Fried june bugs

We were offered this snack while we were volunteering in Ecuador; fried june bugs (wings and legs removed) and cancha (Andean popcorn). After the rain, the bugs come out and the indigenous family who lived nearby collected them and fried them up for us.

Considering that one of my favourite snacks in Taiwan was deep fried shrimp monkey (see below), I was keen to try these bugs. Ultimately, they were a little disappointing. They mostly just tasted of oil and salt. The texture was crunchy. Pretty much like any fried thing.

Maybe if they had been served piping hot straight from the frying pan and doused in MSG like my beloved shrimp monkeys, I would have liked them more.

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The best food in Ecuador (and possibly South America too)

We’d been in Ecuador just a few days and were enjoying ourselves museum-hopping and cafe-living in Cuenca. We decided to visit a few small nearby towns – Gualaceo, Chordeleg and Zigzig – which were recommended in our guide book, but which were ultimately a little disappointing (unless you want to go souvenir shopping). But the trip was worth it because of this…

Although it had only been about an hour since we’d had breakfast, when we saw (and smelt) that pig, we couldn’t resist ordering a plate. The meat was so tender that it could just be pulled off the bone. It was served on top of potato fritters (confusingly called tortillas), mote and a chopped salad of onions, tomatoes and lettuce, along with some of the crackling. The juices from the cooking were poured over the top like a gravy, and a spicy, tangy sauce was served on the side. So simple and so, so delicious!

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The best thing about this dish? We found it everywhere in Ecuador! The food halls in mercados became our go-to place for lunch and although there were lots of delicious dishes available, I couldn’t stop myself from ordering this pulled pork every time.

This is supposed to be a smile but I was so hungry that this was the best I could do.

He’s sad because this was the last day before we left the country for Colombia.

Hornados might be my favourite dish in all of South America. There I said it. But come on guys, pulled pork! Always served by super smiley ladies in aprons.

Also, if you have several days for marinating, you can make it yourself following this recipe.

Acaraje

In Rio de Janeiro, we found this street stall selling Afro-Brazilian food. At the time I had no idea what the fried dough and shrimp thing was that I ate. I just knew it was delicious. It was only after reading an article about street vendors protesting FIFA’s resctrictions about selling food near World Cup stadiums that I found out what I ate that day was called acaraje. I’m happy to have finally figured out what it was, and even happier to see that the women vendors in Salvador truimphed over FIFA and were allowed to sell their food outside of the stadium there!

How to cure a cough in Peru

Everyone gets sick while travelling. It’s inevitable. You go to a doctor, you take medicine, you get better. If you’re lucky, it’s just a minor inconvenience. What’s really annoying is when you get sick, but it really isn’t all that serious so you can’t do anything about it. Like a persistent dry cough. And yet to everyone else it looks as if you’re dying and they avoid you as if you’ve actually got the plague.

After the beautiful trek in Huaraz, I was looking forward to another multi-day trek in Chachapoyas that would take me to the ancient site of Kuelap. But it was not to be. I picked up a bad cold in Huaraz that, despite the sea air, only got worse in Huanchaco. After a night of air-conditioning on an overnight bus to Chachapoyas, I was done for. The lining of my lungs and throat was so irritated from cold, dry air that I could not go for more than 7 seconds without coughing! It was so bad that I worried I might break a rib or tear a muscle.

Any kind of physical activity was out of the question – it just set off more coughing spasms – and being in public was impossible (a little old lady even stopped me in the street to ask what was wrong). Although I was pretty upset, I knew I had to rest and concentrate on soothing the awful cough. Luckily for me, we were able to get a private room with cable TV in Chachapoyas Backpackers. I spent the next two days watching reality-tv cookery shows and sci-fi movies, with my scarf wrapped around me like a facemask. The lovely owners at Chachapoyas Backpackers recommended drinking tea made from matico, a large green leaf. Combined with the humidity of the cloud forest climate, the matico tea worked wonders. From previous experience, I’d say it was one of the most effective home remedies I’ve tried. I wasn’t cured, but I was able to go out and about again. I never got to do my hike, but I did get to enjoy Chachapoyas.

Have you ever tried a traditional remedy while traveling? What did you think of it?

Sudado

After a year in Bolivia, where we regarded most seafood with suspicion, we were overjoyed to be travelling near the coast again to be able to take advantage of fresh fish. Of course, ceviche is the most famous Peruvian seafood dish, but I also loved sudado. It’s translated as fish stew, but seems to me more delicate than the word ‘stew’ can convey. More of a steamed fish with lots of tasty juices made with onion, tomato, chile and a dash of lime.

Served with sweet potato and rice, I ate this sudado in Huanchaco, at a tiny restaurant run by an old couple and open only at the weekend. Without a doubt it was the yummiest I had, and their pescado frito (fried fish) and fresh chicha was pretty good too. They claimed it was because the fish was super fresh and had just been caught, but it must also have been their special recipe.

The restaurant is in a single storey building, with a terrace under a palm roof out front, on Av. la RIvera near the corner of Los Pinos. Lunch for two was 20 soles.

Brunch in Sopocachi

Although it’s one of the wealthier districts in La Paz, Sopocachi’s restaurant prices aren’t too bad, especially when compared to the tourist spots around Sagarnaga. On 20 de Octubre, just by Plaza Avaroa are three places where you can satisfy your brunch fix. All of the following have indoor and outdoor seating.

Alexander’s

alexFor the best coffee in Bolivia, head to any one of the numerous Alexander’s locations, including El Alto airport. The Sopocachi branch is located directly across from Plaza Avaroa. The atmosphere can be a bit noisy and busy, with music videos on continual play on a large TV in the back. But if you can put up with the occasional 4 Non Blondes video, the menu contains creative and delicious choices, like the vegetarian Andina wrap, which contains quinoa and habas (fava beans) as well as a variety of smoothies and milkshakes. There are plenty of breakfast options such as pancakes and huevos rancheros, too.

Café La Terraza

terrazaLike Alexander’s, La Terraza is a local chain. If you’re really hungry, feast on the massive Desayuno Americano. There are breakfasts for smaller appetites (and wallets) as well. The menu also includes a host of sandwiches and paninis. The inauthentic Philly Steak is nevertheless tasty and good value for money. It comes with fries, too.

Blueberries

BlueberriesMy personal favorite brunch spot, Blueberries is cheaper than the above options and also has the most relaxing atmosphere. It gets busy in the afternoon, but before midday it’s a great place to hang out and read, work on your laptop, or pretend to work on your laptop while browsing facebook. If you’re a non-smoker, you’re in luck, because the non-smoking area is also the best place to sit, in the back with a glass roof by the garden. As for brunch, I recommend Desayuno a La Copa and Desayuno Panqueques. The former is a cheap and filling choice, which comes with eggs, juice, coffee or tea, toast and a croissant. The pancake breakfast comes with coffee or tea, juice, and pancakes topped with strawberry and banana slices.

Decent Beer in Bolivia

Beer is fairly cheap in Bolivia. It also tastes fairly cheap too, but there are a few exceptions. Here are three that I’ve found that I can recommend if you’re looking for something to celebrate with in La Paz this year.JudasIt’s not amazing, but it’s strong (7%) and has a bit of a bite compared to your typical Bolivia lagers. It really sits in your stomach though, so don’t drink too much of it. Available almost everywhere.

sayaNamed after an Afro-Bolivian dance, Saya comes in at least three flavors: dorada (golden), ambar (amber) and negra (black). Only available in higher end restaurants and supermarkets (in Sopocachi and Zona Sur), it’s more expensive and comes in smaller bottles than regular Bolivian beer. Agencies in Sagarnaga offer tours of the brewery for 80Bs.

lipenaLipeña is made with quinoa. It’s the best beer I’ve had in Bolivia. It’s low in alcohol (3.47%), so it could have been served at the Salt Lake City Winter Olympics. There’s a slight tinge of honey, and, well, if you read my last beer post you’ll know I’m not very good at describing beer, but trust me, it’s really good! It comes from Potosí, but we couldn’t find it anywhere there. It’s served at the restaurant La Coca, in Sopocachi, La Paz (great food there too) and we’ve seen it in some restaurants in Sucre, as well. If you do find it, cherish it. Or just drink it.

Other: Keep your eyes out for beers from Ted’s Cervecería in Sucre, too.

Happy New Year!

Picana boliviana

After the last post about cuy, here’s a traditional dish I enjoyed much more.

Picana is a slow-cooked soup eaten at midnight on Christmas eve in Bolivia. It is made with various types of meat, beer, wine, potato, corn and other vegetables (recipe here). We ate this one in Sucre last year and it was the perfect meal for a cold evening. The broth was rich and spicy and with all that corn and potato it was certainly filling. I barely had space for the buñuelos that came after for dessert.

Cuy. It’s what’s for dinner

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Yep, we ate that.

It’s one of those things that tourists do in South America. Local people also eat cuy – otherwise known as guinea pig – and have done for centuries in the Andean regions. We’ll try pretty much anything, and since there was an Andean food fair in Huaraz, we thought what better time to eat cuy?

First mistake: wanting the novelty of eating something with recognizable head and feet, we ordered the big portion, which set us back 20 soles. That’s quite expensive. Second mistake: this was the last one on the barbecue and consequently was over-cooked as it had been sitting there a long time. Third mistake: getting it as a take-away meant we had to eat it on a park bench with a plastic fork. This was not easy because of the aforementioned over-cooking.

It was tough. Incredibly tough. Impossible, in fact, to break through the leathery skin which was about a centimeter thick (why such a small animal has such thick skin I’ll never understand). Impossible also to rip the skin off the body to reveal the flesh beneath. This meant we had to turn the thing over – it was basically half a carcass which had been splayed out and cooked – to try to get at the meat underneath. Instead, this just exposed some charred innards, little rodent teeth and tiny ribs which seemed to have no meat on them. We managed to pick at the back leg and get some strands of flesh but it wasn’t much more than a mouthful. I’d like to compare it to rabbit, except I couldn’t really tell much about the taste or texture from this measly meal.

If we’d been inclined to attack it with our teeth and nails, we could have dismembered it a bit more and perhaps liberated more flesh. But honestly, it didn’t seem worth it. Instead, we ate the boiled potatoes and spicy sauce that came with it (really delicious sauce, I’ll add) and wished we’d ordered the soup instead.

If you’d like to know more about cuy cuisine, check out Infused Exposures, a travel food blog of South America.