Last Thursday (February 2), the Organization of American States officially launched the World Day of the Pisco Sour. Since 2003, Peru tips the hat to its national drink during the first weekend of February.
The pisco sour is just one of three hallmark treats travelers to Peru have the opportunity to savor. The other two dishes are ceviche and cuy. These delights, though, have variations on their themes that visitors shouldn’t miss out on.
Other mixed pisco drinks: the Mokewa Linda (left) and the Machu Picchu (right). Photo by Lorraine Caputo
The pisco sour is the one cocktail most travelers will try while in Peru. Made from a grape brandy distilled in the southern part of the country, this drink also includes lime juice, bitters, syrup and egg whites.
Peru’s most esteemed pisco distilleries are in Moquegua, a colonial town located midways between Arequipa and Tacna. Here, bartenders carefully pour two other more colorful pisco creation. The Machu Picchu begins with about an inch of grenadine liqueur, atop which orange juice is poured, then mint liqueur. The result is a drink with stripes of red, orange and green. The Mokewa Linda is prepared the same way, with grenadine, grapefruit juice, mint liqueur and curaçao liqueur, painting a drink the colors of Moquegua’s flag. With either, add a jigger of pisco right down the middle, so as to not disturb the colors.
The way to enjoy these two beauties is to sip through a thin straw while drawing it through the different layers, letting your mouth savor the fusion of each flavor.
Ceviche. Photo by Lorraine Caputo
The most classic Peruvian cuisine is the ceviche. This dish is made of chunks of fish “cooked” in lemon juice, seasoned with a variety of spices and served with thick slabs of sweet potato (camote), corn on the cob (choclo) and cancha (roasted corn nuts). It is best tried in Lima and along the north coast. It is an easy plate to prepare:
- After washing it in salt water, cut a one-kilogram (2.2-pound) fillet of corvina into 1-2 centimeter (0.5-1 inch) cubes. Place in a bowl and season with 3-5 cloves of minced garlic and salt to taste. Add three finely chopped, fresh ají limo (Capsicum chinense or Capsicum baccatum), the juice of 8-10 freshly squeezed limes, black pepper and 1.5 tablespoons of chopped cilantro. Let rest for 10 minutes. Serve on a bed of lettuce, with a thick slice of corn on the cob, camote and cancha. Garnish with thinly sliced red onion, a sprig of seaweed and fine slices of ají limo.
Tiradito. Photo by Lorraine Caputo
A variation on this theme is the tiradito. In this, the chunks of fish are smaller, the corn kernels are mixed in and the onions are chopped instead of sliced. Another distinction is that yellow – instead of red – chili is used.
Cuy on the grill. Photo by Dan.
Another classic offering on Peruvian menus, cuy, is more problematic. For many Westerners, it dredges up memories of Fluffy running around in its cage, twitching its little nose. Cuy is nothing more than guinea pig. It was one of the few animal protein sources pre-Columbian nations from southern Colombia to northern Chile had to eat. In many areas, the whole, skinned animal is placed over a wood fire and cooked to succulent perfection. In Moquegua, the folks have a variation on this dish. The cuy is split down the middle, dredged in coarse cornmeal and weighted down with a flat stone while cooking. It is then served simply with boiled potatoes.
Moquegua's version of cuy. Photo by Lorraine Caputo
While in Peru be sure to try these time-honored dishes—as well as the variations on their themes. You will come to a deeper understanding of the country’s varied traditions and regions. Buen Provecho!
Lorraine Caputo is one of V!VA’s longest-tenured writers. These days, she’s back on the road, updating our 2012 edition of V!VA Peru. Check the blog for more of her updates from the road.