My final meal in Cusco will always be a precious memory for me, firstly because the whole family came together to converse, laugh and enjoy, and secondly because it was a veritable orgy of pork products and other delights. The Quinta Eulalia is a traditional eatery dating back to the 1930’s, housed in an old casona on Choquechaka. Cusqueños feel a deep affection for its sunlit patio and cavernous upstairs dining room…and for the lechón and chicharrón that could make a grown woman weep. In the best tradition of family dinners, we ordered basically everything on the menu and shared: lechón, of course, chicharrón, lengua atomatada, asado de cordero, chairo…a banquet of interesting meat preparations. For those of you who don’t speak meat fluently, lechón is slow roasted pork (like the whole pig on a spit kind of pork) with a crispy and delicious skin, lengua atomatada is beef tongue in a tomato and onion sauce, asado de cordero is grilled lamb and chairo is a indescribably good soup made with everything you never thought you would enjoy: tripe, kidney, all that good stuff.
I can literally see people recoiling from the thought right now, but I assure you that if you try it you will not be disappointed. Tongue, for example, is one of those things that I was completely unconvinced about until a few years ago. I couldn’t fathom any reason to try it-I mean, we have tongues too! But then one day I fell victim to pride and couldn’t be that coward that didn’t want to eat tacos de lengua…thank goodness, because tongue is a unbelievably tender meat that absorbs the flavor of whatever you put on it and offers it back with immense richness. The lengua atomatada was perfectly cooked to fork tenderness and served with truly ecstatic mashed potatoes (I mean I was truly ecstatic when I ate them, the potatoes themselves were pretty calm).
It was a beautiful afternoon meal with the best company. We laughed and goofed around in the mellow winter sun and I was hit with the beginnings of parting melancholy. When I got to Peru I really had no idea what I was doing or how I was going to manage it, but I found the most incredible people with whom to be creative, to learn, and to share the beauty of daily life. I think all my travel is in search of people who want to be thoroughly present in their lives, who are complicated and difficult but who do their best to live gracefully despite everything. I found myself in an environment that is very different from my life in the US, but I found myself feeling at home on a fundamental level of my nature, more than in my own house in some ways. Though I had never thought to love living with a big family surrounding me at all times, the constant presence of loving people was wonderful. I mean, of course there were times that I begged the air for silence and peace (more likely because of the neighbor with the hammer, to be honest) or needed to get out of the house on my own for a bit, which is critical even with only a couple people here at home. I love the casual and affectionate sharing of space, the way you just have make things work as smoothly as you can. It becomes necessary to learn to not take your temper out on everyone within easy reach, which translates to a certain self awareness in your other interactions. I am profoundly happy to have found such people in Peru and shared wonderful adventures with them.