A Visit to Minka Market and a Cooking Class in Lima, Peru

I think we’ve made it clear that we love food and in fact a great part of our little travel experiment revolves around immersing ourselves in local culture and we believe trying local foods is an essential part of the “inmersion” process. Experiencing a culture is definitely enhanced by partaking in the local food, but in all honesty the food in most countries we have visited (outside of Mexico’s wonderful food) has been disappointing. With a few exemptions such as; the fruits in all countries (remember our mystery giant in Mexico), pupusas in El Salvador, a few dishes in Colombia (mainly the Bandeja Paisa) and perhaps the wonderful pork hornado in Ecuador. Food in most countries we have visited has been good, but simple in flavors and lacking in creativity, this is not necessarily a bad thing, but you catch my drift.

The boring food ends with our drive into Peru, a food lovers paradise. There will definitely be multiple food posts while in Peru. We love Peruvian food. The “local” food has influences from all over the globe and the original local dishes are delicious and most are elegantly simple yet complex in flavors. I would say the main draw back is the heavy handed use of mayonnaise, but I happen to like mayo especially if it is homemade.

As some of you may remember I like to take cooking classes whenever possible (such as our amazing Oaxaca experience), so following our tradition I decided to try a cooking class. Lucky for us the owners of the B&B we are staying at (PeruRoadtrip.com) in Lima are friends with Danilo, a great cook, and voila an impromptu tour of the local market and all day cooking class followed by an insane feast of food.

We have been to many markets during our travels and we love them all, they have a lot of character and they are a great way to learn a lot about locals, their food and culture. The visit to Minka market in Lima was extraordinary due to the variety and quality of foods and the sheer size of the place. If you want an item you will most probably find it here, you name it they will have it.

You can buy 1 or a thousand plates

An interesting thing about Minka is that you could think of it as a wholesale type store such as Costco, but they sell you as little or as much of an item as you want. If you desire paprika you can get as little as a thimble or a gallon size bucket. No predetermined package sizes here.

You truly can find anything you like, as little or as much as you like.

I love the bulk bags, don’t ask me why…

Olives are very popular in Peru. They have a great mayonnaise based black olive sauce that is great. The black olives are very similar to kalamata.

There is also a lot of prepped goods, nice and fresh

Please take a minute to look at the photos of the amazing selection of truly high quality, fresh fruits and veggies. Fruits you don’t really see imported into the U.S., dozens of different potato varieties just a wonderful place for anyone who loves food

Of course for a true omnivore who leans towards mostly carnivore a wonderful meat section as well:

One thing I had never encountered (or at least never noticed) is the use of hens in some cuisines. Hen in this case meaning a mature chicken… in case you do not know: when you buy a chicken in the supermarket in the U.S. it is usually a very young bird. Here they sell old laying hens, some people we have spoken to here in Peru say the older birds though tougher are much tastier. We’ve had a couple of hen dishes, hen soup and hen salad and I must say they are indeed much better than their chicken counterparts. Check out a laying hen hanging at the butcher (warning: could bother some)

Yep, a little gruesome for some but to me it looks like great food waiting to happen.

For Lunch at the market we stopped at the everything is fried place and washed it down with a lightly fermented corn drink

We called this the fried everything stand. We ordered a mix of fried green plantains, fried sweet potato chips, fried corn (like corn nuts) and some fried squid or calamari all smothered in an extremely tasty hot sauce... it was absolutely delicious!

The very unfriendly looking vendor and her tasty fermented and non refrigerated corn drink, quite good believe it or not.

After a wonderful visit to the Minka market it we hit the kitchen and got our hands dirty so to speak. The menu as follows (I appologize for the photos… they do not look tasty, but they are):

Causa de cangrejo (causa of crab meat), basically a three layer dish top and bottom layer are made from a mashed yellow grainy potato and the filling is crab meat with very little mayo, spices and lime.

Danilo also made a wonderful “Causa Tekka” sort of a take on Tekka Maki or a roll of mashed potato and crab, awesome

Danilo making a Causa Tekka

The wonderful Tekka Causa

Papas a la Huancaina (Lit. Huancayo potatoes). Normally this dish consists of slices of waxy potato topped with Huancaina sauce, but since we were making mashed potatoes for the Causa we opted to make a non-traditional dish with a very traditional sauce. The Huancaina sauce is made with queso fresco (a plain farmers cheese), olive oil, aji amarillo (yellow mildly spicy Peruvian pepper which is actually orange), evaporated milk blended with saltines.

Cebiche de Ojo de Uva (Cebiche of (lit) grape eye fish). Lets talk about cebiche for a spell, this is probably the most famous dish from Peru (at least in my mind) and there is some debate as to wether it should be spelled with a “v” or a “b” my iPhone autocorrects with a v… everyone I ask here in Peru seems to think either is fine, so I may use both just cause I can. Ceviche has 4 ingredients and requires no heat, it is fish “cooked” in the acid of lime juice, a little spice from a pepper, and the flavor and crunch of thin slices of red onion. Cebiche is so simple and delicious I am surprised we did not eat it in California after catching some halibut and maybe even ling cod.

Ojo de Uva ceviche, amazing (even if it does not look that tasty in this image)

Tiradito de Ojo de Uva: sort of a sashimi with a sauce made with cebiche juice and a blended aji amarillo, the sauce is added last minute so the acid really does not cook the fish much.

Sashimi of Ojo de Uva!

Add the proper sauce to the sashimi and you have a tiradito.... hmmmm, tasty :)

Lomo Saltado (beef stir fried with tomato, onions, and french fries) Considered a very traditional national dish although it has an obvious Asian influence. The addition of the french fries are in the actual stir fry, not as a side and it is delicious.

The obviously Asian inspired "Lomo Saltado"

Our wonderful spread:

Danilo, our great instructor and the spread he cooked for us

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The Great Wall of Peru, The Ruins of Kuelap

Our original plan was a 4 day hike/horseback ride to the pre-Inca ruins of Kuelap, but 2 days into the hike I (Luis) had a slight mishap  involving my ankle (read about it and the hike here). So I made it to Kuelap by Mercedes Sprinter and Lacey arrived on foot :).

We had never heard of Kuelap before we started planning our trip to Peru, but once we started looking into we realized it is  a very special place. Some go as far as comparing it to Machu Picchu. We will reserve judgement, but I must say it is an impressive place.

Let’s share some background on the place, the educational aspect of Lost World Expedition if you will. Lacey briefly spoke of the Chachapoyas on the last post, so we know they were a pre-Inca civilization that thrived in Northern Peru. Sadly the Chachapoyas were conquered by the Inca Empire around 1475AD not long before the Spanish Conquistadores came to Peru, which means a lot of their history is lost. All we know of them comes from their conquerors the Inca and the Conquistadores so I am sure there is a little bias…

As far as fortresses go Kuelap is impressive, it was built at approximately 9,800 feet above sea level on a ridge overlooking the Utcubamba Valley. The stone walls of the fortress are 60 feet in height and at its widest the fortress is about 360 feet. The entrances that remain are very narrow and provide very easy means to regulate entry to the fortress. If this place was indeed conquered there must have been a very long siege.

Kuelap, a view from the opposite ridge. Most of the ridge you can see here are what is left of Kuelap

Lacey leaning on the tiny wall of Kuelap

Kuelap Exterior Wall Panoramic shot, hard to show how large it is

Within the fortress there are as many as 400 dwellings(?) of cylindrical shape, sadly only the bases of the structures remain; however, one structure was rebuilt in order to give visitors an idea of what the “houses” looked like.

A typical structure from Kuelap restored. We were told that there is some debate as to the actual degree of slope o the roof

A Kuelap cylindrical home or what is left of it

A cluster of homes on the edge of one of the entrances to Kuelap

One thing both Lacey and I found quite fascinating was a small structure that remains inside most of the cylindrical houses at Kuelap.  In order to save myself and the reader a very bad description, see the photo below. We asked our guide and he informed us that these were “cuyeras” or cuy (guinea pig) housing.  It seems to make sense to have fresh food at all times, to grow your own cuy inside the house and feed them all your scraps just like we saw in a current rural abode (on last post).

I must say we were thoroughly impressed by Kuelap. The location, the size of the walls, the views from the top it is all beautiful and seems very well thought out.  It has been a while since we visited ruins so we came with a fresh disposition (unlike our 10th ruin visit in Mexico). Kuelap seems a lot more pragmatic than the giant ruins of pyramids we saw in Mexico and Guatemala. Why? Because it is a more usable place. There is very little space used for anything other than homes and gathering places, and it is a very easy place to defend which meant a lot then. Pyramids although beautiful, seem like a waste of manpower to build. The Chachapoyas built a big fort and a ton of houses… “simple” and to the point. They did take the time to choose a beautiful spot to build and decorated with some neat images and architecture :)

 

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Guest post: “Time is Honey” or “How Much Time do I Need to Drive the PanAmerican”

This post was written by our friends Brianna and Logan of PanamNotes.com. The post is part of our series of guest posts by fellow overlanders and travelers. Enjoy.

“25,000 miles . . . That’s not so far, certainly we could make it to Ushuaia in five months, nine months at a leisurely pace.” This is what we told ourselves back home, staring at the maps laid out on the kitchen table. Maps should have a warning like side view mirrors, this country is larger than it appears.

The PanAmNotes Rig doing its thing

Realizing this didn’t take long.  We spent hours ogling the trip reports of past PanAm journeys. We craved the surf in central America, offroading in Bolivia, and mountain climbing in Peru. We recognized the necessity of driving to a place, rather than through it. Before even shifting the truck out of park we decided nine months wasn’t going to cut it. We were still in the process of saving money and dug deeper shooting for 12 months.
We hit Mexico at our planned 12 month pace. Driving aggressively, averaging too many hours in the truck each day, we watched the country fly past. We spent over a month in Mexico and while we look back fondly on it, we know we missed damn near all of it with our exhaustive schedule.  After Mexico, we seemed to downshift a little bit more with each country, lingering longer, absorbing more, and living better.

Brianna "downshifting" to the proper speed

We maxed out our three month visas in Peru and had to admit it was a major part of the reason this country topped the list of our favorites. Peru had become familiar, a culture we could grasp, foreign not at all.  It was here we made yet another extension to the journey. The logistics behind the decision were still forthcoming.  Financially we were in the same spot as our previous January end date.  We didn’t have the money but we had a plan.  Living slowly makes life more affordable. Rather than arriving in town after an eight hour drive and embarking upon the executive two day see-it-all affair, you can spend a week or two wandering around soaking it all in. With less driving the gas costs diminish and the need for luxury and convenience become unnecessary.

We have found a happy middle ground in between the overstuffed tour bus takers and the long term apartment leasers (SprinterLife we’re looking at you). We stick around long enough to meet folks, hear the local gossip, and engage in arguments over the best brand of mate (without a doubt, it’s Amanda).

There seems to be a growing popularity of speedy efficiency among travelers, especially Americans. If I have a week I can see a country, if I have a month I can see a continent, if I have three months, I can see the world!

Driving the PanAm is a malleable journey, it can be whatever you want it to be. Whether you’re seeking immersion, volunteering to better other lives, or just looking for a period of introspective extroversion, there’s just nothing fast about it.

Logan peak baggin'

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Driving to Chachapoyas

Looking at a map, it is easy to understand that Peru is a very large country. However, it wasn’t until we started our drive to Chachapoyas that we really got a full understanding of just how large it is. Our route on the map takes up only a very small portion of the country, but the drive took us about 10 hours. It was a good lesson to learn in our first Peru travels: drives are long, so start early and pack lots of snacks and water. Unfortunately, as our famous early starts aren’t usually all that early, it is going to take some time to get used to. This drive we did actually manage to get an early-ish start at around 7. The first part of the drive before the mountains was not all that scenic, but interesting. The area is insanely dry and the landscape is pretty much dirt and a few trees scattered about. Definitely a harsh climate to live in and an area that puts survival into a whole new context.

On days that we spend more than a few hours in the car, we usually end up grumpy and on a mission to get where we are going. For some reason, maybe the beautiful scenery or maybe just the fact that we knew it was going to be a long drive and had prepared for it, we actually took our time and enjoyed the drive. We even stopped after a few hours on the road and made some coffee having missed our morning caffeine intake in an effort to get started early.

Once we hit the mountains, the landscape turned a lot more scenic, with lush green mountains covered in clouds in all directions. There is something about the Andes, with the exceptionally high peaks dropping into steep narrow valleys that make you feel how small we truly are. We saw lots of goats scattered all over the hillsides as we wound our way around the hairpin turns. We even saw this little guy (picture below), giving a new meaning to the joke: “why did the tarantula cross the road.” It is hard to tell in the picture just how big he is, but the fact that we were able to spot him crossing the road as we were driving might give some indication.

The road is dotted with memorials along the roadside every 500 meters or so as a testament to all those who have come before and a good reminder to drive safe and keep your eyes on the road. These are the type of roads that always make us especially appreciative to be in our own vehicle. It is scary enough without having to put your life into the hands of some maniac bus driver that goes barreling around the corners, while looking at the steep hillside as it drops off the road so far below.

Almost every big truck we passed had a biker hanging on the back. Smart bike riders, we wouldn't want to have to peddle up these hills either.

After what seemed like hours, oh yeah it was, we finally dropped out of the mountains into the Amazon region, and what a change in both temperature and landscape! It is hard to explain the difference in the greenness and vegetation between the lush mountains and the even lusher tropical region. Here, the hills are more rolling and even greener if that makes any sense. All of the trees and cliffs have vines growing all over, and the valleys are terraced and full of growing rice. The air is thicker and more humid and the temperature warmer.

After a while we climbed back out of the topical area into more mountains although not quite as high this time. By the time we arrived in Chachapoyas we had come to a happy medium. Nestled in the mountains, it is high enough to be out of the hot humidity of the lower tropical region, but not high enough to reach the coldness of the high andes. As it was New Year’s Eve, we made it just in time to stroll the plaza enjoying all the families and kids letting off fireworks. Our nightcap for the evening was watching a very drunk Peruvian who pulled up to the plaza right at midnight with his girlfriend. He proceeded to get out of his truck with the radio blasting the Bee Gees, light an incredibly long roman candle (it had to be at least 4 feet long) and do a strip dance (he managed to keep his clothes on, but you get the idea:) ) while shooting colored lights into the sky. Unfortunately we had forgotten our camera at the hotel when we had gone out (I know bad travelers), but you get the picture. We couldn’t help cracking up while enjoying the show and toasting to midnight. Any new year that starts with this much comic relief is bound to be a good one! In true Lost World Expedition style, we are a bit late with this post, but we want to wish everybody a Happy and Blessed New Year.

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Monkey Sanctuary in Ecuador

While visiting Baños we heard of a monkey sanctuary in the nearby town of Puyo. Now there is something you should know about Luis; he loves monkeys. He has always wanted a pet monkey, so monkey sanctuary is a must visit for us.

The sanctuary is actually in the outskirts of Puyo, and as it turns out there is other rehabilitating wildlife there not just monkeys. The sanctuary consists of a few acres of fenced in property where most monkeys can roam freely. There are a few very large cages for some of the monkeys that are less socialized and more likely to hurt human visitors or other monkeys. The place is run by Fundacion los Monos, Selva y Vida and they keep funded by donations and from the entrance fees to the sanctuary. There are several volunteers from all nationalities living in the premises, which is kinda cool until you find out there are very few spots on the premises (including the house) that don’t have monkey dung and urine.

The place is awesome! Most of the monkeys are curious and super friendly. In fact Lacey had a female cling on to her for most of our tour of the facility and the only way to get her off was offering her food.

Lacey's adopted "daughter" Paola, she loved Lacey!

Sweet Paola

We opted to do the self guided tour of the facility and whilst walking by a creek we picked up another friend! A river otter that fancied itself a puppy dog. As soon as the otter saw us he swam to shore, ran up to us and started “barking” non-stop and rubbing up on our feet. It was awesome! He followed us for most of the walk around the place “barking” most of the way. Due to his incessant barking and true to our cheesy nature we named the otter Sir Barks a Lot (I know we are cheesemeisters).

Our faithful wanna be canine companion: Sir Barks a Lot

Sir Barks a Lot rubbing up on Luis' foot

A stroll through the woods with a monkey and a river otter from Lost World Expedition on Vimeo.

 

It was a great experience. We were visited by all the different monkeys at the sanctuary and Luis even had a Coatimundi and a spider monkey jump on his lap. Amazing day! Enjoy the photos

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