Arequipa is a beautiful town basking in the sunshine and the colour of its vibrant floral-flourishing squares. With a laid-back atmosphere and a colonial feel, it is the perfect stop-off to break up the journey between Cusco and Lima for a change to explore more of Peru’s charms.
Googling things to do in Arequipa we soon came across the Peruvian Cooking Experience; as keen cooks who love gorging on local cuisine and picking up new recipes, this caught our attention. It was a nice surprise to find that it wasn’t extortionately expensive either, unlike many of the cookery courses that we’ve encountered along the way. After already seeing plenty of inspiring landscapes over the past few weeks, however inspiring they might be, we decided this was something to spice up our time in Peru as an alternative to a day at Colca Canyon. Besides, food beats exercise any day, right?
Set in the beautiful gardens of Casa de Avila, we soon wished we’d booked a night in this tranquil flashbacker hostel rather than signings our souls back to Wild Rover with the enticement of a free drink. Waiting for the course to begin we sat basking in the sun watching a rather friendly tortoise creep up on people in the garden. Looking out over the well-kept grounds, the patio kitchen was a perfect place for cooking in the Peruvian sunshine. We were given two dishes to cook during the day, both traditional recipes that weren’t especially difficult but were fun to make and even more so to eat. The first was Causa Rellena, a delicious layered starter of sumptuous flaked chicken, salad, yellow chilli and softly mashed potato. Lady, our chef, took us through the motions with heaps of enthusiasm and we hardly wanted to eat them after spending so much time on the impressive presentation!
Next came the main course, a famous Peruvian dish called lomo saltado, which means ‘jumping beef’. This relatively easy but extremely delicious meal is cooked in a wok on a high heat by being tossed around in the pan, hence jumping beef. Lady took us through the motions as she proceeded to set the meal on fire for a flash fry approach that left the meat wonderfully smoky and crispy on the outside whilst still tender in the middle. Add plenty of vegetables, sauces and even chips and the result was a simple but special meal that really hit the spot!
Feeling pretty stuffed after our two generous courses, we somehow managed to make room for a dessert brought out by Lady – like rice pudding but much lighter with quinoa and coconut milk. To finish the perfect afternoon, we were next taken to a pisco lecture and cocktail making class, where our guide Natalia took us through the fascinating history of pisco. Turns out that when the Spanish came over to Peru, they didn’t like the wine produced by the grapes here and so gave it to the slaves, who used it for cooking (hence lots of vinegar in Peruvian dishes!). In time, they decided to boil the wine and found that the vapours produced a strong but very tasty liquor that was eventually named after its birthplace…pisco! Time passed and as whisky became unavailable to the Spaniards and travellers in Peru, whisky sours became pisco sours and what do you know, a national drink was born! We then got to make our own cocktails and they always taste so much better when you’ve made them yourselves! And possibly a little stronger too…
A great way to end the experience, we can’t wait to showcase our new recipes to our friends back home, and will be posting the recipes up in a few days, so keep an eye out for that if these dishes have got your taste buds tingling! If you happen to be in Arequipa anytime soon, this is a great way to spend the day.
Visit their website at http://www.peruviancookingexperience.com/