Category Archives: Food and Drink

Can Bolivia's native food boost its tourism industry?

Being ranked as one of the most unfriendliest places in the world might be a huge setback for your tourism industry, but are there certain things and tastes that might be able to redeem Bolivia’s unwelcoming demeanor? The answer might be found in the country’s culinary roots.

The Problem

Here in Ecuador for example, cheap quinoa (along with many other grains and beans) are classified by many as the food of the indigenous, and are – in some ways – quietly considered inferior to foreign and imported, more expensive and exciting delicacies. Ironically, such ‘delicacies’ might merely be McDonald’s or Subway. As a result of its higher price and exotic appeal, a person’s choice of food in this sense has also inadvertently become somewhat of a status icon.

With Latin America becoming more westernized each year and with international fast-food franchises becoming more rampant, “dining out” might actually involve sampling the new and exotic or Western fried foods at a Wendy’s and McDonald’s. The act itself becomes more socially exalting and appealing to many (despite the higher price and exceptionally lower-quality ingredients) because it’s so different from what the country itself has to offer, as well as the social undertones that the national food might carry.

The inverse (and irony) of all this being  that in the western world (specifically Canada & the US) the price of quinoa can exceed the price of a fast food meal in weight alone, and is considered a high-end food as a result.

But if a country’s populace becomes jaded towards its own traditions and food, tourists might find themselves perplexed by the overabundance of international restaurants available and disappointed by the lack of local and traditional fare.

Or will they? A fresh and foreign palate might be the only way to reevaluate the worth of a country’s own cuisine – as well as raise appreciation for the local ingredients grown inside the nation. At least that’s what Claus Meyer, the Danish co-founder of Noma (one of the best restaurants in the world), intends to do in La Paz, Bolivia.

The Solution

Using his conviction that regards food as an instrument to improve life – as well as his resentment towards food being taken hostage by the industry – Meyer is setting up a restaurant named Gustu in La Paz as a non-profit organization. The restaurant will serve as a platform for fine dining, a bakery and bistro, and even a cooking school for underprivileged young indigenous chefs.

“The idea is to turn those young, marginalized people into culinary entrepreneurs,” he says in his Ted-Talk, “and, in close cooperation with all the major stakeholders in Bolivia, form the Bolivian food movement.”

He underlines the fact that, in light of the problem stated earlier, the movement intends to go against the international junk and fast food industry, which he says is one that is “dominated by massive corporations that ruin our health, undermine our independence and potentially damage the planet.”

In many ways, Meyer is the white knight of Bolivia’s culinary heritage, bringing to international light the fact that Bolivia has the largest biological diversity worldwide in terms of agricultural produce. Local delicacies can range anywhere from llama steak to giant runner beans. In addition to this, Meyer claims that he’s found fruits that he’s seen nowhere else, along with “thousands of varieties of potatoes, high jungle coffee and even exquisite red wine from the landlocked country’s eastern border with Argentina.”

Hopes are high within the Danish entrepreneur and seasoned cook as his restaurant is now operating in the capital, and he holds fast to the conviction that food can definitively change our minds, and to a certain extent – the world. It’s just the case that sometimes, especially when we’ve been living in a place for so long, the true value of the ground we stand on – and the fruits it provides – must be revealed to us once more by the fresh perspective and palate of savvy newcomer.

On the Road – Peru: Chicha and Other Native Brews, Part 3

In this three-part series on chicha, we travel from the sierra to the jungle to discover Peru’s native brews.

 

Most chicha in Peru are made of corn. Except masato. This slightly alcoholic drink of the Amazon River jungle region is made from yucca. It is, I had been told in other parts of the country, the only one for which the grain is chewed to foment fermentation.

 

But once I hit the northern jungle, I began to learn a different story. I traveled the length of the Corredor Transoceánico, towards the river port of Yurimaguas. I arrived in Moyobamba in time for its patron saint feast day. On the first night, the Plaza de Armas was lined with food stalls offering traditional foods. Many had fried cecina (pemmican) and juanes, a round tamale made of chicken and rice steamed in a bijao leaf. A few women were grilling cuts of majaz (the agouti). The most common drink being poured into plastic cups was chicha de higo, a non-alcoholic drink made from figs.

 

Majaz with yucca and maduro. Photo by Lorraine Caputo

Finally I saw a sign I was hoping to see: Masato con espuma. One woman was whisking eggs into a pale-lemon-colored froth. She then half-filled a styrofoam cup with masato and topped it off with a big dollop of the foam. I asked her if it were true the root is chewed before fermentation. “No,” she responded as she prepared my drink, “only in settlements deep in the jungle do they still make it that way. Most people now use sugar.”

 

In Yurimaguas, I was told the same thing.

 

Heading back to the coast, I stop in Tarapoto. One evening I walk up Jirón Alegría Areas de Morey. None of the restaurants catering to the foreign tourists appeal to me: not pizza or pasta, not over-priced plates of ceviche or cecina. After a few blocks, the street becomes dirt-paved. Motorcycle rickshaw taxis pull in front of a one-story building, dropping off passengers who head inside. Under the eaves, a couple digs into heaping plates of food. A long grill wafts smoke and meat aromas into the night air. Every table in the dining hall inside is packed.

 

The hand-printed sign outside the restaurant, Parrilladas El Bijao, promises locally produced cecina and chorizos, juanes, patarashca (a fish soup prepared and served in a “bowl” of bijao leaves, fish grilled in bijao leaves and other typical dishes. Another sign lists juices made from the tangy camu camu and other jungle fruits—and masato.

 

Making tacacho. Photo by Lorraine Caputo

At a table next to the grill, owner Betty is smashing steamed plantains in a batán (wooden trough) with a wooden mallet. I ask her if the masato is made the old-fashioned way, by chewing. She says no, but it is homemade. She invites me to sit down on the bench and begins to tell me the process.

 

“First, we steam the yucca until it is soft. Then in a batán like this, it is ground.” She breaks up lumps of plantain with one hand, and begins pounding the mixture again. “Into the water in which the yucca was cooked, we add sugar. That’s poured into the batán and kneaded into the yucca mash until it is a thick paste.”

 

She reaches over to a pot on the grill and ladles pork fat and cracklings onto the plantains. She works the dough. Then with quick hands, she forms a small ball. “Here, try this tacacho,” she says, handing it to me.

 

As she peels more plantains to smash, she continues her explanation of how to make masato. “The yucca mixture is placed into a tinaja (ceramic urn) and fermented for at least three days.”

 

As I eat the tacacho, I tell her about my search for masato. “Many told me the only place you’ll find the traditional one, made by chewing the yucca first, is deep in the jungle.”

 

She sets into making a new batch of tacacho. “No. You can find old-fashioned masato in Lamas. There they still chew the root for fermentation. They don’t use sugar.”

 

Her companion has prepared my order. I take a seat the couple’s long table to receive my plate of majaz, yucca and roasted maduros (ripe plantains). The waitress brings out a chilled glass of the house masato to accompany my repast. This 15-day-old brew is smooth—much different than the chicha de jora I had tried in Arequipa.

 

Masato. Photo by Lorraine Caputo

In that southern Peruvian city, chef Walter Bustamante Cano told me over three hundred varieties of chicha exist. I have tried four. To savor the others would take a lifetime.

 

I think of the Nicaraguan song about this native brew of the Americas. Perhaps the people of this country could do their own version: Chicha de jora, chicha morada, chicha de higo, masato …

 

 

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.

 

On the Road – Peru: Chicha and Other Native Brews, Part 2

In this three-part series on chicha, we travel from the sierra to the jungle to discover Peru’s native brews.

 

After learning about chicha de jora from Soncallay’s master chef, my next stop is Mercado San Camilo, Arequipa’s central market that was designed by Gustave Eiffel. I need to pick up on the ingredients for chicha morada, the non-alcoholic chicha beverage that is commonly served with restaurants’ daily special. I have asked Bárbara Gonzales, owner of Samana Wasi hostel, to teach me about this drink. She is an expert on classic Arequipeña cooking. For many years, she had restaurants, before opening her hostel, where she also offers cooking lessons to her guests.

 

I pull her list of ingredients out of my pocket as I walk by the stall serving up chicha de jora. In this late afternoon, the counter is crowded with customers.

 

Ingredients for chicha morada. Photo by Lorraine Caputo

The woman who sells me the coronta de maíz (purple corn cobs) tells me her secrets to preparing the drink. The spice woman pinches the bag of cloves, showing me how much she uses: Only five or six pieces. With the rest of the goods, I head back to the hostel.

 

The next morning, I meet doña Bárbara in her kitchen off the hostel’s courtyard. As she cuts the peel off of three slices of pineapple, she explains that chicha morada is used in folk medicine, for lowering high blood pressure and for curing cancer. It’s also good when you have digestive problems. It’s easy on the stomach and replaces electrolytes. Chicha morada is excellent for infants and old people, as is mazamorra, a pudding made of this chicha thickened with chuño (freeze-dried potato) starch.

 

Peeling the pineapple. Photo by Lorraine Caputo

With her stubby hands, doña Bárbara breaks 200 grams of coronta de maíz in half before placing them into three liters of hot water. Then the pineapple husks, 10 cloves (clavos de olor) and five small sticks of cinnamon are added to make our chicha morada. She puts the lid on the pot. “Now we have to let it boil for about 15 minutes. Then we’ll strain it and let it cool. After that, turbinado sugar and the juice of three or four limes go in.”

 

The simmering pot of chicha morada. Photo by Lorraine Caputo

Throughout Peru, chicha morada commonly accompanies the daily lunch special. “You have to be careful, though,” doña Bárbara warns. “Many places either dilute it with beet juice, or prepare it from packets. Few actually serve the real thing.” This manner of chicha has a rich flavor. A similar preparation is made in Ecuador, using chunks of pineapple instead of the peel. In that country, it is usually only prepared for the Day of the Dead celebrations.

 

I ask doña Bárbara about the other type of chicha. “It’s very important in Arequipeña cooking, especially guiñapo, which she explains, is Arequipa’s own chicha. Half-crushed purple maize kernels are boiled with pineapple husk, cinnamon, cloves and anise. The mixture is then strained and turbinado sugar is mixed in. The liquid is left to ferment at least two weeks. Guiñapo is an essential ingredient in adobo arequipeña, the city’s famous, spicy pork stew.

 

The finished product -- chicha morada. Photo by Lorraine Caputo

For lunch, she serves our homemade chicha morada with another classic Andean dish, cuy (guinea pig). Boiled yellow potatoes, olluco (another type of tuber), haba beans, corn on the cob and fresh chili sauce accompany our meal.

 

The day before I leave Arequipa, I decide to lunch at a popularly priced restaurant on the Plaza de Armas. The waitress tells me today’s drink is chicha. “Chicha morada?” “No, chicha de jora. Is that okay? I could get you something without alcohol,” she offers. No, no, it’s okay, I assure her.

 

It’ll give me one last opportunity to salute the splendor of Arequipa’s food and chicha, before heading out to the Peru’s jungle to learn about another of its chichas: masato.

 

 

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.

 

 

On the Road – Peru: Chicha and Other Native Brews, Part 1

In this three-part series on chicha, we travel from the sierra to the jungle to discover Peru’s native brews.

 

 

Chicha de maiz, chicha pujagua, chicha raizuda, pelo de maíz, goes the song by the Nicaraguan  musicians, Carlos and Luis Enrique Mejía Godoy. This fermented grain drink, usually made of corn, exists throughout Latin America, from México to Argentina. The Real Academia Española says the word came from the Kuna nation of Panama, for which “chichab” means corn. The beverage, which has been around since pre-Columbian times, has a low alcohol content. Non-alcoholic varieties exist: In Panama, chicha is a fruit drink. Peru and Ecuador have chicha morada, made of purple corn, pineapple and spices.

 

Chicha is especially common in the Andean countries. No matter where you go, you’ll find places flying a white flag, announcing that urns of the drink are available. When the combi breaks down in the middle of nowhere, deep in the Peruvian mountains, someone will scare some up from a local woman. The stranded passengers will pass the time waiting for repairs to be done, passing around a jug of chicha. In village feasts, celebrants will gather around the cook fires to share a mug, dispelling the chill of the altiplano night.

 

The Andes’ native brew is still a drink of the common people. Chicherías—chicha bars—exist even in Lima. When the owner of a hostel in that capital city was gossiping about a scandalous brawl that happened at one, I said, “Such places still exist?” She looked at me, up and down, “They aren’t for foreigners—and not for decent people.”

 

If you want to try this corn beer, you’ll most likely find it out in the smaller villages. In larger cities, like Arequipa in Southern Peru, the central markets may have a counter where a woman ladles up the brew into a customer’s recycled jug.

 

While in Arequipa, I decide to learn more about this traditional drink. I cross the city’s splendid Plaza de Armas. In the center, the fountain leaps into the sun, capturing pieces of light and showering them upon the pigeons pecking at the handfuls of crushed corn grain tossed by families posing for photos. On the north edge of the square is the imposing Cathedral built of the white sillar volcanic stone that gives this city its nickname: La Ciudad Blanca. The other three sides of the square are surrounded by two-story, portaled buildings. I enter one and climb the steps to Sonccollay, a restaurant specializing in pre-Incan cuisine.

 

Walter Bustamante Cano, owner of Sonccallay and master chef. Photo by Lorraine Caputo

Out on the balcony overlooking the plaza, owner and master chef Walter Bustamante Cano is holding court in his realm. He speaks of the apu (spirits) of the three snow-capped volcanoes that edge the city: Misti, Chachani and Pichu Pichu.

 

His passion flares when he speaks of food. His thick eyebrows and waving hands accent the benefits of the ancient way of preparing foods. It is a union made of love and to promote health and wellbeing. It is a uniting of the universal energies of Wiracocha (Father Sky) with the material manifestations of Pachamama (Mother Earth) in the Kay Pacha, the world of the Here and Now where humans live.

 

Chef Walter explains that in Quechua and Aymará, chicha is called aswa. Peru has various types of aswa. In fact, there are over 300 types of this native beer, including ones made of peanut and all colors of corn. Here in the Andes, the traditional one is jora aswa and kinua aswa, made of quinoa grain.  In the north, maka, made of algarrobina (carob), is more common. The jungle region has masato, made of yucca. In some areas, the grain is chewed and then strained through straw, to help fermentation.

 

Kero: a traditional, ceramic cup of Peru's Andean region. Photo by Lorraine Caputo

He fills my traditional, clay kero cup with jora aswa. I drink the cloudy liquid pure, without the addition of sweetener. The taste is lighter than I expected and slightly bitter.

 

Chef Walter explains that the traditional way for making chicha consists of three steps. The first step is to let the fresh kernels of purple corn ferment at least three days. Then the juice and corn are boiled and strained into a chamba (large ceramic urn). In Northern Peru, the urn is buried—a custom that has faded in the south. Lastly, the liquid is fermented for three days to one year. The longer the fermentation, the stronger the brew will be.

 

An urn of fermenting chicha. Photo by Lorraine Caputo

Chef Walter takes me to the entryway of his restaurant and pulls a colorful woven cloth from the top of a large amphora. The bitter smell of the chicha wafts up from the dark pool within.

 

My next stop is Mercado San Camilo, Arequipa’s central market, to pick up on the ingredients for another type of Peruvian native drink, chicha morada.

 

 

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.

On the Road: Peru – On the Pisco Trail

February and March mark the season for saluting pisco, Peru’s national drink. It all begins February 2 with International Pisco Day and continues with Ica’s Festival de la Vendimia and nearby Huacachina’s Festival de la Sirena.

 

 

The grape harvest is coming in, and the Vendimia Queen is making the rounds of Ica’s wineries to stomp huge vats of the fruit. (The day before our tour visited El Catador, she had done a stint there.) Large clay urns hold the fermenting juice until it is time to pour it all into massive copper stills over huarango wood fires. The resultant pisco drips forth, and after aging, is poured into glasses for our enjoyment.

 

A pisco still. Photo by Lorraine Caputo

 

In this harvest season, pisco isn’t the only drink available. Many of the bodegas also produce wines, including perfecto amor, a perfectly lovely mix of young wine and pisco – and which packs quite a punch. (You’ll feel fine sitting down while enjoying a few glasses of it, but watch it when it comes time to stand up!) Also available only during March is cachina, a very young wine fermented for only seven days to two months. Be forewarned that this also can knock you for a loop.

 

Some bodegas still use old-fashioned urns for fermenting the grape juice. Photo by Lorraine Caputo

 

Tours to one of Ica’s more than 80 wineries teach all the steps that go into making this prized national liquor and offer free samples of it. Most of the bodegas are small, family-run operations, like Lovera, Mendoza and El Catador. Tacama, one of Peru’s largest pisco producers, is also near Ica.

 

Lovera piscos and wines. Photo by Lorraine Caputo

 

A fantastic place to visit is Museo Lazo. This is not only a small pisco winery, but also a museum filled all sorts of oddities related (and not-so-related) to the fruits of the vine (Camino Reyes 150, Salas. Tel: 403-430, URL: www.bodegalazo.com).

 

Tours of Ica’s wineries often also include a stop at Cachiche, a neighborhood that for centuries has been known for its witches and healers, and to a bewitched, seven-crowned date palm.

 

A monument in honor of the Witches of Cachine. Photo by Lorraine Caputo

 

Ica is just one of the five regions in the country’s new Ruta Integrada de Pisco, a tourism route embracing over 200 pisco bodegas in Lima, Ica, Arequipa, Moquegua and Tacna departments. Peruvians debate where the best liquor comes from, but one thing is assured: each town has its own twist on pisco cocktails. The most famous is the Pisco Sour, but while journeying through Peru, be sure  to also try the Tacna Sour in that city, or the Machu Picchu and Bandera Mokewana in Moquegua. Salud!

 

Try a Bandera Mokewana or a Machu Picchu. Photo by Lorraine Caputo

 

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.

On the Road – Peru: Three Classic Peruvian Dishes and Variations on Their Themes

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.

On the Road – Peru: Chinese New Year in Lima’s Barrio Chino

The sharp cracks of fireworks fill the streets with pungent smoke and shreds of paper. The booming drums, the clang of brass cymbals announce the arrival of the dancers. Humans beneath the cloth dragon, lion and other animals raise the creatures up in the doorways of businesses, ensuring a bountiful coming year.

 

In China Towns all over the world, this millennia-old ceremony was celebrated to mark the beginning of the Year of the Dragon. In Lima’s Barrio Chino, shoppers were lured by the unusual music. Snapping photos with their cell phones, they followed the parade down the crowded streets.

 

 

During the second half of the 19th century, some 100,000 Chinese arrived to Peru. Most came to work in nitrate mining or on the plantations after slavery was abolished. Many were indentured servants, living a semi-slave life. In the 20th century, a second wave washed upon these South American shores. Today, Chinese descendants make up about 0.5% of the nation’s population.

 

 

The Barrio Chino is near Lima’s Mercado Central, just a few blocks east of the Plaza de Armas. Walking up Jirón Ucayali (a.k.a., Calle Cantón), you soon come to the large red gateways inviting you to stroll down the pedestrian mall paved with the 12 sign of the Sino horoscope. Several stands offer newspapers from China and another kiosk attends to spiritual needs.

 

The neighborhood extends from Jirón Junín to Jirón Puno, and from Andahuaylas to nearly Huanta. These bustling streets are jammed with dozens of chifas, (Chinese restaurants) with roasted ducks and pigs hanging in front windows. Import shops provide everything from foods to knickknacks. There are also several acupuncture clinics. Businesses – including banks – brandish signs in Spanish and Chinese.

 

Come down for a few hours, to savor a different flavor in Peru. Have a quick lunch at a chifa and wander through the dozens of market stalls tucked off the streets. Before heading back to the run-of-the-mill Peruvian reality, pick up some authentic ingredients to whip up your own stir fry back at your hostel.

 

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.

On the Road – Peru: Everyone’s Choosing Peru as THE Destination to Visit

In the past few months, Peru has become a hot destination choice for many international publications.

 

National Geographic has chosen Peru as one of the Best Pick destinations for 2012. Beyond Machu Picchu, hikes in some of the world’s deepest canyons and exotic birds, this publication also cites the regional foods as being a major reason to come to this Andean nation.

 

Peru's famous ceviche.

And Peru's infamous cuy.

 

Reuters recently did an article on what to do and see in Lima during 48 hours, as part of its “Postcard” series. The Amazon Basin – part of which lies in Peru – was declared a New Seven Natural Wonder of the World last year. In December 2011, the History Travel Channel focused on Peru as its country of the month. And V!VA Travel Guides is once more on the ground searching out the best to know here.

 

Crowds welcoming the 2012 Dakar to Lima.

 

Join V!VA Travel Guides on our exploration of Peru in the new series of blogs, “On the Road: Peru.” V!VA has already brought you the arrival to Lima of the 2012 Dakar road rally and filled you in on Viringos, the native hairless dog. Each week, you can learn more about the sights and flavors that await you in this diverse Andean nation.

 

What would you like to know about Peru? Let us know – and we’ll root it out on our Peruvian journeys.

 

Three Towns in Chile Anyone Will Love

When travelers plan their trips to Chile, usually Santiago, Valparaiso and the wine country are at the top of their lists. But other parts of the country offer towns that anyone will love, places full of history, culinary delights and cultural diversity. Three cities that are often overlooked are Arica, Valdivia and Porvenir. V!VA Travel Guides Chile can help you explore the many facets of these places.

 

In the extreme north of Chile, just mere kilometers from the Peruvian border, is Arica. Among this city’s many distinctions are the world’s shortest railroad (from Arica to Tacna, Peru) and the oldest mummies (over 10,000 years old). It is a city steeped in history. This once-important Spanish colonial port was a major battleground during the War of the Pacific. It also was wiped out twice by tsunamis in the 19th century. Several structures by Gustave Eiffel decorate downtown.

Arica offers nature lovers bird watching at the Lluta River Mouth wetlands and boat tours along the coast to the Humboldt penguin colony at Caleta de Camarones. Adrenaline junkies can hit some of the world’s most challenging surf or go kitesurfing. And of course, the miles of beaches and Isla del Alacrán offer a bit of something for everyone.

Eiffel's cathedral in Arica.

On the cultural front, the city has several museums, like the Museo del Mar and El Morro hill with the Museo Histórico y de Armas. On any given day, you can see Aymara or African-descendent dance troupes dancing down the 21 de Mayo pedestrian street. This is also a favorite venue for the medieval-esque tuna music groups. Culinary delights include empanadas de jaiba-queso (crab and cheese pies) and sopa marinera (seafood soup).

Two river valley oases hug Arica. To the north is Valle de Lluta, with many small Andean villages with colonial churches and the Eco-Truly yoga spa. Valle de Azapa, which is famous for its olives, begins south of the city. Along the road are dozens of geoglyphs, or designs etched into the hillsides, tombs and a pre-Columbian pukará fortress. The Museo de San Miguel has ancient mummies and fine textiles.

Arica is also a good jumping off point for trips to the Pre-Cordillera de Belén, where a dozen Aymara villages and ancient ruins nestle into the folds of the Andean foothills, Putre and Parque Nacional Lauca near the Bolivian border.

Riding the surf in Arica.

South of Santiago is Valdivia, in the heart of Chile’s famed Lake District. This city at the confluence of three rivers also has a fascinating history. In the dawn of the 17th century, the Mapuche indigenous forced the Spanish to abandon the port which was later occupied by Dutch pirates. In their efforts to reconquer their Pearl of the Pacific, the Spaniards built the America’s second largest fortress system, covering over 18 kilometers (11 miles). During the 19th century, thousands of Germans immigrated here. In 1960, the largest earthquake in modern history destroyed the city.

The Mapuche festival in Valdivia.

Today, Valdivia is a culturally and ethnically vibrant city. It has a full slate of museums covering everything from natural history to art, as well as a half-dozen performance art centers. The city’s ethnic diversity is celebrated with several festivals: Bierfest (January 29-February 1), Fiesta de las Tradiciones (September 17-21) and Expoarte y Cultura Mapuche (November 28-30).

 Visitors to Valdivia can join the national rowing team sculling the rivers. You can also spend a day boating towards the sea to visit the Spanish fortresses at Isla Mancera, Corral and Niebla, or upstream to Punucapa and the Cuello Negro brewery. Kunstmann, famous throughout Chile for its beer, also is headquartered near Valdivia.

A Spanish fortress.

At the end of a day of exploring Valdivia and its region, try some of its famous seafood or a crudo, a dish of its German origin. Of course, accompany any repast with one of the local beers (Café las Gringas serves all of Chile’s microbrews) and end it with some delectable chocolate.

Valdivia is a good point to launch any hiking expedition into the Lake District’s many national parks, like Villarrica, near Pucón, with a volcano to climb, or Puyehue, with an active volcano. Hot springs, fishing and other nature diversions spot the countryside around the Seven Lakes. The entire region is perfumed by the Mapuche and German cultures.

Black-neck Swans.

At the far end of Chile, on the eastern shore of the Magellan Strait, is our last destination: Porvenir. This town on the island of Tierra del Fuego also has a deep history and culture. It was where Selk’nam wandered and fished, Croats and Chilotes came looking for gold at the end of the rainbow and Chilean cinema was born.

Follow the rainbow to Porvenir.

Although the indigenous peoples of this land are long gone, you can learn about their culture at the Museo Provincial Fernando Cordero Rusque. Porvenir’s modern history began with a gold rush in the late 19th century. By following the Circuito Histórico Cultural into the mountains near Porvenir, you will find men still panning the chill streams for gold nuggets. This historic circuit also wends to the old sheep ranch Estancia Caleta Josefina and Onaisín.

The shores of Porvenir’s bay is a great place to learn about the town’s history and to birdwatch. Another refuge for avifauna is Monumento Nacional de los Cisnes. Out in the hinterlands of the island are Lago Blanco, a trout angler’s Paradise, and the Cordillera de Darwin, the ultimate adventure for trekkers.

Porvenir is accesible by ferry from Punta Arenas, or by private vehicle the Argentine cities Ushuaia and Río Gallegos. To visit sites in the countryside around Porvenir, rent a car in any of the major cities, hire a driver in Porvenir, go on tour or bicycle out. As in other parts of Chile, seafood is superb here. Porvenir is the best place to try centolla, or king crab.

 

Arica, Valdivia and Porvenir are all easy to get to from the neighboring countries. If you’re needing a break from Peru or Argentina, head over the border for the multi-faceted pleasures these three towns guarantee. Pack along V!VA’s other guidebooks to help you navigate into the lesser-known corners of all these countries.

Culinary Adventures in Argentina

Argentina offers travelers many types of adventures, like riding with gauchos across the pampas or hiking in Parque Nacional Los Glaciares around majestic FitzRoy and to breath-taking Perito Moreno Glacier. There are skiing and snowboarding Bariloche, and riding dogsleds in Ushuaia. No matter the season, no matter the place, Argentina has something for everyone. And that includes for aficionados of exotic cooking.

 

Indeed—Argentina’s cuisine goes much beyond its beef and wine. The country’s varied landscapes extend to the dinner plate. V!VA Travel Guides Argentina extends a fork to help you undertake culinary adventures in Argentina.

 

If you are really a parrilla (BBQ) fan, ready to carve into huge chunks of meat, then head to an espeleto joint in Misiones Province, in the Northeast of the country. At restaurants like ­­­­Kelo or La Querencia in Posadas, the waiters come to your table with meat speared on a sword. Another specialty of this region is ­­­­galeto: chicken grilled on a spit, stuffed with smoked ham, sweet peppers and tomatoes.

Carpincho, or capybara.

The Northeast also offers all sorts of temptations out of the ordinary. One of the local denizens is the world’s largest rodents, the carpincho (capybara). You can buy the farm-raised meat in Mercedes (Corrientes Province).

 

On the other side of the Paraná River, in Formosa, another regional resident arrives to restaurant plates: the yacaré or spectacled caiman. This tender meat can be tried at La Ribera, as a grilled steak or in empanadas.

A yacaré, or spectacled caiman.

Northwest Argentina has its share of culinary adventures, too. Because of its strong Andean cultural identity, you’ll see llama appearing on some menus. Cabrito (kid goat) and goat cheese are also common. But the real treat is suri (rhea), an ostrich relative. El Almacén in Tafí del Valle prepares empanadas from farm-raised birds.

 

At the other end of the country, in the Patagonia, lamb is most commonly thrown on the coals. In the summertime, you’re more likely to see campers throwing sides of this meat onto the grill instead of beef. Don’t miss the opportunity to chow down on some of the world-renowned Patagonian cordero.

 

All of Argentina’s meats, though, do not come from the land. One thing only found in its Patagonia is the Giant Patagonian Oyster, which is about the size of a hand. Try this delectable seafood in a whiskey sauce at El Rey de Mariscos in Las Grutas.

 

Another seafood delight found in the southernmost seas around Tierra del Fuego is centolla or king crab. Unfortunately, it is quite pricy in Argentina. It is much cheaper on the other side of the border in Chile. In the Fueguian village Porvenir, you can try centolla in the Club Croata’s Trilogía Austral crêpe, featuring shellfish, oysters and king crab.

 

These are just some of the culinary adventures V!VA Travel Guides Argentina can take you on. Argentine law states that any exotic game served must be farm-raised, not hunted, in order to protect wild populations Before ordering, ask whether the meat is cazado (hunted) or de criadero (farm raised). And don’t forget to have a bottle of wine to accompany your repast.

 

Buen provecho!