Grabbed one of these snacks on the side of the street this afternoon, in Baños. It's fairly simple — a deep-fried banana, with a slit cut down the middle, and some highland cheese stuffed inside — but it tastes great. You really can do anything with bananas — batter them, fry them, boil them, bake them, grill them, or whatever else — and they're still sensational pieces of fruit. Recommended if you're ever somewhere in Ecuador, and craving something light yet filling for an afternoon feed.
Last time that I tried Peru's famous ceviche (raw fish / raw seafood) cuisine, I wasn't too hot on it. But clearly, I just didn't go to the right place for it. Punto Azul, a restaurant in Miraflores, does some amazing ceviche. Went there for lunch today, in a big group, and we had one hell of a feed. Had some of the traditional ceviche dishes (i.e. fish and seafood soaked in lemon juice), as well as some with a more spicy sauce, and some that came in a big risotto. I'm totally converted.
Had the Casa de Arena all-you-can-eat chook-and-salad plus all-you-can-drink Pisco Sour / Cuba Libre deal tonight, for the second night in a row. It's a pretty good deal: great food, lots of it, plenty to drink, great crowd, and a low price tag. But there's only so much of that you can handle. Feeling really full-up right now, and I have a feeling that I'll stay full for a while. Might need to take a break from the barbeque tomorrow night, and find a regular just-whats-on-the-plate kind of restaurant.
I tried some of these delicious gourmet Ica chocolates on this morning's wine and pisco tour. They were so good, I just had to buy some! Got a few gift packages, to send home — to whom, I'm not yet sure. But boy, do they melt in your mouth. Clearly, Ica is the place to go, if you want all things nice and tasty from Peru.
Went on a little morning tour today — briefly leaving our oasis paradise of Huacachina — to some of Ica's famous wineries and pisco-making places, as well as to the city's much-adored chocolate factory. Can't really say we left paradise, because it was a pretty daym pleasant tour we had: it's a hard life when you have to spend all morning sampling gourmet chocolates, rich red wines, and perfectly-distilled piscos.
Myself, Chris, and a Norweigian couple got driven off in a private car — with our own driver — from Casa de Arena to start the tour. First stop was the "Helena" chocolate factory, where we saw the delicious cacao delights being made in the factory window, and where we had a chance to go into the very quaint old shop at the front, and where I made a purchase or two. They have a cash register there that's over 100 years old!
Who can take a rainbow, wrap it in a sigh, soak it in the sun and make a strawberry lemon pie? The candy man... the candy man can!
That cash register must be worth more than the money inside it.
Then we went to two different places where they make wine and pisco: one place that makes more of the dark red wine and the mixed-grape pisco, which is less traditional, but which sells better on the export market; and another place that specialises in traditional Ica wine (not so dark, more sweet), and in pisco puro (pure distilled pisco — pretty similar to vodka or to tequila). We got taken around, and shown various aspects of the distillation process for these alcoholic beverages — it's all fairly advanced here, since Ica makes the best (and, as far as I know, the only decent) wine and pisco in Peru.
Big golden vats for processing the pisco.
Lots of storage barrels.
Chris and I prefer the big barrels.
Traditional storage containers for the pisco, used since Inca times.
This is where they press-a the grapes (takes 10 people over 12 hours to press them, constantly stamping all over this pit). Just don't you a-press on-a my wife!
Once we were done with all the obligatory tour-of-the-winery stuff, it was on to the real deal: wine and pisco tasting! Had some great samplings of fine dark red wines, sweet red wines, fruity white wines, lethal pisco puros, refreshing mixed-grape piscos, nice semi-prepared Pisco Sour mixes, and even a bit of creamy Bailey's-like pisco. Not bad, for one morning! As Chris said, at least it cured the hangover from the night before :P. I also decided to purchase one of the bottles of semi-prepared Pisco Sour — might send it back home as a souvenir.
Nice white wine of Ica.
Shot of creamy Pisco.
Bottles of Pisco.
There's me, being a knobhead with a bottle of Pisco.
Great tour, and very tasty beverages that we sampled. Also made our subsequent restaurant-quality hamburger lunch all the more palatable. Oh, what a hard day it's been!
There's a great restaurant in Arequipa, called Zig Zag (in Calle Zela, near the monastery), that's famous for doing ostrich steak. It's not cheap, but if you're up for a delicious and carnivorous meal, then it's more than worth it. Beautifully grilled, and served with salad, and chips / baked potato (plus about five different sauces). This was my first time having ostrich: it has quite a strong and tangy taste; but the meat is tender and delicious. Great feed.
Gopal is a little café in Arequipa, on the corner of calles Melgar and Jerusalén, that does vegetarian and other healthy cuisine. Went there for breakfast this morning, and had the most amazing desayuno ever! An absolutely massive bowl of muesli, fresh chopped-up fruits (banana, papaya, kiwifruit, strawberry, apple, and others), and lovely cool yoghurt. Served with tea/coffee, fresh orange juice, and whole wheat bread. Really kicks you off for the day, and tastes delicious.
After our group was done seeing the condors at Cruz Del Condor this morning, our bus continued on to the town of Chivay, where we treated ourselves to a divine visit at the hot springs there. Unlike the so-called hot springs at the oasis (in the Cañon del Colca itself), these springs really are hot. Proper thermal temperature of about 40°C. And really nicely done, too, with the water fed into very clean, tiled swimming pools, and with lockers and hot showers as well. Just what we needed, to soothe those aching muscles, after a demanding three-day hike.
When we arrived in Sunny Days hostel this evening, Chris and I decided to immediately take advantage of the great kitchen on offer there, and to cook something up for dinner. Somehow, when we actually started cooking, I ended up being in charge of it. We ended up with a weird kind of risotto slash omelette slash stir-fry thing, of fried rice, fried chicken, fried egg, and fried carrot and onion. All fried together. Looked like prison food. Smelled a bit burnt. But tasted good: at least, I thought so! Anyway, we're still in Chile, so at least the ingredients didn't give me food poisoning.
Bolivia is an amazing country; but sadly, this is despite its culinary offerings. Fortunately, there are plenty of exotic gringo restaurants in La Paz, offering many of the fine foods that we crave from back home, and that give us a break from the positively ordinary local food of Bolivia. Last Thursday night, I dined on some delicious Beef Vindaloo at the Star of India restaurant. And today, I had some great Red Curry Thai Chicken at Maphro On.