From Pichanaki Her Delicacy
Perhaps it’s the spoiled teenage boy still residing within me, but my travelling experiences are not what I expected them to be at my age. I try to get out as often as possible but, what with school and learning the ropes of life, I seem to have no time.
I escaped for a weekend (oh how riskay) and just let it all hang out. Just a few hours (like 9) outside of Lima, you can find yourself in the La Merced area of the province of Junin. Submerged in this emerald fantasy where the mountains act like bosky walls; the river cutting through them and marking it’s territory. From all vantage points you can see nothing but the acute camouflage each critter has developed for themselves to either live under the hustle of the canopy, or the murk or the river Perené.
Although my excursion was purely adventurous (treks, camping, rafting, etc) I still got my down time to appreciate what bounty and variety this green beast had t o offer. Now, jungle food isn’t exactly varied in techniques. People here prefer their food either fresh, or fried. You don’t see them using the vast elements of culinary excellence at their disposition because it simply isn’t their culture. Other famous chefs such as Pedro Miguel Schiaffino have been using ingredients from all parts of the jungle to construct marveled dishes of haute cuisine that landed him in the San Pellegrino top 100 at one time.
First what I got to appreciate was the “fresh” side. Delicious fruit grow all around, and in general all the food from the staple “yucca” to the tangelos, all have a similar terroir attributing to their particular flavor. Everything in the jungle has that note of musk and humid wood that kindly reminds you where you are, the natural and the conceived. Whilst walking on the side of the road we took advantage to fill our backpacks with bananas, plantains, tangelos, & cacao to bring back to home.
In the city of Pichanaki, we took advantage of the small window of time allotted to us after getting back from camping in the middle of the jungle to bathe, and to sample some of their more elaborate regional dishes. One thing I saw whilst in the jungle (that nearly paralyzed me from trepidation) were people who would go down by the river at night with flashlights to fish for a bottom feeder known as “carachama.” With this river fish, they make a typical soup, which tastes like a concentrated jungle broth (remember how I mentioned that terroir?) they eat it by flipping the fish over, since the scales on this thing are beastly, vulnerably revealing a succulent white underbelly which cartilaginous substance could convince you that it’s bathed in cream.
After that light yet well rounded palate opener, I dived into the next platter, as aforementioned, fried. Shallow-fried, deep-fried & everything in between. It was complied of Cecina (Smoked bacon colored with achiote) Amazonian chorizo, jungle deer steak, and deep fried zamaño (a cousin to the infamous cuy, just a tad larger); But the frying didn’t stop there. Into the frying pan went the accompaniments. The fried plantains, fried yucca roots, and fried “tacacho” a traditional dish of plantains and cecina mixed with pig lard, salt & pepper hashed up in a “batan”, something similar to the mortar and pestle, and formed (while hot) into spheres of delectable beatitude. The spice from the cecina & and the chorizo was enough flavoring for the whole thing and the zamaño really surprised me with how gamey and moist it was.
Everything was washed down with chilled camu camu chado. The chados are liquors of sugar cane alcohol macerated with distinct fruit or flavors. Camu camu is the 2nd fruit with the largest vit. C content in the world! They even told us that the drink would help prevent osteoporosis. It seemed like every drink there had some sort of curative properties (I don’t have problems I’m just a health nut.) We were offered apart from the camu camu chado, a chado made from grape, from ginger, and from different regional flowers.
Pichanaki is located in the higher part of the jungle, or the selva alta. This means that it has acombination of heavy rains and high altitude, giving way to a tremendous variety and particularity on it’s flora & fauna. I wish I could’ve savored it, as I said before, I don’t believe I travel enough.