Saturday, December 26, 2009

Shall We Stay Or Shall We Go

We woke up, had breakfast, and considered our problem: we didn't have enough money!  Of course, we had plenty in the bank, but ATMs were a distant dream now.  Between us we had about 100 soles and 20 dollars.  After the 36-sole each entry fee to Choquequirao, that left barely enough to cover our time in Totora, and nothing for any more rest days that we might need.  This wouldn't be a problem, except that the next several days looked even harder than what we just did, and we were pretty beat up.

After a couple of hours of agonizing debate, we decided that any decision was better than none, and that forward progress was surely an improvement.  So we decided to screw the entrance fee - if they didn't let us in, then oh well.  We'd had an amazing, one of a kind experience at Macchu Picchu, so our need to see a lesser known ruin was not as great.  After making the decision, everything seemed better.  David got out the guitar and we sat on the porch playing songs and watching the animals.  He taught me a bit about finger-picking, and I shot the best video I will ever take:

And as if to bless our plans, just before dinner we got a rare wet-season glimpse of Salkantay, a mountain of over 6000 meters.  We would see it only once more on the trek.  Had we known that we'd see it again, however, we might've been a little less gleeful.  For Totora was the only spot on the trek from which a view was possible at all.

The mighty mountain herself

Afterwards, we went in to say hello, and wound up watching them make dinner.  Seeing how a traditional Quechua kitchen works was one of the highlights of my entire time in Peru.  Life was centered around the fire, the focal point of food and of warmth.   Above it lay two rails, upon which were always 3 pots, for a main dish, for rice, and for tea.  Below it was a warm cavity in which the cuyes (guinea pigs) would sleep.  And after the day's cooking, they would set the next day's wood atop the coals to dry out.  When food was cut, the trimmings were dropped on the ground, for the cuyes to eat, and thus little was wasted.  Suddenly one peruvian delicacy made a lot more sense.

One last surprise awaited us that night.  As we were eating dinner, the family revealed that their little girl had her birthday tomorrow!  We gave her some chocolate, but the real birthday meal was the next day, when she was going to get an entire cuy for herself!  I didn't ask if she got to pick out which one to eat, but I sure wanted to.

Dinner that night was Lomo Saltado, one of my favorite peruvian meals.  It's sort of a stir-fry with french fries in it.  I got their recipe in my notebook, which may be my most treasured souvenir from the trip.  I'll give the recipe, but first, here's a photo and another video:

The kitchen.  Note the thatched roof for ventilation.

The cuyes in the kitchen, munching on some supplementary hay.

And now, the recipe!

Lomo Saltado (with bonus recipe for Salsa Criolle) from the village Totora:

  • Meat, cut into stir-fry sized strips
  • Onions.  Lots of onions.  Julienned.
  • Potatoes, cut into fries.  They peeled the potatoes, but seeing as I don't have a team of cuyes to eat my peels I'd probably leave them on for this application.
  • Tomatoes
  • Oil
  • Mushrooms (or so they told me, I didn't see them used or notice them in the dish)
  • Garlic Powder
  • Ground Cumin
  • Ground Red Pepper (I imagine cayenne would do nicely)
  • Salt and Pepper
  • Cook the potatoes in some oil (they didn't use enough to cover, but you could surely deep-fry them too).
  • In another pot, cook the onions in some oil.  They cooked them for quite a long time, maybe 10 minutes.
  • Add the spices to the onions and you have salsa criolle, which is a great side to lots of foods.  Especially great with papa rellena, which is another favorite of mine.  I really, really like this stuff.  Some recipes call for vinegar, but this one didn't.  I'd probably add it.
  • Add a little water to the onions and stir.  I think this was to make a sauce.  It seemed like lots of water at the time, but come a-plating it didn't seem too bad.  I think it got thickened with potato starch.
  • Add the potatoes and the cooked meat and you're done!
You may have noticed that I didn't say how to cook the meat.  That's because, in all the hubbub of salsa criolle, I completely missed it.  But hey, it's meat - you can figure it out.

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