Monday, September 20, 2010

If I wouldn't gain weight, I'd eat this every day

I couldn’t tell you how to find the place with the best anticuchos and rocoto relleno in Cusco, other than that it is on Calle Belen. Beyond that I can only say have a local take you to this absolute hole in the wall, this shanty of deliciousness. I don’t even know if it has a name…I think it does, but remembering the name is completely irrelevant compared to remembering the tastes. The anticucho (de puro corazon of course) was so tender and perfectly seasoned that it immediately erased and replaced the memory of every other anticucho I’d eaten. My friend and I had been at another spot eating the same thing two nights before, but she told me as we waited that this was going to be so much better I wouldn’t believe it. I thought she was exaggerating wildly, but then I took the first bite. Top it off with copious amounts of the amazing aji they provide, a peanut based version that is creamy, spicy and nutty without tasting anything like peanut butter or peanut sauce. It is the closest thing to mole that I found in Peru, and is dangerously habit forming. When you’ve devoured the anticucho, you end up slathering that aji all over the grilled potatoes served as a side…and after that you want to lick the inside of the bowl, but please restrain yourself and order more food if you’re desperate.
Then there are the rocotos rellenos al estilo Cusqueño, or stuffed with ground beef, carrots, peas and a medley of spices that includes cinnamon, battered and deep fried to crispy golden perfection. You might be thinking that a deep fried chili pepper is a deep fried chili pepper: its going to be tasty no matter what. You’d be right, in principle. But these rocotos at this particular smoky, dank hole in the wall are spectacularly good. The seasoning of the meat filling is savory and juicy with a hint of sweet spices that give it depth, instead of the identity confusion of other rocotos I have tasted that think they are dessert. The batter is fluffy and sort of bread like under the golden top layer and balances the spice of the pepper itself. A bite of the whole combination is enough to make my eyes roll back in my head a little. I know Arequipeños are very proud of their style of rocoto (not deep fried and covered in melted cheese), and I know deep frying is not particularly healthy, but this may be the preeminent stuffed pepper in the world (including chiles rellenos in all the many Mexican styles). Yeah, I went there.

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