A Cooking Lesson and a Military Experience

Food has the potential to tell a story of a countries history, and provide a window into their culture. I love discovering and trying new foods on my travels. It broadens my horizons, and lets me discover a different side of the place I’m visiting. While we were in Peru we had the option of taking a cooking class, that included lunch for us. So naturally, we chose to take the cooking class, and learn something new. The morning of our cooking class we spent visiting the main cemetery in Cusco, learning about the burial practices and culture behind death in Peru. On our way to the cooking class we drove by the main square in Cusco, and to my surprise it was surrounded by part of the Peruvian military.

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It wasn’t just a couple of military personnel hanging around . . . the entire square was crawling with military and police officers. I was shocked by the amount that were congregated in the square. What could possibly be going on to warrant such a strong military presence with loaded weapons. Should we be concerned about our safety? Our tour guide stopped the bus and had us walk over to the square. I was still wondering (and I wasn’t the only one) what was going on. We walked around the corner into the main square, where there were hordes of people mixing in with the police and military.

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It turns out there was a parade starting in the square. To this day, I still don’t know why there was such a strong military and police presence. The parade happened every day we were in Cusco around lunchtime, and I saw a select amount of police at the others. We watched the parade begin before walking a couple blocks to where our cooking lesson would take place. Interestingly, during our dinner with locals we learned that the police in Peru are not looked at with respect. The military is more of a policing force in Peru, and that is the career you want to go into over the police. The police are viewed as “drop outs” or those that couldn’t make it into the military or failed while they were in the military. It’s odd to think of the police that way coming from the United States, but it was an interesting to learn about and compare to our views.

I had no idea what we were going to learn to make in our cooking lesson, but I was excited that we were able to do it. We arrived at the restaurant and settled down at a long table. We were given three options for our lunch . . . and I chose to try Alpaca. What’s the saying . . . When in Rome?

We settled down into chairs and were served Pisco Sour, while we watched the cooking demonstration. We were learning how to make Causa Limena. This is a mashed potato “pancake” that is stuffed with fish, chicken or vegetables. There are different ways to make it, depending on what you would like to be in the middle of it. The recipe we were learning used vegetables.

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The main ingredient to this dish is yellow Peruvian potatoes . . . I love potatoes. During the demonstration, we learnt that Peru has over 4,000 varieties of native potatoes that grow in their country. Can you believe that? After the cooking demonstration we were treated to our lunch. I tried Inca Kola for the first . . . and last time. Haha. Inca Kola tastes very similar to cream soda in the U.S- something I’m not a fan of. We ate together as a group at a very long table. I’m glad we had the opportunity to get to know some other people on the trip. It’s great to compare trips and learn about new places that (usually) get added to your travel list. We had an appetizer of the Causa Limena, and it was absolutely delicious!

The alpaca was surprisingly good. I wasn’t sure whether I would like it, only because I hadn’t tried it before. It tasted, and looked, very similar to pork chops. After we ate our main meal we were surprised with dessert. Who can resist a surprise dessert? Especially when it’s a sherbet ice cream topped with chocolate sauce? Not me.

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I’m so glad I chose to partake in this experience while I was in Cusco. It added a little something to the trip! If you are interested in making this dish yourself I have posted the recipe below:

Causa Limena:

Ingredients (makes four portions):

8-10 yellow Peruvian potatoes

1 can of tuna fish (alternatives: shrimp, chicken or veggies)

chopped onion

chopped pepper

chopped Peruvian aji

1/2 tsp. lime juice

1TBSP vegetable oil

mayonnaise

salt

Instructions:

  1. Mash the cooked potatoes with salt, oil, pepper, and lemon juice.
  2. Prepare cooking foil. Rub vegetable oil into the foil, then spread the mashed potato.
  3. Stuffing preparation: mix chopped onion and pepper with your meat  or vegetable of choice. Add salt.
  4. On the flat potato, spread mayonnaise and cover it with the stuffing.
  5. Roll carefully
  6. Cut into small portions. Eat!

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