Cooking in Cusco

We had an opportunity to cook a few of the popular and traditional dishes of the Andean region.  Through our hotel, Encantada, we booked a lunchtime cooking class for two for $100 (before tip, but this did include the lessons and the food).  The restaurant is A Mi Manera, and it’s worth a visit even if you don’t take the cooking class.

We started out in the bar and we were provided with two menus.  We thought we would have to choose one, but they had each of us pick the one we wanted to do, so we did it all!  Here’s what the lineup looked like:

Drinks: Chicha Morada (Kristin), Pisco Sour (Ryan)
Starter: Quinoa Atamalada con Arroz (Kristin), Cebiche (Ryan)
Main: Rocoto Relleno (Kristin), Lomo Saltado (Ryan)
(Good news: some of the recipes are on the restuarant’s website!)

I started with my drink, the non-alcoholic chicha morada.  The base was pre-made, and it’s created by boiling purple corn and chilling the resulting mixture.  This made my part very simple: I cut up some pineapple, added juice from one juice, an ounce or so of simply sugar, and blended those with the purple corn juice in a blender.  Ryan’s pisco sour was a bit more complicated, involving an egg white and alcohol, but the result was delicious!

Cooking Class, A Mi Manera, Cusco, Peru, Drinks

Once our drinks were prepared, we moved over to the kitchen to start the real work.  The ingredients were already out and some of the early steps were pre-prepared for us.  I went to work on one side and Ryan on the other.  I started with the rocoto relleno (stuffed pepper) dish and Ryan with the cebiche.

For my dish, I started with a mixture of egg, milk, and cheese, which would eventually by poured into a dish with my pepper and potato.  I wish I knew what I stuffed the pepper with (it was pre-made by the chefs), but it was ground meat with veggies.  The potato was already boiled, so I just had to peel the skin and place it in the dish alongside the stuffed pepper.  Add a little sliced cheese on top, pour the egg/milk/cheese mixture in the dish, and it was done (well, after simmering on the stove and then baking in the oven).

Cooking Class, A Mi Manera, Cusco, Peru

Ryan’s cebiche (the recipe is on the site), was made with the expected fish (he used pejerrey), red onion, hot peppers, limes, and cilantro.  However, there was one surprise ingredient (missing on the recipe online): milk! Since Ryan made this dish first, the fish was able to sit in the acidic sauce and cook for the remainder of our class.

The lomo saltado and quinoa atamalada recipes are also on the website.  We had a lot of fun with this and we were able to mostly prepare it on our own (except for the rice and french fries).  We even shaped the rice into a pyramid and half sphere!  Ok, so we had some help with rice molds (here are a couple I’m thinking about ordering: pyramid and half sphere) – these were used for all dishes we ordered that came with a side of rice.

Cooking Class , A Mi Manera, Cusco, Peru

We ended the class by sitting down to enjoy our food (the finished products are pictured above)!  We dug right into the cebiche, which had already been sitting out for a good 20 minutes.  Neither of us were brave enough to try the “tiger’s milk” (ok, I wasn’t feeling well, otherwise I definitely would have), but we did enjoy the spicy result of the fish.  The quinoa was creamy, cheesy, and thick and perfect for a cool fall or winter day.  The lomo saltado tasted like the ones we had in Ollantaytambo at the restaurant – I think this is definitely something we’ll be able to recreate at home with little difficulty.  I do wish I had the details about the meat mixture that was stuffed inside the pepper.  It was much more flavorful than any stuffed pepper I’ve ever made.  I’m sure the Andean cheese on top helped that!

I would highly recommend this class to anyone who enjoys cooking and learning about a new type of cuisine.  It made the Peruvian dishes seem less intimidating, and I’m excited to try a few of them out at home!  Nati and her team were very sweet and helpful.

City Overview: Ollantaytambo, Peru, South America

City.  Ollantaytambo, Peru, South America (located in the Sacred Valley)

Ollantaytambo, Peru, South America

When?  Four nights at the end of September (September 27 – October 1).

Where?  We selected Hotel Sol as our home base for the four nights, and I’m glad we did!  The other two places we were looking at were El Albergue, which is located right next to the train station, therefore it’s about a 10 minutes walk up to town, and Casa de Wow!  El Abergue didn’t have the type of room we wanted available (and I wasn’t completely sold on staying away from the main town center) and Casa de Wow was sold out.  Ryan will provide more detail about Hotel Sol, but as a summary: we paid $85/night, which allowed us a spacious room on the first floor with a terrace.  This also included breakfast (and even a boxed breakfast for the morning we left for Machu Picchu at 4:30 a.m.).

Transportation.  We flew from Lima to Cusco and then took taxis (arranged by the hotel) to and from the airport (almost a two hour drive).  We took the train to Machu Picchu and hired a driver for our day trip to the Pisac ruins.

Food.  The typical Andean cuisine can be found here.  The three biggies are trout, alpaca (pictured below), and guinea pig, and between the two of us, we tried them all!

Grilled Alpaca, Ollantaytambo, Peru

Day Trips. We took two – one to Machu Picchu, which was planned in advance, and one to the ruins at Pisac which was planned the day before (but discussed prior to the trip).  There are some other great options nearby – Moray and the salt mines at Maras.  We had originally planned to visit both of those and Pisac on the same day, but I’m so glad we stuck with a half day instead, which was already very exhausting.

Attractions.  The major attraction in the town of Ollantaytambo is the Fortress (a picture of us at the Fortress is below).  There is no information inside, so either a guidebook or a guide is highly recommended (we went with a guide, since neither of the guidebooks had any real information on it).  The town also has other hikes nearby and we did one of them – Pinkullyuna.

Fortress, Ollantaytambo, Peru

Language Barrier.  We did not brush up on our Spanish before leaving, but we know the (very) basics.  Our guide spoke English, and we were maybe able to understand about 60-70% of what he said.  We had no issues at the hotel or restaurants.

Cost.  Very cost effective, especially compared to our other vacations.  We were pleasantly surprised by the low cost of food (most of our meals were around $15 or less per person)

Advice.  Ollantaytambo was very much a “cash town” (some of the restaurants did accept credit cards, though, as did our hotel).  There are two ATMs in town (only one worked), but the big issue was keeping enough of the smaller (less than 50 soles) bills and coins.  If you get them, hold on to them!  They will be needed for tips and small purchases (water, souvenirs, etc.), and we were even hounded for a 10 sol bill for the purchase of our 260-soles activity boletos.

Closing Comments.  If you have the time, plan to stay in one of the smaller towns in the Sacred Valley, instead of spending all of your time in Cusco.  We were very happy with our choice of Ollantaytambo, which was small and welcoming, but also offered plenty of restaurants, shops, and nearby attractions to keep us busy.

Hasta Luego, Peru!

We’re enjoying our last night in Peru by sipping on wine while watching the ocean in the distance.

We’re sad to leave, but excited to share stories from our many adventures: Ollantaytambo, Machu Picchu, Pisac, Cusco, and our amazing culinary experiences in the capital of Lima!

For now I’ll leave you with a couple of (iPhone) pictures and save the rest for when we return.

A view of the Sacred Valley from the fortress in Ollantaytambo

A sneak preview of Machu Picchu

The city of Cusco from Sacsayhuaman

Hasta luego!