Huaraz, the Peruvian Switzerland
Huaraz, thought of whenever I’ll see a waterfall forming it’s path alongside a snowcapped mountain, down to the moist and fertile valley bellow. I reminisce my time there with the modest portioned (and economically friendly) servings of food that I encountered on my way there, apart from the hot springs of the village of Chancos, where it was impossible to find someone who spoke decent Spanish amongst the Quechua people; The stunning, prominent beauty of the national park Huascarán, and the spiritually invoking ruins of Chavín de Huantar (underground labyrinths are already a must in my next home).
So it started, I was on my way to the town of Chavín de Huantar. Did the ruins, got told how they made the river sound like a jaguar, and was informed (with lucrative detail) about their zealous drug use and it’s connection to their profound spirituality. Once the tour was over we were herded to a nearby restaurant, along the way I caught the sight of a little cholita selling beverages, candies, sandwiches and other goodies, but what appealed to me the most was the image of symbolic dish of this region of the country, in a transparent, plastic tub. It was perhaps the worst chocho ever. What is chocho you ask? It’s the name of the dish and the bean being it’s main ingredient.
Basically you make ceviche, omit the fish and implement a little, yellow bean that’s cooked until al dente. This woman’s chocho tasted funky, had about 3 onions and what seemed to be whole leaves of parsley. I was saddened, this couldn’t be the dish that was so famously described to me by fellow bloggers as the “original vegetarian ceviche.” When I arrived at the restaurant I decided to order something I knew was going to come well served, the one thing they never do wrong in the Andes, Guinea pig.
Oh yes, Guinea pig, or, “Cuy” as they refer to it in Perú. Served with mote and spread over golden potatoes (slices of potato rissole) with a special peanut sauce made from ají, garlic, and onions, all fried till the frail skin becomes a greasy cracker, sheltering the darkened tender meat inside from drying out. Albeit, I could do without the traditional head and arms they serve you but, every rose as it’s thorns, and if the thorns had fried skin I wouldn’t mind it either. Eaten in the Andes since the before the Incans. The practice is now seen in Perú and Bolivia, but boy is it practiced. I suckled and downed every bit of it, as to drown my previous sorrows in my lipid-laced forbidden pleasure, losing myself and before I knew it, it was over, and I was on my way back to the city.
The previous day I asked my tour guide in Chavín about where I could find some decent, authentic Chicha. She gave me an address, and the following day I decided to scout. I figured since it was in the city of Huaraz I could just go walking, since the city isn’t that big (8 km2) but I never realized how, unappealing some parts of the city could be. There were a few streets that I had to traverse to come in contact with my goal, these few streets where ridden with dirt mounds and unfinished, yet perfectly habitable (to the locals, anyway) brick housing structures. But when the bad part was over, and that imminent fear of larceny departed, what I ran into was astonishing, a district from old Huaraz, still intact. A long time ago, I can’t say exactly, when Huaraz was even smaller, the districts were divided into colors, this one apparently was white. With some asking around I finally found the place that I was looking for, with still one of the traditional red flags that symbolize the chicheria hanging over the door. I was brought in by the humbleness of the place, dirt floor, stiff and old wooden chairs that had a protruding nail or two. But the lady who served us was a delight. Her face ablaze with nostalgia and passion as she began to tell her tale, the craft she learned from her mother that’s been what’s kept a roof over her head and potatoes on the table for 40 years. She starts the process of making the chicha with first, the jora maize, she then mixes it with toasted quinua, kiwicha, toasted barely, and molasses, it’s left to ferment for about 2-3 weeks, once the day comes to serve the chicha, she mixes it with sugar to sweeten it even more and sells it for 2 soles (less then $1) the jug. I left that hole in the wall feeling accomplished, informed, dizzy, and whole.
I thought to myself that no vacation was complete without a visit to the local market. Oh god do I love markets, I love them with everything that I am. Unless it’s past 3pm and that dying meat smell is everywhere. I have to hold my breath while passing the chickens, but other than that it’s heaven. The food is always fresh and local, you get to see all of these varied sorts of local produce (I brought back home 2 kilos of tomatoes for instance) and even different elaborated products, like breads, cheeses and liquors. While I was on my way there it was so lovely to be able to have breakfast on the streets, there is always someone who is selling a hot quinoa and cinnamon beverage, that warm and thick consistency was just enough to get me ready for the big show. Once arriving I thought I’d nearly faint. What I saw was a young woman, standing behind a voluptuous, moist, and shiny mountain of chocho, covered with a layer of cilantro and another layer of grated tomato. This was it, this was the chocho I was looking for. Micro-flakes of fresh cilantro, thin and crunchy slices of feathered onions that only added to the crunch of the chocho bean, she worked it as if it was nothing while I could do nothing but drool and be regaled, penetrating the layer of tomato to mix an even amount so as to not overpower the s/.3 dish (about $1.10). Everything got better when I saw the lady who worked this food cart ask me if I wanted it spicy, I was already in a daze, which made her repeat herself, impatiently. I looked at the bottle of spicy juice that she held in her hand ready to squirt on my beany bliss and inquired her as to the contents of her bottled liquid, “Lime, rocoto, cumin, pepper.” Cumin?! In a ceviche-like dish?! Madness?! I had to try it. I knew she was up to something, the earthy flavor of the bean paired off perfectly with the meaty, earthy, intense spice flavor of the cumin. Needless to say I went into the market, a happy man.
I’ve never seen so many dead things in a market. Cow’s head, goat’s ass, whole pigs, and the dogs that kinda hang around and eat the varied animal hooves. There were a limited amount of vegetable stands but the ones that were there were amazing, you don’t see that kind of quality vegetables in the city. The tomatoes were blood red and the avocados were as creamy as butter. There was a large amount of dairy product stores that sold different kinds of Andean cheeses, of which I brought back a particularly stinky one that’s smell will stain your fingers for about 3 hours called, “Queso Viejo” Quite literally, old cheese. But the site that you’ll never be able to wash away is that of the piles of dead, “cuy” already degutted for viewing pleasure.
In the Callejón de Huaylas there are all sorts of things one encounters. These were the things I saw and savored, and things that I will always remember.
I will begin to post weekly, although a day has not been established yet, till next time!