Peru

A Continental Cuisine Series

Peru Journal

Part 4

I have a really poor night’s sleep, waking up every hour or so panicking that I cannot breathe, its weird and a little scary. This coupled with the fact that I think the malaria tablets are not helping. I meet Janice for breakfast and hear she has diarrhoea, and not feeling to good either. When Chris arrives he is the same, so we are all a bit jaded. However, we have a long day ahead and its getting warmer so we set off to Maras to film in the saltpans.

We pick up our guide and set off on a 30 minutes trip out of the valley again to the outskirts of a town called Maras. Here apart from farming, salt mining, or more like evaporation provides work in the winter months for many families. We stop at the top of a long dusty track and film the many saltpans below. The history is that many centuries ago a salt-water spring was discovered and even to this day really is only a trickle. The water was then channelled into many small ponds so the sun can do its work. Now there are hundreds of them, most of them handed down from generation to generation. The water is fed into them, and then shut off by simple means of rag or pieces of plastic bag. Over the next 2-3 weeks the water is driven off by the hot winter sun leaving a thick cake of salt crystals.

A local family had come along to show us the procedure of harvesting. At the right point of evaporation, the salt is first broken up by bare foot. This is a circular walking motion until it has all fractured. Husband and wife team are pretty good at this. Then with small wooden slats, the salt is skimmed into piles and then either trodden on again, or broken up with the wooden slats. This is then placed into large nets and drained quickly, then finally tipping onto a cleaned area to dry further. The top layer is the best quality, fairly white and with large crystals. The second, lower layer is then harvested. This has a brownish hue to it. This is dried in the same way but few to the animals in the summer as it is second grade. Nothing is wasted here; even the kids get stuck in. I ask our guide is it a profitable business, he says its about £10 per day. The family stop for a drink of Chicha, the fermented corn drink. They always tip a little on the ground, the raise their cup to the skies to thank the gods. It’s seen as very bad manners to refuse drink or food from the locals. I stand well clear while in my current state.
Its really hot now, but the locals think its cold, it must be 35C. We start the long trek back to the bus, passing German’s and Japanese, its hard work, especially when you can’t breathe!

Back in the bus we set off to Maras, to film a local dish being cooked and a demo on how to make Chicha.
We arrive, say hello and crack straight on. I understand a little Spanish; so can vaguely interprete as we go along. The large white corn kernels are dried then soaked with corn leaves and left to germinate. Once sprouted they are left in the sun for 1 day, then ground into a powder. Next, water is added then left outside to ferment in large stone jars called Chomba’s for 24 hours. The result a very weak, warm, milky, fermented drink. We sip together and do a piece to camera. I’m sure this is what started me off yesterday, so I’m careful. It’s an acquired taste that’s for sure.
Next a local farmers wife is filmed cooking a local vegetable soup thickened with the ground-dried corn. The kitchen is full of Guinea Pigs, all sizes and ages. They are eaten all over Peru and they treat them like we would Christmas turkey, for a special occasion.

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I taste, yes its okay, and we then go to the other kitchen for lunch cooked by our guides wife and mother.
We eat some local cheese with large white corn kernels and local sour dough bread. Next, lake trout with cheese topped potatoes and broccoli, followed by poached tree tomatoes (theme here) and syrup. All very nice, but not feeling good!!!
We say our goodbyes and the lady who was on camera goes back to the fields to work. We film just outside Maras a piece to camera and go back to the hotel.

This evening Nacho has prepared for us a wine matching dinner in the special wine cavern, it’s all very smart.
We all start with Pisco Sours and then are invited into the cellar.
Breads arrive, 3 types of bread stick, this time including a green herb version, a herb we had picked this morning on the farm.
Appetisers are a heavy smoked trout, nice and dry, ricotta dip with olive oil. Plus crispy pork skin with bitter chocolate and olive oil, lovely and warm potato soup in a glass, all very good.

Next, wild mushroom consommé with ravioli with great flavour and crystal clear. Ceviche followed quickly with bright purple colour, seaweed balls (Heston has a lot to answer for) very strong but good.
Guinea pig followed with chutney and salsa. Alpacha jerky with garlic and onions was good, love the fried garlic.
Lamb mince brochette with black quinoa and chincho was really powerful but good.
Finally desserts, poached tree tomato and a plate of citrus desserts to round off a spectacular meal.
Wines were superb, Argentinian, Chilean and Peruvian all could keep up with any other country in my eyes, very, very good.
Petit fours then bed…this time sleeping a bit better.

We say goodbye to Nacho and get a bus 45 minutes up the valley to get the train to Ollantaytambo railway station. Here is the first part of my trip to Machu Picchu, lost Inca city, wow…
The road is really bumpy but we finally arrive. It’s hot and humid already and it’s still early. After some confusion we meet Armando, Inca Rails top man. He is going to accompany us all the way in the Presidents carriage. We film on the train tracks, in between two trains passing. Its fine, as the saying goes (“Anything goes in Peru’) mmmm heard that one before somewhere, although Janice was a little worried. Our carriage is attached and we finally get and are greeted with chilled towels ands yep…a Pisco Sour. Sam and Chris are sent in a pick up to go some 2k down the tracks to get some passing shots.
We relax and take in the President’s carriage. Its superb, brand new with swivel armchairs, wooden panelling and full bar and service. There is even a special Phil Vickery menu to welcome us aboard.

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We set off after a few minutes and get chatting to Armando. He is very funny and it turns out he worked for British Rail in the sixties and seventies in Crewe, and knew all about railways. We tease him about the state of the railway network in the UK some years ago. He in turn says our food in the UK is awful apart from raspberry sponge and custard they served in the canteen!!! We get on really well and before long the lads are back on and we are served a superb lunch. The scenery is stunning, as we hug the river right up the valley. It takes roughly 1½ hours and as Armando explains the climate will change from parched landscape to lush sub tropical rain forest. Its breath taking, and we occasionally pass the famous Inca trail camps and small hostels.
Back to lunch, we start with a Chilcano drink and delicious fried/roasted sweet corn ears, warn salty and delicious. delicious. After the appetiser we had Ceviche. Next chicken with mayo and potatoes and Huacatay leaves. Fish course, was trout cubes with 3 chilli sauce, antichucho and creamy quinoa. This was light, perfectly cooked and really nice. Finally a fruit salad and a deep purple jelly pudding, fresh and a nice way to end a cracking journey and meal. The service is outstanding and in complete control was Camille and barman Hugo.

Some very nice wines also accompanied the meal Don Nicaner and Nieto Senetiner, both Argentinian.
Armando gets entertains us with some good stories, the best one being that Mick Jagger had rented this very coach a few months ago.

It’s not long before we get to Aguas Calientes station and its now mid afternoon.
Thankfully our hotel is right beside the train station, and tracks, so our kit is taken for us. We check into the sister hotel from the Amazon part of our trip, the Casa Andina Private Hotel. Its very nice and we are met by the manger Marc, who is charming and very helpful. The staff are also very clued up and nothing is a problem. We are shown to our rooms after a glass of chilled tea from the hotels own tea plantation. It’s strong, smoky and hits the spot.

My room is perfect, comfortable and spacious with own fire and outdoor thermal pool. I’m a lucky boy.
I relax and do some writing before hopping into my pool. It’s very refreshing even though it’s hot and warm outside. The good thing is that it does cool off very quickly once the sun goes in or at night, so we are sleeping well.

 

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