The Cusco Restaurant Guide

February 6, 2011 at 11:00 am | Posted in Cuisine, Culture, Cuzco, Peru | Leave a comment
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The most common questions I get from travelers arriving in Cusco involve where to go for coffee or a drink or a bit to eat.  Although I would not claim to know all or even most of the restaurants in Cusco, I definitely have some favorites! (look at my travel map for restaurant locations)

For Breakfast or Snack:

The Meeting Place: Delicious Waffles, Quality Bacon, Juices, Pastries and the best coffee in town.  All profits go to local orphanages and ministry projects. Can life get any better? I submit that it can not (Brian Regan) On the San Blas Plaza.

El Buen Pastor: Decent coffee, but absolutely spectacular pastries. I´m talking chocolate croissants, peach and apple filled baked goods fresh out of the oven, and delicious donuts. On Cuesta San Blas.

La Bondiet: My favorite coffee shop in town.  Mouthwatering cakes, cones filled with dulce de leche, small brownies, great smoothies, classy atmosphere, and great coffee! Located a block off the Plaza de Armas on Plateros and on the small plaza next to the Plaza de Armas.

Lunch:

Be brave and head to the markets. I personally find the San Pedro market a little dirty, but recommend heading to Garcilaso and the Wanchaq market for a bite to eat (walk away from Garcilaso until you get to the food stalls in the building).  Ask for Sr. Jamie and try his Lomo Saltado or Arroz a la Cubana (S./7 and S./3) and try a juice from one of the ladies opposite his stall!

Jack´s: alternatively, try the lonely guide / rough guide favorite at the bottom of Cuesta San Blas for big and late breakfasts (El grande), gourment sandwhiches, and soups like Tuscan vegetable or pumpkin that make your mouth water (my Mom went 3 times in 9 days! That says something for the quality of their food).

Olas Bravas: Ceviche is excusively a lunch food, and Olas Bravas on Mariscal Gamara near the start of Av. La Cultura does it well. Try the Jalea, the Lomo Saltado con Tacu Tacu, and the Ceviche Mixto (warning, huge portions).

Dinner:

I think I could eat at a different restaurant every night in Cusco and still have thousands to try.  Some of my highlights have been fusion cuisines near the town center.

Cicciolina: Located a block off the Plaza de Armas on Truinfo (second floor).  Absolutely incredible tapas, wine list, and the best Pisco sour that I have had in Cusco.  (U.S. prices and reservations suggested in high season).

Two Nations: An Australian / Peruvian fusion restaurant a few blocks off the plaza that has a giant burger, good soups, and solid Peruvian cuisine.  Walls decorated by happy diners.

Los Perros: Two blocks off the plaza. And makes this list because it is the home of one of the most delicious burgers I have had (and one of the largest) with great potato skins, and other sides.

Some shout outs: Paddy´s (corner on the plaza, good quesadillas and wings), Real McCoy (for some real British cuisine on Plateros), and Numa Raysi (Triunfo for some real good, real authentic Peruvian cuisine!)

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Shocking and Mouth-Watering (A Food Post)

February 4, 2011 at 9:00 am | Posted in Cuisine, Culture, Cuzco, Peru, Travel | Leave a comment
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I have been severly lacking in food posts lately.  Especially considering that Peru is know for gastronomy and its unique fusion cuisines.  And especially because Peru has an array of foods that we, as Americans, wouldn´t dream of eating.  Here´s a few highlights:

Cuy: I don´t think a Peruvian food post could escape without mentioning the family pet that ends up on Peruvian´s plates as a delicacy on holidays.  Also more commonly referred to as guinea pig.

Before....

And After!

Besides the unusual presentation, it wasn´t half bad. A little greasy, and difficult to eat around all its little bones, but when it’s stuffed with herbs, served on a bed of noodles with a rocotto relleno (stuffed pepper), it was definitely edible. Just close your eyes and take a bite!

The other “unique” food served in Peru is alpaca.  Alpaca steaks are low in cholesterol, slightly gamey (think along the lines of venison but to a lesser extent), and generally free of excess fat.  My Dad mentioned the similarity in taste to an excellent pork chop and that´s a pretty good description too!

Good Morning Alpacas

As I previously mentioned, fusion cuisines are pervasive here in Cusco highlighting everything from French/Peruvian or Australian/Peruvian to Chinese/Peruvian.  One of my favorite fusions we encountered last weekend in Aguas Calientes after seeing Machu Picchu at Indio Feliz, a French/Peruvian restaurant.  For about $15, you started out with a soup or salad (such as the Avocado / Mango salad or Bacon and Egg Quiche below), main course (such as my Dad´s pineapple chicken or my Mom´s Mango trout), and finished with a dessert. Delicious.

A Bacon and Egg Quiche, Fresh Baked Bread with a Cusqueña at Indio Feliz in Aguas Calientes

The Avocado and Mango Salad at Indio Feliz

Finally, let´s top it all off with some dessert.  The Barack Obama Chocolate cake from a bakery in Lucre.. mmm

The Barack Cake in Lucre

2010 Year in Review

December 31, 2010 at 9:29 am | Posted in Aldea Nimasac, Costa Rica, Cuisine, Culture, Cuzco, El Salvador, Guatemala, Guatemala City, Kiva, Microfinance, Nicaragua, Peru, Travel, United States | Leave a comment
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I usually don´t have new year´s resolutions, but the last few years, it has been a generic “make this year better than the last”.  Whether that be traveling to 15 countries or graduating from college or working for Kiva, this year has been both un-forgettable and equally hard to top. Here are some highlights!

January. I´ll bring this full circle. Last New Year I spent in Frankfurt, Germany with Sandra Nymphius lighting off bottle rockets. A subsequent trip to the glorious dutch nation of Holland to visit Shamir, eat herring, and see Amsterdam make January 2010 equally unforgettable.

February-March. Columbia with Devin Dvorak. This whorlwind tour of Medellin, Cartagena, Santa Teresa, and Bogota involved a lot of beach side eating, mojitos, salsa dancing, and monkey chasing.  Never forget that day in Cartagena eating Ceviche… And back at Pepperdine for Songfest! Half the time I think I hated doing the practices, but at the end (and KTD´s almost win), I wouldn´t trade it for the world.

April. Wine tasting for my birthday. Getting the Kiva Fellowship. Graduating from college. My favorite month / memories of 2010…

May-June. Cruising the Mediterranean with Princess Cruises with the parents. Highlights: seeing Venice, quads in Mykonos, the spice market in Istanbul, Florence, Rome, and going back to Barcelona (easily one of my favorite cities in the world).  Road tripping up to San Luis Obispo with Hallie. The 24 hour drive out to Houston for Andy and Trudy Smith´s wedding.

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July-August. Kiva Training. Visiting with the cousins in San Francisco. Moving to Guatemala City to start my fellowship. Getting robbed on Roosevelt in Guatemala City (not a highlight but definitely memorable).  Moving to Aldea Nimasac in Guatemala. Visiting Lago Atitlán.

September-October. Kiva Vacation in Nicaragua (one of my favorite vacations of all time). Kiva Vacation in El Salvador. Surfing. Visiting with Devin Dvorak in Costa Rica. Seeing the Kite Festival in Sumpango.

November-December. Visiting the U.S. My weekend in San Diego. Moving to Cusco, Peru. Finding the meeting place. The near miss with a Machete Robbery. Having Marc Capule come visit. Exploring the Incan Culture and Ruins. Christmas with Peruvians and brunch in San Jeronimo.

A Taste of Culture

November 3, 2010 at 2:44 pm | Posted in Cuisine, Culture, Guatemala, Travel | 3 Comments
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This is an amazing post. Or possibly it´s just an insufficient reflection of a really amazing day.  Either way, in this post you will find my cultural take on Guatemala´s Day of the Dead, see the biggest kites you have ever seen, and hear about one of the strangest foods in the world.

Putting a video so early in the post makes it seem like I´m giving up too much too early.  On Monday, I had a chance to go to Festival de Sumpango de los Barriletes Gigantes.  Instead of looking up barrilete in my Spanglish dictionary, I decided to hold out until I got there to figure out what a barrilete was exactly.  As you can see in the video, the town of Sumpango comes together and teams of 30-50 young people start building intricate and colorful 75ft tall kites in July to display in the festival.  Some of the smaller kites (still huge at 20ft!) are flown, and a competition is held to see which ones stay afloat (also check out the video to see which ones didn´t).

You may be wondering, like me, if there is any cultural tradition behind this beautiful exhibition.  As it turns out, Day of the Dead is the one day that Guatemalans believe that their ancestors pass from the grave and roam free, visiting their old homes.  Kites are flown to communicate with their ancestors, and the noise the kite´s long tails make is believed to scare away bad spirits.

And everyone on this day (besides visiting the cemetery and their ancestors), eats fiambre.  Fiambre is a cold dish because originally it was placed on graves for their ancestors, and is made out of every type of food imaginable.  Seriously. I´m talking pieces of chicken, hot dogs, 5-10 different types of sausages, anchovies, tuna, peas, green beans, pickles, cold cuts, queso fresco, beets (gives it the purple tint), corn, cabbage, and anything else you can imagine.  Here is a video of the dish:

I know that kite festivals occur all over the world, but Barriletes de Sumpango is definitely one of a kind.  Additionally, if you are curious about the location of Sumpango in Guatemala, check out the interactive travel map I have created for my trip under the Travel Map tab.

Guatemala Rundown (2)

October 28, 2010 at 3:15 pm | Posted in City, Cuisine, Culture, Guatemala, Guatemala City, Travel, United States | Leave a comment
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I apologize for the uncreative title. I could title this “Stuff I won’t miss” or “Guate Culture Shock” or “Welcome Eric, this isn’t your country”, but true to form, this is my second (personal) decompression of the country where I have lived for the last few months.  And lets face it, everyone secretly likes the movie The Rundown with the Rock and only is reading this to see if I will reference it. WELL, I DID.

Safety. I have been robbed three times in my life. The first in Rio de Janeiro during carnaval (my wallet got lifted out of a friends purse), the second in Tijuana coming back from building a house (locks got punched out on the van and my backpack with my tools, phone and car keys got lifted), and the third here (window broken at 9am and laptop, two cameras gone in the first week).  I had heard that Guate City wasn’t the place to dance in the streets after nightfall, but I wasn’t expecting everything I had brought to get stolen the first week.  It’s a matter of fear and i’m not the only one who feels it.  The papers tell of mass murders in restaurants in the downtown, or armed bus assaults, or how 12 and 13 year old boys get paid Q100 by gangs to kill random people (Guatemala laws protect minors from going to prison).  It’s a sad reality that where there is poverty, there is crime, and I hope that for the sake of all Guatemalans the streets are cleaned up.

Food. Ok, this isn’t entirely a negative.  I have a love hate relationship with the food here.  I love the typical Guatemalan food: the tortillas are out of this world, as are the tamales, the shukos, the beans, the plantains and the soups (minus the revolcado).  But they consume limited quantities of fresh fruits and vegetables (makes me wonder where the huge bags of carrots and truck loads of pineapple go), and a lot of fast food.  I guess what I am saying is that I have ate more McDonalds here than my entire life in the states (exaggeration? possibly, but close), and although I love American culture, I like to leave it behind when I travel.

Loneliness. This isn’t Guatemala, it’s me. From my year in Argentina to my summer in Spain and Israel, I have always had a ready-made group of friends.  Travel is easy when you speak a foreign language 50% of the time and still have the comforts of your own culture.  Here, my English has deteriorated.  I love living with a family, but I speak Spanish at work, then at home.  I guess after a while, I just start to miss well America (in the form beyond fast food).

Videos of my visit to Iximche, Mayan ruins outside of Tecpan, microfinance thoughts, a new Kiva blog post, and a street food post soon.

Great Guatemalan Grub

October 13, 2010 at 6:04 am | Posted in Cuisine, Culture | 3 Comments
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Whenever someone in Guatemala asks me what my favorite food is, I respond in .000001 seconds: tamales. They are just way too good.  In Guatemala, there are over 20 different types of tamales so I will try to just focus on a few.  They are traditionally eaten on special occasions: we are talking Christmas (like my family!) or family gatherings, birthdays or in the case of this post, the handing over of $10k worth of medical equipment (through FAPE´s health project) to a community.

The two stand-out tamales are paches and chuchitos. Paches are rice tamales with a big chunk of meat in the middle (with or without bones), wrapped in a small banana leaf and cooked in a huge pot of boiling water over a wood fire. Chuchitos are my favorite: read favorite food in Guatemala. They should be consumed by the dozens with a steaming cup of atole (Guatemalan corn drink) in hand. They are a maize tamale filled with pork, chicken or beef and you will be amazed (like I am) at how your taste buds start watering when you see these videos…



1000 Visits and Some New Vids

October 7, 2010 at 8:00 am | Posted in Antigua, Cuisine, Culture, Guatemala, Guatemala City, Kiva, Travel | 3 Comments
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I looked at my blog stats this morning and saw that over the last three months, 1000 people had visited my blog. To read, apparently, what I wrote. Now, I would not claim to be a writer, but I’m glad everyone is hopefully enjoying what I’m writing.  I don’t have anything big to write, no deep thoughts, but I do have some videos I’d like to share with you over the past week.

Weekend in Antigua. Solid mash-up of some shots from the weekend:

My KF13 welcome video: the first time I haven’t been behind the camera in a while

And the best lunch I have had in a long time: Pollo Dorado with Fresh Blackberry Juice

Anyway. Thanks for reading! I want to write more of what you guys want to hear *unless its something I really don’t want to write about so post some more comments on stuff you want to hear!

Cooking Lessons

September 9, 2010 at 2:46 pm | Posted in Aldea Nimasac, Cuisine, Guatemala | 3 Comments
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Read this if your names are Sam or Kim or if you want to learn how to cook some delicious Guatemalan cuisine!

Could you please teach me how to make comida chapina? I asked.

Yes, Claudia replied. But not tonight. Tomorrow we will make some good Guatemalan food.

The next day I asked, So, what are we going to make.

Chomí con Pollo.

Sounds good. I replied, Do you know how to spell that? As usual, had no real idea what we would be making or eating that night.

For this recipe you need: (serves 4-6)

  • A whole chicken
  • Four Carrots
  • Guiskuil (if you can find it)
  • Three stalks of Celery (with the leaves)
  • One Red Bell Pepper
  • Half cup diced onion
  • One package of Chow Mein
  • Two Tablespoons of Soy Sauce
  • One cube of chicken bullion
  • Salt to taste
  • Two serranos (if  you dig some spice)
  1. First boil the chicken with the skin on in salt water (about 10-12 cups) for at least 30 mins (watch earlier to see if the chicken is done, all these times are at altitude of 7500ft).
  2. When waiting for the chicken to boil, cut the guiskuil and carrots into thin inch long strips, and remove the strings from the celery and dice both the celery (with the leaves) and bell pepper into small chunks.
  3. After the chicken is done, remove from the water and begin to debone the chicken and cut the skin and meat into half-to-quarter inch chunks
  4. Put the guiskuil and carrots in the same salt water and boil for 20-25mins (until the carrots are soft enough to break easily)
  5. Remove the carrots and guiskuil from the water and add one package of chow mein to the same water (the noodles broken up into 3 inch pieces).  Boil the noodles for 10 mins or until fully cooked.
  6. Strain out the salt water, and rinse the chow mein in cold water.
  7. In a large frying pan, add a tablespoon of cooking oil and the half cup of diced onion. Sautey until brown. Add the serranos here to make it a bit more spicey.
  8. Add the diced bell pepper and celery (cook for two mins)
  9. Add the chopped chicken (cook for ten mins)
  10. Add two tablespoons of soy sauce, and the guiskuil and carrots stirring the mixture constantly. (cook for one min)
  11. Add the chow mein and one cube of chicken bullion and salt to taste.
  12. Serve!

woah, woah, woah. hold up. The traditional Guatemalan food I have been waiting to learn to make isn´t chomí con pollo but Chow Mein con Pollo.

Now, you might be thinking. I´m up in the mountains. I´m cold. I just made my Chow Mein con Pollo over a word fired stove and I need a hot drink.

This, my friends, the Guatemalans call Caliente

  1. Boil a medium sized bot of water.
  2. Add 2-3 sticks of cinnamon
  3. 1 cup of sugar
  4. 2 cups of chunks of watermelon
  5. 2 cups of chunks of pineapple (can add more fruit to taste)
  6. Boil the mixture while cooking for 30-45mins

After slaving over the wood fired stove for about two hours, we finally sat down to eat. Claudia´s husband comes in and immediately says. MMm Delicious Comida Chapina (chapin means Guatemalan). I thought, so, this really isn’t a joke.  Haha, I guess the Chinese and Guatemalans have more in common than I thought.

Not all who wander are lost…

August 24, 2010 at 3:10 pm | Posted in Aldea Nimasac, Cuisine, Guatemala, Lago Atitlan, Mountains, Travel | 5 Comments
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Read this if you enjoy ranchera versions of Hotel California, if you like climbing volcanoes at 5am, or jumping off climbs into ancient Mayan lakes. Or read it for the secret location of the best burrito place in Guatemala or perhaps if buried somewhere deep inside you too have a sense of adventure and a little bit of energy.

A sense of adventure and a little bit of energy. That’s all lonely planet listed under the prerequisites to climb Volcano San Pedro, one of the three that rises up from Lago Atitlan. Somehow, I doubted that was all it took as the lake sits at a little under 1600m and the cumber, the top of the volcano is buried by a heavy cloud layer at 3020m. But, after three weeks of smog, and Guate City, I was ready to get out. And an invitation from Tommy, a friend I meet last weekend at the beach, to get some fresh air helped to seal the deal.

The trip worked out well into my workplan. This morning I had to be in Aldea Nimasac to start working to implement the Cerise Questionnaire (a questionnaire that works to measure the social performance of microfinance institutions) with Asociación ASDIR, another microfinance organization in Guatemala. And Aldea Nimasac is a part of Totonicapan which lies an hour away from Quetzaltenago (nickname Xela): so I caught a ride with the executive director of FAPE´s family to Xela on Friday, and made my way to the Lago Atitlan from Xela with Tommy early Saturday morning.

We got to Panajachel, the largest town on Lago Atitlan, (by the way, I was originally going to name this post something along the lines of traveling to places I can´t pronounce but decided to go with the Tolkien quote to reflect my journey as a wandering Kiva fellow) on Saturday and immediately made our way over to San Pedro which lies at the base of the Volcano. We took another lancha (small transport boats on the lake) to San Marcos—home to more foreign hippies than Guatemaltecos, and make our way to some cliffs that Tommy discovered the last time he was there.

We hiked past half a dozen long-term meditation centers and yoga places and finally got to the cliffs rising a good 12m out of the lake (for all us Americans a good 35ft). And jumped off into the warm waters of Lago Atitlan.

On the way back, we stopped at Moonfish for some burritos. Possibly the freshest, tastiest burritos in Guatemala (perhaps California as well). I had a falafel burrito (don´t laugh there is a huge Israeli community around the lake) with homemade salsa, super fresh veggies, homemade tortillas and the best falafel I have ever had (yes, better than Israel). All with the best cup of coffee I have had since Colombia: the coffee plants grew out back and they did all the drying and roasting of the beans on site! French pressed for maximum deliciousness. Needless to say, we returned the next day for some breakfast burritos and nachos—that for sure would have topped Lily´s in Malibu if they had bacon.

Fast forward to 5am. I dragged myself out of bed and threw on my Merrills. We still couldn´t see the top of the Volcano San Pedro, but having located the trailhead on Saturday, we grabbed our headlamps and made our way through sleepy San Pedro to begin our ascent. At the trailhead two natives stamped our hands and made us aware that it was 100Q a piece to climb the mountain with a guide. “And without one?” we asked. “The same.” I panicked I brought only 50Q for a meal after, but Tommy thankfully had enough. I thought they were going to send us the 300m down to the town to get the money if we didn´t have it.

I´ll let the videos tell the story of the climb as I was a little too out of breath to say much. 1400m is a way to climb and most of the time it was stairs straight up. The climb was even a bit harder because I was coming from Guate City. Thankfully, we had homemade banana and chocolate bread that we bought in town for around a dollar waiting to be consumed at the top.

And now, I´m here in ASDIR. Over the weekend, the combination of the climate change and being around some people with the flu caused me to be a little under the weather today, but I´m hoping it gets knocked out by some good sleep and some delicious caldo de res a little later today.

Until next time, your wandering Kiva Fellow.

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