Food and Drink / Peru / Travel

Arequipa: La Ciudad Blanca

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Puno wasn’t perhaps the best introduction to Peru, but an afternoon journey south took us to Arequipa, which was much nicer. It’s Peru’s second largest city, and like Sucre in Bolivia, is also called ‘La Ciudad Blanca’, or the White City. It’s got cobbled streets and beautiful white colonial buildings, and a similar charm that made us like Sucre so much. The centre of the city is small enough to explore on foot, and we spent several days wandering around the lovely city.

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We went on a walking tour of the city which, since going on our first one in Santiago, I think is the best way to introduce yourself to a city, its history and its culture. Our guide was a student at the university, and she was an expert on all things Arequipa. We were taught about how the Spanish took over the city, and were shown the beautifully ornate buildings made of the local volcanic rock that they built for themselves at the city’s centre. All of the white spaniards lived in the city centre and they lived in lovely white buildings, so that’s how Arequipa gained the nickname it still uses today, “from the little white people in their big white houses!”. Like in the rest of Peru, the Inca temples were destroyed, and on those sites now stand impressive Catholic Churches. Inside one of the cathedrals was a reproduction of The Last Supper, but instead of Jesus’ usual meal in front of him, he was about to tuck in to a roasted guinea pig instead, a Peruvian speciality. Our guide said, “I’m pretty sure Jesus liked guinea pig, it’s really delicious!”

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Aside from the aesthetics of the city, one of the best things about Arequipa is its diverse food, and we ate a lot of it. The best place to get lovely fresh ingredients was the main food market in the centre of town. The fruit and vegetable section was absolutely huge and so cheap! You can get such exotic fruit and vegetables which you either can’t get back home, or they’re really expensive, so a daily trip to the market became a habit. You can also get really cheap smoothies and juices from women in the market, and we found it was best to ask for a ‘mixto’, which was a seemingly random mixture of all sorts of fruits, plus honey and a bit of condensed milk. That in itself felt like a meal. Upstairs on a mezzanine level above the market is a series of tiny cafes which all serve a limited selection of traditional dishes. After picking one and explaining that I didn’t eat meat, what I got served was all in the hands of the old lady cooking. I ended up getting a tasty fish and vegetable broth, which left me absolutely stuffed and it was only the starter! Toby managed a second course, but I didn’t, and it set us back 5 soles each (about £1), and I could’ve had twice a much food for that price! The Peruvian markets are the best places to try authentic food at the best prices.

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In complete contrast to the rustic food in the market, we also discovered an excellent place that served craft beers from all over Peru; it’s an emerging trend in South America too! It was called ChelaWasi, and was run by an American guy and his Peruvian wife. They also served homemade burgers (and a special veggie burger for me) with chips made from purple potatoes, one of the many many varieties of potato grown in Peru. It was our treat place to go, as it was a little expensive by Peruvian standards, and we visited it after a tiring trek in the Colca Canyon (post to follow soon!), which was just what we needed!

Another thing we tried in Arequipa, which we haven’t seen anywhere else is Queso Helado, which translates as cheese ice cream. Fortunately (or perhaps unfortunately), it’s not actually made of cheese, and is a really creamy yellow ice cream served with a sprinkle of cinnamon in a plastic cup. You can find women selling it all over the city, and sadly we haven’t been able to find anywhere else! It seems like a strange thing to specifically recommend about a whole city, but the Queso Helado is a must try.

We left Arequipa for three days to trek through the Colca Canyon, and then returned for a further few days because we were reluctant to leave (as we are with lots of places we visit). Arequipa is a great city to visit without the mad and loud hustle and bustle of Lima, or the crowds of tourists in Cusco.

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