On Saturdays in the Plaza Tupac Amaru in Cuzco, Peru, the municipality organizes a Feria Gastronómica, or open air food festival. Something like 35 different vendors participate, all making the food fresh to order right there in the plaza. It is all comida típica: regional, home cooked style dishes prepared by women who call you, “linda” and “mamita” as if they were your aunts. Needless to say, we were the only tourists there and as such were regarded as a bit of an oddity as we wandered around asking questions and eating a bite here and a bite there. Everyone was pleasant and patient and willing to let us look and even taste things before sitting down to eat at the long tables each stall provided (complete with silverware, flowered tablecloths and condiments).
After doing the full tour, we decided on a couple of must try items with chicharron de calamares (fried calamari) first on the list. The calamares were tender and the batter was light and crisp. With some salsa criolla, fresh lime juice and a little ají they started the day off on a delicious note. We washed the chicharron down with some chicha morada, a refreshing purple drink made from boiling dark purple corn with spices and citrus, from one of the five or six ladies selling homemade drinks.
Our next stop after refilling our cups with chicha morada and chicha de quinoa (a white, almost malty version of the drink made with the Andean grain quinoa) was at a stand selling anticuchos, or kebabs. We shared an anticucho de puro corazón, or beef heart, the most popular and traditional. Fresh off the grill and topped with a crisp grilled potato, the meat was rich and well spiced and very tender. The ají provided to drizzle on top was a salty and mild green version that was somewhat unnecessary because the meat had such intense, delicious flavor. I would have preferred a spicier sauce in general, but it turned out to be perfect on the potato.
We couldn’t leave without trying the piece de resistance: trucha a la parrilla con escabeche de verduras, choclo hervido y papa fria, or grilled trout with pickled vegetables, steamed white corn and cold potatoes. I’m literally delighted at the prospect of eating this again…and trying the fried version. The escabeche is refreshing and tart, the corn is sweet and plump (I love it covered in salt, lime and chili…ají). The fresh trout is crisp and perfectly seasoned with an adobo-like blend of spices.
I’ll leave you with that until I go again.