WHERE AND WHAT TO EAT | CUSCO

When I started this blog, I was full with intentions to write not only about the places I see, but also about the food I eat, because I love to eat and as Julia Childs has said: “People who love to eat are always the best people”, hehe. But I was in for a disappointment, as our trip started in Argentina. Don’t get me wrong – many people flock to Argentina in hopes of big juicy steaks and wine. And that they have plenty. But I was not interested in juicy steaks and my interest in wine stopped abruptly with me getting very sick after having a gigantic glass of sweet dessert wine. Of course, later it turned out, I was sick for other reasons, but somehow I have never felt like drinking wine afterwards.

Why I did not desire all the delicious meat that seems to be the Argentine thing? Since the beginning of the year, I started slowly transitioning to a vegetarian lifestyle, and shortly after that, dipping my toes in veganism. For me it seems to be a slow process, and although I fully believe in all the goodness plant based lifestyle bring about, occasionally I relapsed back to eating meat – sometimes out of being polite and not wanting to bother people with my special needs, sometimes purely because it is hard to break the lifestyle I have had for all my life, with all my family being big meat eaters. So yeah, Argentina just wasn’t for me. This country just does not embrace the vegetarianism. It was a boring fare of bland pasta dishes, cheese empanadas, dreadful cheesy pizzas and sad salads consisting of tomatoes and onions. If you got lucky, maybe some salad leaves and few olives. I will admit, the food gets much better and more flavourful, as you move up North closer to Bolivia, possibly influenced by Andean cultures. Also, we have yet to travel South of Argentina, so I will keep my mind open and hope for a better fare. Admittedly, Carl enjoyed his time in Argentina eating roasted meats in abundance and never complained about anything.

Anyway, dispirited after Argentina and mostly sick throughout Bolivia, I deleted the FOOD tab in my blog, feeling that there is nothing to write about, as I just don’t seem to get any luck with food, but then we arrived in Cusco. I got better and fully committed myself to eating lots (and gaining weight too) and trying what there is to try. So I also decided to resurrect the FOOD tab and give credit to places that ensured I get a full belly and a great experience.

Disclaimer: by no means, this is a guide of all the best places to eat in Cusco. For that, I would have to be here for months with an unlimited budget. This is just a collection of the nicest places we ate at, keeping true to our traveling budget and something to throw out there for anyone who needs some place to start at with their food adventure.

For any fellow vegetarians/vegans out there – Cusco and Peru in general is a great country for all your green needs. There are vegetarian and even full vegan (and raw vegan) places all around. Note that we were staying in the historical centre, so I assume the amount of veggie friendly establishments might decrease as you venture in other areas of the city, but at the same time, it is easy to get veggie stuff in regular eating spots, it just might not be that creative. It seems that Peruvians like their greens though. In lots of places, the menus state that the regular dishes can be made vegetarian at a request, which is awesome.

My favourite place during our stay here was “Organika” – a relatively new spot with both vegetarian and regular food. What made it super special, were it’s owners and the fact that most of the stuff served in the restaurant is grown organic and locally – in their own farm in the Sacred Valley. Everything is washed in purified water, so no scare of getting any parasites or an upset tummy. The whole experience was very positive with the owners being very attentive, always checking if everything is ok with our food, eager to chat and the food was presented like at a high end restaurant. The prices certainly weren’t high end though, with everything ranging around 15 – 30 soles per dish.

Organika_Cusco 1

Delicious goats cheese salad, scattered with flowers

Organika_Cusco

Grains and veggies can sometimes be bland, but this quinoa certainly was far from it!

Another great veggie spot is “Green Point”. I went there on my own, as there is a limited amount of vegetarian food Carl can eat. They do only vegan stuff, including raw options. I did not take any photos as I was too busy munching away, but besides delicious mains and appetisers, they do gigantic smoothies and juices and you can preorder homemade yogurt to take away.

For all meat eaters out there, a great little spot to try some alpaca meat, or just delicious beef, if the thought of alpaca meat does not appeal to you, is “Seladonia’s Mesa”. It has great reviews of TripAdvisor and did not disappoint. It is a very small, family run establishment so expect a long waiting time and everything to be served by children, but food was worth the wait. This was a time when I chose meat and had one of the traditional dishes – Lomo Saltado – sort of a beef stir fry with roasted peppers, tomatoes, onions and herbs, accompanied by rice and potato chips. Since that first Lomo Saltado I had there, all the others I have tired, have never seemed that good.

We always have a burger in every country we visit, it might be like a tradition of ours. Of course, lately it is a vegetarian burger for me, which can be a bit of a hit and miss. “Fuego” is rumoured to be one of the best burger places in Cusco. My vegetarian burger there was a disappointment with a completely tasteless patty, but the coleslaw that came with it was great. Carl had some chicken dish, which he really enjoyed and despite the bad burger, it seemed a good place to eat with many options and really good service. Tip, get the onion rings to share – it is a massive portion and comes with two dipping sauces, we could not finish ours. They also have many interesting craft beers and few on the tap. The beers were quite expensive though.

For the times, when the traditional cuisine just does not do it, asian flavours save the day. Both of us are big fans for asian food, so it was a pleasant surprise to find that there are many places around Cusco, serving Chinese, Japanese, Korean and Thai. One of the best places was BOJOSAN – a japanese udon bar, specialising, well, in Japanese Udon noodles with a dashi soup. You can choose from beef, chicken, pork, shrimp or seaweed. I found it funny that the food was made by a french chef who has settled in Peru now. What a clash of different cultures. I also tried Japanese tea for the first time – a green tea with a hint of roasted rice, it was an interesting flavour experience. The soup came in a massive bowl and left us full and happy.

Bojosan Cusco

I did not take a picture until the bowl was half empty – it was massive

I should not forget the pizza time. I am not a big pizza fan myself, but Carl loves it, so there was a fair share of pizza places we visited. We always look out for a proper pizza oven and Kukuli’s certainly used theirs. It was a small unassuming place, but even I had to admit that pizza there was incredible, with a super thin base and tasty toppings. I chose the vegetarian version, of course, and I savoured every little bit. There are many options available, but you can tailor it to your individual needs.

Kukuly Cusco

My veggie goodness with crusty sides, cooked to perfection

For sandwich lovers, Pankracio is a great little spot serving massive sandwiches. They offer only three options – Lomo Saltado filling, Chicharron (crispy chicken) and a vegetarian one with lots of avocado, tomato slices, salty cheese and some basil. Those are not really sandwiches, but massive baps of crusty bread that will keep you full for hours and cost 12.50 soles each.

After all this food madness, it is no surprise that cravings for something sweet kick in. We both love crepes and always try to find some anywhere we are visiting. By an accident we stumbled upon Qucharitas – a tiny little place, serving all sorts of sweet stuff – filled pancakes, brownies, ice cream, milkshakes and coffee. We chose filled pancakes, of course, and were not disappointed. The place itself is colourful and serving staff are great and will recommend things to you, if you are confused by all the numerous options.

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Pancake with condensed milk and bananas – a firm favourite of mine

There were many other great places we had food at, but these were my favourites. If in doubt, TripAdvisor is a good place to look for some reviews, and even though Carl hates it, whenever I chose some spot, based on reviews, it did not dissapoint. As a rule of thumb, be careful of the many places, where the staff will stand on the street and try to suck you in, even walking after you, trying to convince you it is the best place in Cusco. It is all aimed at tourists and we stuck to the opinion, if the place serves good food, it should speak for itself, rather than trying to convince you to go in. In general, it proved to be true.

Don’t be scared to try out street food and dishes at local markets. They might not look fancy, but you might be rewarded with great new flavours. On this note, I cannot recommend something called choclo, enough. We bought them from a street vendor on our way down from visiting Cristo Blanco, and it some some sort of deep fried pastry made from Peruvian corn with added cheese.

Choclos

Happy corn munching face

Peru will certainly stay in my mind for all the great food I have had there and it will definitely take some time to shed the pounds I have gained, but it has been well worth it and I am sure I will try to recreate many dishes at home, maybe with an exception of the roasted guinea pig, they favour so much here. If you ever get yourself down there, forget the diets, forget the possibility of getting some travelling sickness, just enjoy!

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