Snacks. A word I never really want to hear ever again. It is a word regularly used in Peru, they have snack restaurants that open at midday until their siesta at 3, that serve a 2 course meal for 7sol (£3.50). These meals consisted of some kind of meat based soup served tepid with a hunk of chicken on the bone and noodles floating like dirty dishwater in the bowl. This was followed by either a rice and chicken based concoction or, if you went veggie (a bemusing concept for the average Peruvian) pasta and liquid pesto.
Peruvian food mostly seems to consist of chicken and rice. Sometimes this may also include some lumps of boiled potato and (yes AND not OR) noodles/pasta. The carb overload is huge and may explain the rotund nature of most of Peruvians in the places that we visited.
Fried is also definitely a thing in Peru. In an attempt to add some variety to my diet I tried a vegetable tortilla. It came with rice (naturally) but it also came nicely fried, which is not generally how I cook omelettes!
Lomo saltado is not fried and is also a Peruvian favourite. Strips of beef or chicken cooked with tomatoes and onions and served with rice. You can even get it extra spicy if you so wish. My first taste was in a rather unsavoury joint that was the only place open during Trajillo’s siesta time. All I really got was gristle and rice. Not to be deterred, my second attempt was a much greater success when I tasted a delicious version of the dish in Iquitos. I’m lucky I was able to enjoy it though as it barely touched the sides after waiting a very long time for it due to erratic service and sly ordering from some members of the group.
In Nauta I tried Salchepepa which is basically chopped up, processed sausage and chips with sauce, tomato ketchup and mustard. Unfortunately by the time we were served this time they had run out of sauce so I had sausage and chips, ketchup and mustard, which I could have had back home!
Of course I also tried guinea pig! In a restaurant in Central Downtown Lima, after a lovely pot-luck lunch (I couldn’t read the menu so I closed my eyes, pointed and got lucky!) the World Challenge team ordered two guinea pigs; one plain and one spicy. The dishes came whole, simply flattened and roasted, with heads and feet intact.
We proceeded to try and divvy up the dishes between those who wanted it, much to the horror of our waiter who vigorously mimed picking it up whole in our fingers and chomping on it off the bone. I was presented with a wizened paw and shoulder, which did make me think twice. But ever open to trying anything once I proceeded cautiously.
First of all, there isn’t much meat on a guinea pig. It is mostly bone (hence the knowing mimes of the waiter). It’s quite a struggle to even find a taste of the meat but when you do: it tastes like fatty, slightly overcooked chicken. Quite a disappointment, but that lunch was a welcome change after 4 weeks of snacks.
The Peruvians are also big on biscuits. After years of consuming large quantities of sweet biscuits in the English Office I never believed I could have too many. But in Peru, when every lunch we had on the trek consisted of at least two packets of biscuits with at least three biscuits in each packet, in a multitude of lurid colours and flavours, I discovered I could have too much of a good thing. They are even sold by child hawkers on the streets. When a small girl tried to sell us biscuits to us at the beginning of our trek and we refused to buy Marcus translated her surprised response as ‘but it’s cold.’ As though it was ridiculous for us to contemplate a long walk in the Andes without such sustenance.
On the plus side, I did enjoy the fruit. Sweet bananas, some of them slightly pink on the inside; juicy oranges and, for the first time; passion fruit, were things I really enjoyed. Peeling a passion fruit to reveal the pulp covered seeds held in a tentacled embrace was almost as much fun as slurping them up while gazing at our mountainous view.
One of my favourite meals was provided by the community of Yarina during our project phase. A daily lunch of rice and fish might sound bland but on this occasion the fish was marinated in a delicious mixture of spices and oil and was meaty with very little bone. It was Steph’s first attempt at eating fish after years of hating it and even she managed to eat some. A second dish was produced: raw fish ‘cooked’ in citrus and mixed with onion and spices to produce a mouthwatering flavour that I couldn’t get enough of. After consecutive meals of egg and pasta it was a blessed relief! I even tried pirana (tastes like chicken) and turtle egg, as fishing and luck determined on the day.
Snacks however, took on a completely different meaning in the hands of the challengers. Our itinerary required a lot of travel and the team was advised to purchase ‘snacks’ that would serve as breakfast or at least sustenance, for longer journeys. At first fruit was purchased, until we fell foul of the customs regulations and we were forced to consume our breakfast oranges as a late supper rather than travel with them on the bus. Soon, snacks simply became biscuits, sweets and crisps, things that were familiar and easily found in shops and supermarkets.
I did try to shake things up a bit by purchasing sweet donut balls from a man in the market in Yarina and we tried coconut water from coconuts in Iquitos, but the group did not take the hint.
One time Steph, Tim and I also chose to buy our own breakfasts for two mornings in Trajillo simply to avoid another morning of bread, jam and cereal bars. Some canny shopping gave us pizza-like rolls, fruit juice and bananas at a very reasonable price and helped lift morale when it was much needed.
I did hit an all time low when one breakfast consisted of dry cereal and tinned fruit. Even when I added stolen chocolate bits into the mix I couldn’t quite bring myself to enjoy it.
While I can’t complain about being catered for during the majority of the trip I did miss cooking for myself and being able to chose from a greater variety of food.
World Challenge offers a number of challenges to our students but my greatest challenge was definitely the food!