La Cocina Peruana: Arequipa

Our resident food critic and Honors Passport: Peru student Dennis Mitchell walks us through the tastes of Peru in a two-part series, ending in Arequipa.

Within our first two hours in Arequipa, I realized that it was everything Lima was not. Whereas Lima was big, hot, wet, and buzzing with car horns, Arequipa was cool, strangely quaint, despite being the second largest city in Peru, and rather dry. As much as I truly loved Arequipa as a city, the food didn’t measure up to Lima’s. Remember, of course, that this is an account of my personal experience, which only spanned two brief days. However, it was in Arequipa that I had perhaps my most adventurous meal, an experience worth sharing.

A meal of cuy chactado and choclo

The Restaurant: In the main square of Arequipa, there are several restaurants all around the plaza, many of which have dining areas on balconies overlooking the square. As I was looking for a place to eat with several other students, we were enticed into a restaurant named The Balcony by the promise of free drinks. The view was nice, and I personally found the food very good. We even had musicians come and perform in front of us. I must discourage you from going to this restaurant if you are ever in Arequipa, however, as all but two students, myself included, had stomach problems after eating here.

Choclo: Before we discuss that fried thing on my plate, I would like to draw your attention to the corn in the bowl. It is called choclo and is a very common side vegetable throughout Peru. It is very different than the kind of corn most people eat in the U.S. Firstly, it is not very sweet, and it tends to have a more neutral flavor. It is often used in soups or covered in cheese, though most frequently it is served plain. This corn won’t make or break your meal. The kernels are much larger than you might be used to, and inside they are very moist. This corn stands in complete contrast with pretty much everything else on the plate.

Cuy Chactado: At long last, I will answer your burning question: what is that huge, fried piece of meat on your plate? Well it’s cuy, or in English, guinea pig. Yes, that’s right. In Peru, the beloved guinea pig is a delicacy, one that I couldn’t leave the country without trying. First and foremost, it is safe. The two people who ate cuy at the balcony were the only two people who did not get sick. It tastes sort of like chicken, though to me it also tasted like rabbit as well. When it is cooked, it is usually fried whole hog, with its head and limbs still discernible. It is bony and you have to struggle a bit to actually get at the meat. It’s a little sad when you’re done because nothing is left but bones and the head. The cuy just kind of looked at me in the end and asked “Why!?” Overall, whether you want to eat cuy is up to you, but I recommend at least trying it. I know I will never forget my cuy experience.

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