanish school), which take place every Tuesday. They’re a lot of fun not only because you get to help prepare the ingredients, but because you get to see the whole process of how a dish is made and socialize with some of the Spanish teachers and students. The first week we made lomo saltado which is a dish that consists of sauteed slices of beef, onions, tomatoes and fries served on rice. The second week we made causa rellena which is a mashed potato cake with chicken, avocado and mayonnaise inside (and topped with sliced tomatoes and onions as well as black olives). Finally, at the last cooking class we made tallarin verde con ocopa which is a green pesto-like pasta served with a boiled potato, hard-boiled eggs and aji (chilli sauce). All of them were really good, but I think my favourite was lomo saltado because of the variety of ingredients involved and the “papas fritas” (thick French fries) which were fried to perfection.
Other observations: Products that are definitely not consumed here as much as in Vancouver are milk (the amount of milk consumed in Peru is approximately 55 litres per capita whereas the amount of milk consumed in Canada is approximately 94 litres per capita), drip or espresso coffee (most people drink instant powdered coffee) and whole or multigrain bread. Ice cream is very popular and cheap here which is great since I am a pretty big proponent of ice cream. Inca Kola tastes like yellow cream soda and is owned by Coca Cola but I think it is rarely sold outside of Peru (and perhaps Bolivia).