When I was in high school, I had the opportunity to travel to Europe. With travel comes another opportunity – the chance to sample real, authentic foreign food. Did I seize this opportunity? Nope. My inner picky-eater reared her ugly head and didn’t want me to try anything. So I didn’t. Others I traveled with were noshing on local cuisine and I think I had cheese and cracker platters. If I could, I’d reach over to my past-self and smack her in the back of the head.
When you travel, eat! Leave your food inhibitions at the door and jump into the local food scene (unless, of course, you have some kind of food allergy. In which case, please be wary). If you don’t, you’re missing out on a large part of a country’s culture. Even worse? Unless you get the chance to go back to that country, your chances of having that authentic cuisine again are slim.
When I got back from Europe, I regretted eating crackers and cheese instead of local fares. In college, I traveled to Peru – I had a new chance to be an adventurous eater, huzzah! I made a vow to myself that I would make my inner picker-eater stay home and would sample everything I could. Would one bite hurt me? What’s the worst that could happen, that I spit something out if it’s truly disgusting?
Quick PSA announcement time: My only exception was this – if there was a chance that a food had been tainted by local water, I would skip it. Why that snobby sounding rule? Not all water is created equal, and your body will not react to all water equally. Lets say you want to have an apple while overseas. Now lets say you’re in a less developed area of a country, or an over-crowded urban area. The local tap water could contain parasites, germs, chemicals, etc. that your body has never encountered. In other words, you could get really sick from ingesting it. If that apple was washed, what water do you think was used? Not bottled! And obviously you’re not going to cook it. So you only eat fruit that you can wash yourself with bottled water or can peel. 3 cheers for being a smart traveler!
So anyways, off I went to Peru. Peru is an amazingly beautiful country. It has so many geographic regions – within a span of a few days you can visit a desert, a rain forest, a mountain – it’s astounding. The people are friendly, the scenery breathtaking, the water…probably contaminated in most areas. Womp womp wompppp.
The first area I visited was the Amazon and the rainforest around it. I could spend the rest of my blog posts explaining the beauty of that area to you, but I’ll spare you…for now. What I loved about the rainforest was the fact that I ate fresh, local food there. Better yet? It was all healthy and delicious.
Fresh caught fish, plus fruits and vegetables picked out of the rainforest or the lodge’s gardens….mmmm. I hated lime before I went to Peru and now love it. The people there put lime on everything. Palm heart salad (mmm) comes and you ask for no lime – so they squirt half a lime on it. If you ask for a little lime, 1 lime goes on it instead of 2. The professor I went with made sure the small lodge’s staff washed everything with clean water so we could enjoy without getting sick. Then the staff wanted us to catch our own meal. What local fish did they have in mind?
Piranha. Yep. We hooked raw meat onto fishing line and caught these fiesty little fish for dinner. I was a little squeamish, but in hindsight it was a good foot in the door for new food. A fish is a fish. It was good! There just isn’t much meat in there. Mostly bones and anger.
A few days later we were off to a new part of Peru – but first we had to take boats back to the more populated areas off the Amazon. Want to see the food we spotted just off the docks?
Bugs and plantains! Okay, I’ll admit it – I passed on these. I was discussing an order with the woman but just couldn’t bring myself to put a bug-kabob into my mouth. And this decision I actually do not regret, haha.
Onto the mountain cities! These had quite an array of food and drink choices. Most restaurants we went to did not have bottled water or did so at exhorbitant rates – what’s a girl to drink instead? Booze. They didn’t really have to pull my arm on that one. One of the first restaurants we went to had kettle corn on the table as a snack for us (why? I don’t know, Peruvians love corn) and a fun booze menu.
The booze was better than that neon-yellow drink in the background, Inca Cola. Inca Cola is Peruvian soda, a sugary sweet drink that I actually did not like whatsoever. But I did try it!
It turns out this part of Peru offered many interesting drinks. Below are chicha and coca tea.
Chicha is corn beer. What? Yes, corn. I told you Peruvians love it. They ferment the corn kernels and strain it, resulting in this frothy beer. It’s made in original flavored (shown) and a pink stawberry version.
Next up is coca tea, not cocoa – yes, as in cocaine. Did I try coke on this trip? No. Cocaine is just derived from one of the compounds in this leaf. So why was I drinking it as tea? These leaves have been chewed and drank by Andean people for centuries – it suppresses hunger, helps alleviate fatigue and pain, and – the reason I ingested it – helps overcome altitude sickness! While in the mountains we wadded it up under our lips like chew (not a pretty picture) and steeped it in hot water for tea. It tasted like leaves but sure helped us feel better!
And last but not least, the ultimate Peruvian meal that you will not find elsewhere – guinea pig. Ya know, like the pet kind, except in Peru they’re considered a tasty meal.
There was a whole roasted piggy with a pepper in its mouth for us and platters of little legs with the claws still on. It made me both cringe and make a sad face :( But did I try it? Yep! I didn’t like it. It didn’t taste like meats we’re used to in the US, you gotta do a lot of picking to get any meat, and the staff wasn’t quite successful in getting all the bristles off the skin. Sorry for any bad imagery there. I’m kind of glad I didn’t like it though because when I go to the pet store hungry I’m not eyeing up the guinea pigs…phew!
Next Food Adventures I’ll bring you some Egyptian meals! Have you ever tried any crazy meals overseas?