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Archive for the ‘Food’ Category

The Magic of Peruvian Pastries

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Well, I’ve got a new Peruvian pastry to add to my list. El Turrón.  It’s a special pastry that’s made during the month of October to celebrate “el mes morado” or the purple month, which celebrates El Senor de Los Milagros. For more info, click here. It’s really a holiday celebrated in Lima, but they also celebrate it here in Cusco a little. I’ve seen at least a dozen little old ladies wearing purple dresses with a white rope tied around their waist. But back to El Turrón.  It’s a flaky, buttery, layered pastry. The top is coated with a delicious honey mixture. There are also little candies on top which remind me of dot candy.  This is followed by more of the honey mixture in between every layer.

I ate my 1st turrón today at the bakery by the post office on Avenida el Sol. It cost me s/. 1.50. A little steep for my liking, but hey, it’s a special holiday treat! So I indulged. I stood eating it at the nearby bus stop, pieces crumbling onto the sidewalk with every bite. I was thankful to be outside. Once on the bus, I took to licking the manjar blanco off the inside of the bag. There go my manners. It was sweet and delicious, just perfect for my mid- morning hunger pangs. A little on the dry side, but I attribute that more to the high altitude than the recipe. I bet they’re better in Lima.

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Good, but not as good as my all time favorite Peruvian pasty, the alfajor. Yum. This treat is made with manjar blanco, which is like caramel but less sticky. The manjar blanco is situated between 2 delicious, powdery cookies and topped with confectioner’s sugar. They come in all sizes, little tiny ones the size of half dollars, medium ones, and large ones. I like the medium ones best. Okay, sometimes the large. They’re pretty good in Cusco, but when I went to Lima last July, I had an alfajor awakening. I’d heard that alfajores were better in Lima, so the first morning Atreyhus and I were in his hometown, Callao, I had him take me to the closest panaderia and I bought one.  It was a delicious explosion of moist cookie and rich, creamy manjar blanco. It made the Cusco version seem stale (again, it’s the altitude- not the bakers). I quickly came to the conclusion that if I lived in Lima, I’d weigh 200 pounds.

Another notable pastry, the churro, is high on my list. Sweet, fried dough. Mmmmm. I have yet to try it’s cousin, the picaron (deep fried dough made from sweet potato) but you can bet I will some day soon!

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Yesterday my boss and I went to a new restaurant in Cusco, called Sara. My friend was a marketing director for a short time there, so he did everything but give us his first born to have us go try it out, and hopefully recommend it to the volunteers, or have some events there. (He didn’t seem to get the fact that our NGO has a very tight budget being that it’s NOT FOR PROFIT and we spend most of our money on community projects, but that’s beside the point.) I got a free lunch out of it.

Sara is very pretty from the outside. It’s very clean and polished, with it’s white building front, glass doors, and sleek black writing that says Sara, Organic Food Café. The inside décor is surprisingly cozy, with earth- toned walls and carpeting, couches, and funky glass tables and chairs. It’s also rather big. My boss and I walked to the back of the restaurant and chose a table with 2 couch chairs. As I sat down, my mouth watered for a glass of wine as this place exudes a relax-and-have-a-wine-or-coffee ambiance.  The only thing it was missing was a fireplace.

The menu, though sparse, seemed promising. It had sandwiches like a traditional Peruvian “bistek” sandwich that comes with steak, fried egg, and fried plantains. There was also a grilled veggie sandwich that sounded delicious- I pictured veggies grilled to perfection with a nice dressing and crusty ciabatta bread. The trout salad sounded interesting, too. That’s what I ordered. My boss got the grilled veggie sandwich, and we each got a limonada to top it off.

After a few minutes (service was very prompt- though there were only 2 other tables occupied) we got our limonadas. They were surprisingly cold (yay!) and flavorful. They didn’t skimp on the lime and it had just enough sugar to make sure the lime wasn’t too sour.  Unfotunately, the perfection ended there. My salad arrived. A big bowl with lettuce, some onion and tomato, a few slices of apple, and a couple of small chunks of trout. No dressing. Not even a little twist of lime. By the time I was done, I was still hungry and felt like I was on some sort of bland diet. My boss’s sandwich was hardly more promising. It came on white bread with the crusts cut off. Are we in pre-school here? There was a small side salad and some potato chips. The veggies on the bread were tasty, definitely more flavorful than my salad, but it was closer to a jazzed-up Lunchable than an upscale café lunch (both the salad and sandwich were about 15 soles, which is a lot considering you can get a delightful vegetarian meal* (salad bar, soup, and main course) for 6 soles right next door at a place called El Encuentro). The businesses administrator sat down with us before hand and explained a bit about the restaurant and some specials (a sandwich and drink for 9 soles) but everything he said sounded like it was based on air. Like he was attempting to convince us that a rusty, metal statue was made of gold.

I fear Sara is a sign of things to come. Too many over-priced, dull restaurants geared at tourists have been popping up near the main square. Not only are they superficial and unimaginative, but they take away from the culture of Cusco. Some day, the Plaza de Armas in Cusco may become as plastic and superficial as Times Square!! Cusco needs more places like El Encuentro, where the food’s cheap, clean, and delicious and where Peruvians, and foreigners with a tight budget like me, can actually afford to eat!

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