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If you follow my blog at all, you know that one of the things I love is food. I love to cook, I love to try new food, I love to try new recipes – love it all. So, no surprise, an UP to living in Peru is —

FOOD.

Here’s a run-down on just a few of the national dishes of Peru and some food that we have come to know and love in the last three years.

Meet “Aji de Gallina”:

“Aji” is a pepper native to Peru. The first thing you need to know about Peruvian food is that it is not spicy. So, even though it includes quite a bit of the aji pepper (hence the yellow color), it is not a spicy food. “Gallina” means “hen.” It may not win points for looks, but it sure tastes amazing. It is: boiled, shredded chicken, a very specific kind of bread (or sometimes quinoa), aji peppers, garlic, milk, and chicken stock. It is a very thick, borderline pasty in texture, sauce, but very flavorful. It is always served alongside rice on a bed of lettuce garnished with black olives and boiled eggs – just like the picture. Yummy.

Now, meet the national coastal dish of Peru: Cebiche (or “ceviche” depending on where you’re at) –

To be brutally honest, this is not my favorite dish. But, I am not a fish person. I can eat a little of it, but not a whole plate. It is basically raw fish “cooked” in lemon. They say “cooked” because the raw fish is extremely fresh and then marinated in a lemon juice mixture long enough for it to kill anything bad in the fish and infuse it with a strong lemony flavor. They also cook this with aji and garlic and onion and I’m not sure what else – and it’s normally served with corn and sweet potato. It is renowned throughout the world – and for good reason. If I was a big fish eater, I’m sure I would love it more.

Moving on to beef, we have: Lomo Saltado

“Lomo” is beef and “saltado” basically means “salty.” If something is “saltado” it normally means it has lots of soy sauce on it. Now, this dish I could eat all the time. I LOVE it. A really well-done “lomo saltado” is amazing. You can even get empanadas stuffed with lomo saltado (I’ll get to those in a sec). It is strips of beef, red onion, tomato, and red pepper sauteed in soy sauce over an open flame. As one of my friends showed me, really good chefs will flip the beef over the open flame to get that flavor on the meat. It’s served with French fries and rice.

For pastry, we have: empanadas.

These could be likened to Michigan’s “pasties” or “Hot Pockets.” They are dough filled with a meat mixture and sauce. You can get a huge variety of them with all different types of dough. My favorites are at this one restaurant we found that’s more like a bakery. Their empanadas have a flaky dough, slightly dusted with flour. The filling can be either hamburger or chicken, sauteed with onions, peppers, mushrooms, garlic, tomato sauce, and boiled eggs. You can also get cheese stuffed empanadas – just fresh cheese (normally goat cheeses – very creamy, very good, but almost too rich!). One of my favorites: spinach artichoke stuffed empanadas. They taste like spinach artichoke dip wrapped in pastry dough. I have to admit, when we go to our local market, I beg for a meat empanada. It’s my guilty pleasure.

Next on the list is another dish made with lots of aji: causa.

Can you tell this one was homemade and not a professional picture? 🙂 I helped make this one last year. Our husbands had been out working in the jungle all day and we wanted to make them a yummy supper so we spent the afternoon (literally) making this causa! In order to make it, we boiled potatoes whole with skin on until tender, then peeled them by hand and put them in a giant bowl to be mashed, also by hand. I literally mean – by hand. You get your hands in there and smoosh! To the potatoes, you add a bunch of aji sauce, mayonnaise, lemon, and salt. You get it as smooth as possibly, then lay out half of it on a pan lined with aluminum foil. On top of it goes shredded, boiled chicken, and cooked, diced veggies like carrots and peas, mixed with mayonnaise, salt, pepper, and more lemon. Then, once you lay that layer out, you cover the top with the rest of the smooth potato mixture. It’s served cold, normally with rice and – you guessed it – a boiled egg on top.

Another potato dish I could eat all the time and think is just genius is: papa rellena.

“Papa” means “potato” and “rellena” means “filled.” In case you haven’t figured it out by now, Peruvians love potatoes and boiled eggs. This is no exception. It’s the same general meat filling that you find in empanadas, with the addition of raisins. Then, you cook the potatoes the same way as you do for causa, and divide it into balls. You roll each ball out almost like pie dough, and put some filling in the center, then wrap the potato around the filling. Then – this is the best, most ingenious part – all of it gets deep-fried. Oh yeah. Serve with rice and aji sauce and life is good.

Peru is not known for dessert, but there are three I wanted to share with you.

The first is the most famous: arroz con leche.

Literally translated, this is “rice with milk.” You probably know it as “rice pudding.” “Rice with milk” is more accurate, though, because that is literally how it is cooked. Peruvian rice pudding is rich, creamy, and made with three different types of milk (regular, evaporated, and condensed), cooked with cinnamon sticks and topped with extra cinnamon and raisins. Best rice pudding on earth. I promise you.

Another popular dessert is a cookie – the alfajor.

“Alfajor” is pronounced “alpha – whore”. So many jokes. So little time. Now that you think I’m not spiritual, I’ll move on. These are little cookies filled with a cream called “manjar blanco” which is condensed milk cooked and stirred for hours and hours until it turns into a caramel. We call it “Peruvian peanut butter” because it’s used in many ways how Americans use peanut butter. It’s rich and yummy and just… yummy. Sorry. Couldn’t think of another adjective! 🙂 They’re just that good. They’re covered in powdered sugar and occasionally the cookie itself has a little bit of “anis” in it (tastes like licorice).

The last dessert I want to introduce you to is a cake – tres leches.

Just like the name implies, this is cake made from “three milks.” Actually, technically, there’s four milks, but we’ll just let that go. Anyway – the cake itself is made with milk in it and then you make a mixture of evaporated milk, condensed milk, and heavy cream, poke holes in the top, and pour it over the cake. It’s served cold. It’s so rich and incredibly amazing.

So there ya go! I hope this has helped you expand your horizons and think of good food not just being in Italy, France, and Brazil (or wherever you happen to think good food comes from). A definite UP in the

Ups, Downs, and All Arounds of Living in Peru.

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