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.

Peruvian Cuisine: Thrillingly Different

After researching which cities to visit on our short, one-week stay in Peru, Ryan and I started dreaming about the food.  We started by watching Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations and his newly released Parts Unknown for a quirky chef’s take on the country’s delicacies.  The episodes opened our eyes to the new foods we will be able to try and got me researching what we can eat and where we can find it.

Peruvian corn (picture taken from wikipedia)

After even more research in our two travel books (Frommer’s and Fodor’s) and looking at travel sites online, I became more eager to travel to Peru to try all of the food it has to offer.  The popular and traditional dishes in Peru are numerous, but there are a few that caught my eye:

1. Ceviche (or cebiche) – chunks of raw seafood marinated in citrus, often including onions and aji peppers.  There’s a variation called tiradito where the fish is kept in strips and no onions are included.  I plan on trying both during our time in Lima, Peru’s coastal capital (see picture below, from wikipedia).

2. Cuy (Guinea Pig) and alpaca – I’m not sure if I’ll try the cuy, but I am looking forward to a dish with alpaca.  Both are popular in Peru and many visitors seek out restaurants that serve these local delicacies.

3. Lomo saltado (“jumping beef”) – beef mixed with tomatoes, peppers, and onions, and seasoned with soy sauce.  It is often served over rice.

4. Anticuchos – meat skewers often served as street food, but can also be found in restaurants.  Traditionally, the skewers are made of beef heart.

5. Papa rellena – mashed potatoes rolled into balls, stuffed with meat, and deep fried (see picture below, from wikipedia).

6. Rocoto relleno – spicy pepper stuffed with ground beed, onions, olives, and a hardboiled egg, topped with cheese.

7. Chifa (Chinese food) – the Asian influence in Peru is strong, and the Chinese food is said to be delicious.  Lima even has its own Chinatown, which will be worth a visit for the best Chinese food in the country.

8. Pisco Sours – no trip to Peru can be complete without trying the country’s cocktail – a mixture of Pisco (grape brandy), citrus, sugar, egg whites, and Angostura bitters.  I hear it goes down smoothly!

We are definitely looking forward to the culinary experiences in Peru.  I don’t normally gravitate toward meat dishes, but reading about the flavors in these traditional foods is making my mouth water.  I’ve also read about so many other dishes including Peruvian staples such as corn, potatoes, rice, quinoa, beans, and peppers.  These dishes make up the food that Bourdain describes as “thrillingly different.”  I’m ready to step outside my comfort zone and try the Peruvian cuisine!

Food Run-Down: Cinque Terre, Italy 2009

Cinque Terre is a hidden gem on Italy’s Ligurian coast that is a must-see.  It’s becoming more and more popular, but the pedestrian-only towns with colorful buildings is still worth a trip.  If you try one dish in Cinque Terre, try the trofie al pesto – Cinque Terre is the birthplace of pesto and this dish highlights the flavors.  The homemade trofie pasta is mixed with pesto, green beans, and potatoes and goes great with a (cheap) glass of local wine.  If your visit is longer, take advantage of the fresh seafood, caught earlier that day.

Meal: Lunch at Taverno Del Capitano (Sept. 7, 2009)

  • What we ordered:
    (1) white wine (looks like a half liter)
    (2) mixed bruschetta (they all had tomatoes, and in addition we tried: capers, mozzarella, anchovies, and pesto)
    (3) pesto pizza
    (4) pesto lasagna

Taverna Del Capitano, Vernazza, Cinque Terre, Italy

  • Price: $$-$$$ – I don’t remember the exact prices, but somewhere in the neighborhood of €10 for the main dishes. 
  • Overall thoughts: this restaurant is situated at the edge of the harbor, so it was a perfect spot to take in Vernazza on our first afternoon.  Our waiter was very friendly and was encouraging me to practice my Italian (or my Spanish, if I felt more comfortable), which was a great was to be welcomed to the city.  It was here that I really fell in love with bruschetta – the tomatoes were fresh, juicy, and full of flavor, and I loved their creative pairings with other local foods. 

Meal: Happy Hour at Ananasso Bar in Vernazza (Sept. 7-9, 2009)

  • What we ordered:
    (1) bellini
    (2) prosecco
    (3) white wine
    (4) snacks (various – they were free)

Ananasso Bar, Vernazza, Cinque Terre, Italy

  • Price: $ – reasonably-priced drinks with a 5-star view.
  • Overall thoughts: one of my favorite spots from Cinque Terre – I still dream about this place!  We reflected on our day while enjoying a drink and watching the sun set into the water.  An added bonus was the snacks, which kept us from satisfied between lunch and dinner. 

Meal: Dinner at Trattoria Gianni Franzi (Sept. 7, 2009)

  • What we ordered:
    (1) anchovies cooked in lemon sauce
    (2) trofie al pesto (homemade Ligurian pasta with pesto)
    (3) spaghetti ai muscoli (spaghetti with mussels)
    (4) a bottle of the house white wine
    (5) local cheese (to finish the meal)

Trattoria Gianni Franzi, Vernazza, Cinque Terre, Italy

  • Price: again, I don’t remember and I didn’t write anything down.  I don’t think anything was too outrageous throughout Cinque Terre.  Probably a $$-$$$ price range.
  • Overall Thoughts: This meal was perfect as our first dinner.  We tried it all – anchovies, trofie al pesto, seafood pasta, wine from the region, and local cheeses.  The pesto was amazing – more Parmesan cheese than I typically taste, which was a huge plus for me.  I also loved the additions of potatoes and green beans, and of course the trofie pasta itself – once mixed up, the trofie is left with a thick coat of pesto.  This is the dish to try while in the Cinque Terre!

Meal: Lunch at Dau Tinola in Corniglia, Cinque Terre, Italy (Sept. 8, 2009)

  • What we ordered:
    (1) Prosciutto e melone – €11
    (2) Spaghetti ai frutti di mare – €11.50
    (3) Trenette al pesto – €11.50
    (4) Cinque Terre “La Polenza” vino (a bottle) – €17.50

Dau Tinola, Corniglia, Cinque Terre, Italy

  • Price: $$-$$$
  • Overall thoughts: probably the worst meal in Cinque Terre, but it could have been because our experience wasn’t that great (as opposed to the food).  I will say that the trofie suits the pesto sauce better than spaghetti/linguini.  The seafood pasta was still fantastic and included a larger variety of seafood than normal.  

Meal: Dinner at Gambero Rosso (Sept. 8, 2009)

  • What we ordered:
    (1) insalata caprese – €15
    (2) tegame di Vernazza (anchovies baked with potatoes and tomatoes) – €12
    (3) mussles cooked with wine and parsley – €12
    (4) vino della casa (1 liter) – €12
    (5) dessert (not sure what it was, but there is a picture below!)

Gambero Rosso, Vernazza, Cinque Terre, Italy

  • Price: $$-$$$ – this is getting boring, but it’s another very reasonably-priced dinner in Vernazza!
  • Overall thoughts: another restaurant underneath the umbrellas.  It seems you can’t go wrong with the restaurants around the harbor in Vernazza!  Ryan tried the fresh anchovies which are another local specialty to try while visiting (much different than the salty canned anchovies, although those are great, too!).  The crowds at the restaurant were lively, and we had fun people-watching while we enjoyed the meal. 

Meal: Lunch at Trattoria La Scogliera in Manarola, Cinque Terre, Italy (Sept. 9, 2009)

  • What we ordered:
    (1) linguini alle vongole veraci (fresh clams) – €7.80
    (2) ravioli al pesto Genovese – €7.80
    (3) formaggi misti (mixed cheese plate) – €6
    (4) Cinque Terre D.O.C. wine – €15

Trattoria La Scogliera, Manarola, Cinque Terre, Italy

  • Price: $$
  • Overall thoughts: Luckily this restaurant stayed open a bit later than others in the area (we didn’t make it to Manarola until a little before 2:00pm).  I stuck with one of my favorites: seafood pasta in a white wine sauce, which was an ideal lunch (light and fresh!).  Ryan wanted another round of pesto pasta, this time in the form of ravioli, which was very tasty (I still like the trofie pasta the best).  The outdoor seating allowed us to watch the busy walkway as people made their way down toward the marina. 

Meal: Dinner at La Torre (Sept. 9, 2009)

  • What we ordered:
    (1) spaghetti scoglio (“reef spaghetti” – served with crustaceans & red sauce) – €11
    (2) pesto lasagna – €10
    (3) two glasses of white wine – €5 each

Dinner Day 3, Vernazza, Cinque Terre, Italy

  • Price: $$
  • Overall thoughts: this is a great option if you want to sneak away from the main square in Vernazza.  It’s a bit of a climb, but the result is an intimate restaurant with outdoor seating.  I would suggest going for lunch or an earlier dinner to enjoy the views of the town and sea below.  The food was consistent with our other meals in Cinque Terre – fresh, reasonably-priced, and delicious local specialties (pesto and seafood). 

Cinque Terre, and especially Vernazza, is on the top of my recommendation list for Italy. The pedestrian-only towns, the friendly locals, the carefree tourists, the sparkling sea, and the fresh and delicious food are just a few reasons to make a stop here on your trip.  Don’t forget to try many of the local specialties – trofie al pesto, fresh seafood (including anchovies!), and local wine.  I can’t wait to visit again for another taste of the Ligurian cuisine!

Food Run-Down: Venice, Italy 2009

After a lost food notebook scare (from our Portugal and Spain trip), I’ve decided to start digitally documenting the meals enjoyed during our travels.  These posts won’t be too detailed, but I will include where we ate, what we ordered (and some pictures), how much it cost, and an overall comment on the food/restaurant.  I’m starting at the beginning with Venice 2009 and will work my way through London 2012.  So, without further ado: Venice!

With a few exceptions, our food choices in Venice focused on anything from the sea. Since it was a first trip to Italy for the both of us, we also made sure to try pasta and pizza, the Italian staples here in the US.  Nothing we had was disappointing and after this trip we have continued dreamt of the Venetian cuisine.

One tip I’ve recently read is to visit the morning fish market to see what’s for sale – that will give you an idea of what is fresh from that day when you are ordering fish later that night for dinner.  I didn’t even think of that on this trip, so I stuck to whatever sounded delicious (and it never led me astray). 

Meal: Dinner at Trattoria Povoledo (Sept. 4, 2009)

  • What we ordered:
    (1) Collalto Chardonnay – €20
    (2) Spaghetti ai frutti di mare (seafood pasta) – €15
    (3) Prosciutto pizza – €12

Trattoria Povoledo, Venice, Italy

  • Price: $$ – not bad for a (presumably) touristy restaurant right on the Grand Canal.
  • Overall thoughts: I was so happy with our first meal in Italy.  Yes, it was on the Grand Canal, so while it may have been a touristy place, the prices were reasonable and the food was fresh and light.  My seafood pasta was delicious (the spaghetti was cooked al dente, perfection!) and Ryan’s pizza was so good that I wanted to order pizza the next day (I used to eat pizza very rarely, so this was a big deal!).  The view was also a huge plus.  We had just arrived in Venice, so it was my chance to admire the Grand Canal for the first time.

Meal: Lunch at Trattoria Locanda al Raspo de Ua in Burano, Venice, Italy (Sept. 5, 2009)

  • What we ordered:
    (1) half liter of Prosecco – €4.50
    (2) steamed mussels with lemon
    (3) Frutti di mare pizza

Trattoria Locanda Al Raspo de Ua, Burano, Venice, Italy

  • Price: $$ – the total bill was right around €25, and we left about €2-3 for the tip.
  • Overall thoughts: A great choice for lunch in Burano.  It was very crowded, but we were able to sit right away and didn’t have to wait long for our food.  The mussels were delicious (especially with extra lemon juice squeezed on top) and the seafood pizza was very unique, but tasty!  I would definitely consider revisiting on another trip to Burano.

Meal: Snacks in Venice (Sept. 4 & 5, 2009)

  • What we ordered:
    (1) gelato
    (2) panini
    (3) cappucino

Snacks in Venice, Italy

  • Price: $ 
  • Overall thoughts: the gelato was creamy and rich everywhere, and the flavors were inventive compared to the standard ice cream shops in the US.  I’d maybe skip the sandwiches, which were just okay (were sold just off of Piazza San Marco and were €4 each).  The cappuccino stop provided a quick rest during the busy day, and it’s something we should have made time for more than just once!

Meal: Dinner at Alle Testiere (Sept. 5, 2009)

  • What we ordered:
    (1) mixed seafood appetizer from the Adriatic Sea (with lobster, cuttlefish, shrimp, octopus, spider crab, anchovy, baby calamari, and a toasted baguette topped with a mixture of cod, milk, vegetable oil and garlic) – €18
    (2) Sea bream fillets with fine herbs and citrus sauce – €25
    (3) Prawns with coriander, ginger, and lime sauce (it was also served with polenta, which was a pleasant surprise!) – €25
    (4) bottle of chardonnay – €24

    Alle Testiere, Venice, Italy

  • Price: $$$$ – the bill came to €95 for one shared appetizer, two entrees (€25 each), a bottle of wine, and a bottle of water. 
  • Overall thoughts: absolutely fantastic.  This is the type of restaurant I wish we were always able to find.  We were extremely lucky – we were looking for a different place and stumbled upon Alle Testiere around 10:00pm.  Unfortunately, they had a limited menu, but they agreed to sit us at the one free table.  We later found out that they have two seatings for dinner and we were about 45 minutes late for the second one. Even with the limited menu (no pasta), the meal exceeded our expectations.  The appetizer started a continuing trend of ordering mixed appetizers featuring specials from the area (it also began my love for cuttlefish).  A great find, and a restaurant I will track down again the next time I’m in Venice.

Meal: Breakfast at Al Doge Beato Hotel (Sept. 6, 2009)

  • Included: croissants, rolls, butter, jam, nutella, juice, and tea
  • Overall thoughts: it was great to have the breakfast included in the hotel.  We missed it our first morning because we were out and about so early.  It was much better than paying €5+ for a smaller croissant and a bottle of juice! 

Breakfast in Venice

 Meal: Lunch at Hostaria Galileo (Sept. 6, 2009)

What we ordered:
(1) half liter of house white wine – €8
(2) tagliatelle with shrimp and zucchini – about €12
(3) fried calamari – about €12

Hostaria Galieo, Venice, Italy

  • Price: $$ – a bit expensive for small portions, but it wasn’t bad.
  • Overall thoughts: the food was delicious and the are was tucked away from the main tourist route.  

Meal: Dinner at Hotel Principe (Sept. 6, 2009) – the engagement dinner!

  • What we ordered:
    (1) bottle of Prosecco
    (2) sliced raw fish seasoned with oil and Sicilian citrus fruits
    (3) pappardelle du funghi porcini (pappardelle with porcini mushrooms)
    (4) riccioli di grano duro con asparagi di bassano capesante nostrane (homemade pasta with scallops and asparagus) 
    (5) tortino caldo al cioccolato con crema alla vaniglia (warm chocolate cake with vanilla ice cream)

Hotel Principe, Venice, Italy

  • Price: $$-$$$: I didn’t write down pricing information, but made some guesses in my notes (maybe around €15 for the appetizer and each entree).  
  • Overall thoughts: Another great view, if you aren’t trying to stay away from restaurants on the Grand Canal.  I think the raw fish appetizer was salmon, and it was fresh and tart (from the citrus).  It satisfied my “sushi craving” during the Italy portion of our trip!  The homemade pastas surpassed my expectations and the unusual combinations (scallops and asparagus!) played with our tastebuds.  It was a great way to celebrate our engagement!

Our next trip to Venice will feature similar foods (fresh seafood being the main objective), but more attention will be paid to choosing the restaurants.  I wish I had a better memory of my thoughts on the food, but luckily my journal provided some insight and brought me back to Venice for a few moments.  My stomach cannot wait to get back to Venice to experience some of the best seafood and pastas that it has ever tasted!

Indian Food in Central London

Many of London’s Indian communities lie on the outskirts (particularly Southall near Heathrow Airport), but we found it very easy to find authentic Indian cuisine in Central London.  We regularly eat Indian food in California, and I spent a month in India during a college summer, so we thought we knew what to expectbut our expectations were surpassed in both of our Indian dinners in every way (and at a fairly reasonable value given London’s high dining prices).

We were so excited about Indian food in London (or maybe it was we were so not excited about British food), that we ate Indian food our first night.  After doing some background online research from our hotel, we decided to try Punjab near Covent Garden.  Although the restaurant was extremely crowded upon arrival, the wait staff found us a table for 2 very quickly.  Punjab specializes in North Indian food (which is mainly what is found in the United States).  Their menu offered some of our favorites (all of which we ordered): samosas, chicken tikka masala, saag panner, and naan.  Ironically, we enjoyed the food with a California Chardonnay, which paired excellently.  Despite being in Central London, many of the other clientele were British Indians (which is a good sign).  Our bill for £47 was probably one of our lowest in London.

Several nights later, we were again hungry for Indian.  We decided to be more adventurous, and selected a South Indian restaurant in the West End called Woodlands, this time found using a Rick Steves’ guide.  South Indian food is not nearly as common place in the United States (most of what they offered, Kristin had never tried).  A common menu item in South Indian restaurants is thali, a complete meal including a variety of dishes, traditionally served on a platter with metal bowls (picture above).  The Woodlands menu was completely vegetarian, and our thali included many tasty items, including the following:

  1. IdlIdlii: A pillow of rice and lentils, often served with chutney (coconut and vegetable at the Woodlands).  In India, idli is actually often served as a breakfast dish.  It is a very traditional South Indian dish and can probably be found in many different restaurants in London.  Our idli was served as an appetizer, before the actual thali platter.  We found it extremely satisfying!
  2. BhajjiaBhajjia: Fried onion fritters, also served with chutney (coconut in our case).  Bhajjia can also be made with carrots, peppers, and potatoes.  We found that it was a decent substitute for the samosas we usually order at North Indian restaurants.  The portion size at the Woodlands is just perfect, and the fried onions paired very well with our white wine.
  3. DosaDosa: A crepe made with a batter of lentils and rice (again served with a selection of chutneys).  It’s hard to find anything tastier than good dosa when cooked perfectly.  In America, probably the closest thing you can find to it is a pancake.  It is common to find a variety of dosa on a menu.  Although we had potato dosa with our thali, Woodlands also offered spicy, mushroom, and onion.Korma
  4. Korma: When the thali tray comes out, one of the best things to do is mix up the various curries with the rice.  One of our favorites to mix was korma, a mix of vegetables cooked in a creamy yogurt nut sauce.  The korma at Woodlands was made with a cashew sauce and included green beans, sweet potatoes, and peas.

We enjoyed it all, except for the dessert, which was a little exotic, and again selected a white wine, which paired excellently with the food. We found ourselves sitting next to many locals and, although our bill was slightly higher, it was reasonable for London.  All in all, the dinner was a very unique experience.

Our two Indian meals ended up being a trip highlight, and we look forward to finding delicious Indian food next time we visit London.  Given the limited allure of British food, visitors should certainly try and include at least one Indian meal on their London itinerary.