For centuries now, thousands of travellers have trodden the ancient trail laid by the Incas — starting from the Sacred Valley, all the way up to Machu Picchu. And yet, years later, the charm of the Inca trail continues unabated, drawing history and adventure buffs from across the world to the high Andean passes that lead to these mystical ruins. In recent times, this trail has attracted culinary enthusiasts as well, with South America’s gastronomic delights, from Brazilian grills to the Peruvian ceviche, forming an integral part of the trip. Not only do you get to sample modern, progressive food from the country’s kitchens, you also get to recreate ancient flavours, as savoured by the Incas.
Most travellers make sure to include destinations from Brazil, Argentina and Venezuela in their itinerary, leading up to the Inca trail. When in the Pampas country of Argentina, with its vast grasslands and farms, make sure to try the parrillada, which is a combination of poultry and meat, grilled together. One of the most loved dishes, you will find it being cooked everywhere, from street-side stalls to fine-dining restaurants. Grills, barbecues, soups and stews form an integral part of South American cuisine. One of the classic examples of this is the feijoada, a common dish in Brazil with very strong Portuguese influences. Made with beans, salted pork, beef, bacon and spices, it is a reflection of the rich colonial history of the country. You can also gorge on some succulent Coxinha de Frango, a juicy Brazilian fried chicken snack.
The South American Samosa
When in Chile, don’t be surprised to find a South American cousin of the samosa being served by the dozen at street stalls. Empanada, considered the national dish of Chile, is a crispy-crunchy delicacy filled with shredded beef, beans, cheese or fish. Yet another favourite, of home cooks and restaurant chefs alike, is the pastel de choclo, which is a pie made with corn and ground beef or chicken. Every household has its own version of the pastel de choclo, with some adding a sweet touch with raisins or spicy undertones with paprika.
Peru: The Culinary Capital Of The World
However, it is Peru with its rich gastronomic legacy that is considered the culinary capital of South America. With flavours and recipes from the pre-Inca and Inca period still being practiced in kitchens, and influences from Spanish, Basque, African, Cantonese, Japanese and Italian cuisines inching their way into the cuisine, Peruvian food is a hotbed of cultural influences. According to some estimates, there are 2,000 different kinds of soups and 250 traditional desserts that are part of the Peruvian culinary repertoire. “Peruvian is the single most important cuisine in Latin America, with a repertoire of dishes that may be bigger than France,” said Douglas Rodriguez, the chef and owner of Patria, the pioneering nuevo Latino restaurant in New York, in an interview to The New York Times. Peru is one of those rare culinary capitals, where innovation co-exists with traditional flavours.
Culinary Vacations In Peru
Tour planners now offer culinary vacations in Peru that include visits to landmark fruit and vegetables markets in the capital city of Lima. Here you can bargain with local vendors for fresh food, then return to your hotel to cook staple Peruvian dishes such as causa limena, lomo saltado and suspiro a la limena. You can even watch the national drink, Pisco, being made, after which you absolutely should visit the fine-dining restaurants such as Casa Moreyra Astrid & Gaston, and Malabar.
Recreating A Traditional Incan Feast
However, the highlight of the gastronomic segment of the Inca trail is the recreation of ancient styles of cooking. There are numerous chefs who focus on traditional Inca techniques such as the pachamanca, which involve burying meat in the ground. This pit-cooking technique continues to be an integral part of Peruvian cuisine in the central Andes, especially during celebrations, when families get together to stack layers of potatoes, corn and marinated meats in a pit. In Ollantaytambo, a picturesque Andean town where the Inca trail begins, another aspect of ancient cuisine come alive, one with plenty of fruits, vegetables and all other natural produce. At the El Molino resort, you get traditional Inca recipes made with wildflowers, golden berries, sweet fruit called tuna, granadilla, cherimoya and the aji amarillo.
As one walks up the majestic mountains, with yawning valleys lying below and the magnificent ruins up ahead, you’re happy for a chance to savour these delicacies. And sampling these meals leaves one satiated; it’s exciting to witness and be part of the culinary traditions passed down from the people who lived there centuries ago.
Fact File On Machu Picchu
Language: Spanish, Quechua, Aymara
Food & Drinks: Pisco is the national drink and the traditional cuisine draws influences from the pre-Inca and Inca period, Spanish, Basque, African, Japanese and Italian cuisines.
Time Zone: GMT-5
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About The Author
Avantika Bhuyan is a freelance journalist who loves to uncover the invisible India hiding in nooks and crannies across the country.