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Cooking Classes in Chile: Uncorked Cooking Workshop

Disclosure: My cooking class was provided courtesy of Uncorked Cooking Workshop, however I was not otherwise compensated for this post and all opinions are my own.

Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMugCeviche. Oh, my love for ceviche knows no bounds.

It’s one of the dishes that I’ve tried up and down the continent of South America and have pretty much loved in all its variations – although some more than others. After having an ungodly amount of ceviche in Lima, I gave it a rest for a bit as I headed back up into the mountains of Peru and Bolivia.

So I was thrilled when I saw that ceviche was one of the dishes we would be making in my class with Uncorked Cooking Workshop! Just reading the menu made me salivate for the sour-citrusy seafood goodness. (Say that ten times fast!)

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Cooking Classes in Peru: Cusco Culinary

Disclosure: My cooking class was provided courtesy of Cusco Culinary, however I was not otherwise compensated for this post and all opinions are my own.

In Cusco, there is no shortage of touristic sights to keep you busy – in fact, most visitors to Cusco opt to purchase the Boleto Turistico which gives you access to 16 sites over a 10 day period, many of them including Inca or pre-Inca ruins. And then, of course, visitors to Cusco are usually using it as a stopping off point before a visit to Machu Picchu. I’ve actually heard more than one person say they were “ruined out”, that is to say that all of the sites were starting to blend together. A shame to feel this way, of course, but I could relate after a few days spent touring the city and nearby historic sites.

Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMugIn search of something different, I began looking into food tours and cooking classes and came across fantastic reviews on Trip Advisor for Cusco Culinary, so I reached out to see if they’d let me drop in on a class to share the experience with you. Despite it being Christmas Eve, I got a response within a few hours that there was a spot open for the dinner class the following evening, which sounded like a perfect way to spend Christmas night!

I’ve taken cooking classes all over the world and I can honestly say this was one of the best. Peru has arguably the most popular cuisine in South America, and the people behind Cusco Culinary have really put thought into the experience so that you leave with a real appreciation for the food as well as the culture of the country. The price tag of $59.99 may seem a bit steep to some, but if you’re a food lover, I would strongly suggest you consider it as an option when you’re planning your budget for day trips, tours and things to do in Cusco.

Dinner Experience with Cusco Culinary

Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMugThe cooking class with Cusco Culinary generally begins with a tour of Mercado San Pedro, but due to the holiday we skipped this and headed straight into the class itself. To begin, we were ushered into a room downstairs set up to give us a taste of life in the Andes. We began with a chilled glass of chicha morada (a drink made from purple corn and flavored with cloves, cinnamon and fruit) while our host, Sofia, described the various types of chicha and customs related to the beverage, including how it’s made, who’s doing the drinking and how to tell when a local chicheria has the mildly alcoholic version of the beverage available.

The rest of the room introduced other aspects of local life, including elements of an Andean kitchen – the stove and cooking utensils, various talismans placed around the home for good luck, and items found in the pantry. We got to see examples of various grains and flours, herbs, spices, dried peppers and potatoes of all shapes, sizes and colors. One that is important to Peruvian cooking is called chuño, which is a bit of an acquired taste and texture. It’s a potato preserved by a freeze-drying process, then ground into a flour or used in soups and sauces or sometimes just eaten with spicy aji sauce. With this method, indigenous people preserve the potatoes for years at a time!

Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMugMoving up to the second floor with a gleaming, modern kitchen, we gathered around the bar for an exotic fruit tasting, including some that even I hadn’t tasted yet in other regions of South America. We had lucuma (a milky fruit used in smoothies), tumbo (a long, thin type of passion fruit whose acidity was often used in ceviche before lime was brought to the region), aguaymanto (I believe this one is related to poha berries that we have in Hawaii, it’s slightly tart and rich in vitamin C), granadilla and cherimoya. The vibrantly colored prickly pear was our final taste. I’d seen them on many a street corner while walking around the city, so it was fun to get to taste them at their freshest.

Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMugNext, we put some of the fruit to good use as flavoring for the famous Peruvian cocktail, the pisco sour. We first sampled three varieties of pisco and then we each were invited to customize our cocktail, either with the traditional recipe or by using ice cubes made of the the juice of tumbo (my choice) or the bright purple chicha morada. One of my classmates opted for a fruit flavored and non-alcoholic version, but I thoroughly enjoyed my passion fruit pisco sour, which I got to garnish with a small round of lime and an orange aguaymanto fruit.

At first I was a bit disappointed not to be making my favorite (and probably the most iconic) Peruvian dish, ceviche. But as we got into the actual ingredients that we would be using for the night’s menu, I enjoyed learning about dishes that I hadn’t had before. First, we made causita (or causa), which is made from a base of mashed yukon gold potatoes, flavored with yellow aji amarillo paste, lime and a bit of mayonnaise. The mixture is layered into a mold with slices of avocado and a chicken salad, then we were each given sliced peppers, olives and toasted black quinoa with a few sauces which we could use to garnish and plate up as we wished.

Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMugAs we sat around the bar area, our chef and his assistant instructed us on how to prep the ingredients for lomo saltado (a type of beef stir fry) while Sofia translated for us and answered our questions about life in Peru and also in her native Argentina.  I enjoyed the process of getting ready for the meal together before we headed into the kitchen to finish off our masterpieces. As the gas was lit at my station, I watched the flame flare and tried to shake my pan like a pro without burning the place down.

The chefs prepared what they called “quinotto”, which used quinoa in place of arborio rice for risotto. I’d never had cheese with quinoa and I was a bit dubious as to how it would work but it was a nice accompaniment to our lomo saltado, which I’d normally had with potatoes or rice or often, both!

Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMugAfter almost four delightful hours, we moved to the dining area where we could enjoy the dishes that we’d made along with wines and a (thankfully) light ice cream for dessert. None of us could finish even half of our food so we were able to take home the leftovers and received an email the following day with all of the recipes to recreate at home.

Bottom line: for the cost of the dinner experience, I think this class was a bargain for food lovers.  You get the meal itself, with beverages, in addition to a market tour, fruit tasting, pisco tasting, and tons of information about both traditional and contemporary customs and daily life in Peru to put the cuisine into context. If you can schedule it towards the beginning of your trip, all the better to take advantage of Sofia’s recommendations for the rest of your time in Cusco. Buen provecho!

Cusco Culinary
Calle San Andres 477, Cusco, Peru
To book, call +51 (084) 794 901 or +51 (084) 225183
Website | Facebook | TripAdvisor

>> To view my photos from my cooking class and dinner experience, please visit my Cusco Culinary photo gallery.
>> For recommendations on things to do, see and EAT in Peru, visit my Peru Destination Page.

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Where to Eat in Cusco: Centro Historico

Cusco is definitely worth more than the few days that people give it, often as a pit stop to or from the nearby main attraction, Machu Picchu. In reality, the city has a charming historic center with the grand Plaza de Armas as a central meeting place, interesting museums and churches, a circuit of impressive ruins and – most importantly – many culinary delights, if you know where to look! Sure there is a well-established “backpacker trail” here, with the accompanying pubs, pizzas, mass produced souvenirs and cheap massages. But not to be overlooked are great options for foodies in the markets, street stalls and even cooking classes.

Here are a few of my favorites:

Budget Eats in Cusco: Street Food

Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMugIf you’re on a budget or just looking for a snack, look no further than the streets! Around the mercados and plazas you can often find stalls dishing out small plates of local favorites like arroz con huevos (a fried rice dish topped with egg), sopa de pollo, trout ceviche, boiled quail eggs, popcorn, churros, seasonal fruits and even chicha.

In the evenings, you can often find my favorite snack – anticuchos – for just a bit more than $1. Anticuchos are skewers of meat, usually topped off with a boiled potato and drizzled with spicy aji sauce, if you’d like extra flavor. The classic anticucho is corazon (beef heart) but I’ve also seen kidney, chicken, sausage, and regular beef. The most reliable spot, usually with 2-3 stalls open each night, is on the steps near San Francisco church.

>> If you want to go where the locals do for anticuchos and aren’t afraid to venture a bit further, check out this recommendation from Anticucheria Condoritos. Highly recommended!

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Comida Tipica in Cusco: Cuy Chactado

Looking for traditional food in Cusco, Peru? Try Cuy!

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Roast cuy on the street in Quito, Ecuador

Cuy is a local specialty of the highland regions in South America, especially Ecuador and Peru. You can find it served in a variety of ways, often wood-fired or roasted, though people complain that it can be dry and a lot of work for such a small amount of meat. A friend tried it in a stew (pipian de cuy), which would mean it’s less dry but you also get less of the taste of the cuy itself and more of the stew ingredients. When I’ve talked to friends in both Peru and Ecuador, it’s not often on the top of their “must eat” lists, so it can a bit of a gringo thing to do, made popular by the likes of Anthony Bourdain or Andrew Zimmern.

If you’re not an adventurous eater, the presentation can be daunting as well – the cuy usually comes served whole, with head (including teeth!) and sometimes little claws in tact. I never got around to trying cuy in Ecuador so when we got a recommendation for a place to try it in Cusco, I knew I had to go for it and fortunately a couple of guys from my hostel were game to come along as well. Perfecto!

Cuy can also be a bit pricey, with restaurants in the tourist areas often charging 50-70 soles or so for a plate. You can sometimes find it cheaper on the streets outside of a mercado or at a pincanteria, but they will usually be smaller and very tough. In Quito, I’d seen a woman selling them on the street for only $5 for a half. In Cusco, we opted to go to a restaurant more popular with local families called Quinta Eulalia, where cuy chactado (deep fried guinea pig) with roasted potato and a rocoto relleno (stuffed spicy pepper) will set you back 45 soles.

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Cuy chactado (deep fried guinea pig) at Quinta Eulalia in Cusco, 45 soles
The restaurant was just a short walk from Plaza de Armas on Calle Choquechaca. To find it, head in the direction of Sacsayhuman and look for the blue balconies on the right side of the street. The restaurant takes up two floors – the second floor surrounds a nice outdoor courtyard and the top floor is a bit more enclosed, which is good if the weather is colder! Quinta Eulalia has been in business more than half a century, and when we arrived around 2pm on a Sunday afternoon, the place was packed with locals. A trio of musicians made their way through the restaurant, giving things a festive feel. We waited about 15 minutes for a table to free up, watching the huge entree portions of lechon and roast lamb coming out of the kitchen – giving us time to decide on our ordering strategy.

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Things to Do in Portland: Wine Tasting by Helicopter

It might seem odd that, although it’s been a good 15 years since I’d seen her last, Coral looked exactly the same as she stepped out of the helicopter and ducked across the helipad. Come to think of it, she pretty much looked the same as I remembered her from elementary school days, going on adventures up in Piiholo or hanging out in Pukalani. Suddenly, I was giddy with happiness at seeing my old friend and simultaneously fighting the urge to pinch myself as the helicopter blades swooped overhead.

Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMug“Who does this?” I thought.

I’ve had my share of visits to wine country regions in California and abroad in New Zealand. I’ve been on self-guided tastings by car, with friends in a stretch Hummer limo, and even once by bicycle. But wine tasting by helicopter? This was something new for me. And an opportunity I couldn’t turn down, of course.

If you’re ever lucky enough to have the time and ability to invest the money in getting a group together for a few hours of wine tasting in Oregon’s wine region – home to some of the best Pinot Noir I’ve ever had – I highly recommend Precision Helicopters. It may seem like a luxury only available to the rich and famous. And don’t get me wrong – I’m not saying it’s not cheap, but if nothing else, it’s a once in a lifetime indulgence that truly made the most of the precious few hours we had, covering a wide range of geography without the hassle of fighting traffic in and out of Portland. Instead, we were whisked away and treated to a bird’s eye view of the surrounding towns and landscape, and in a mere 10-15 minutes, we’d arrived at our first tasting room.

Wine Tasting in Oregon

Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMugPenner Ash has a beautiful tasting room and we were able to try a Viogner and a Reisling before moving into their popular Pinots. Afterwards, we sat outside to enjoy the view over Chehalem Valley. I love the thought of being able to come here to have a picnic or to enjoy wine by the glass or by the bottle, which is one of the tasting options available, weather permitting.

As we climbed back into the helicopter, I got my first taste of what it must feel like to be a celebrity. As the helicopter blades whirred to a steady hum overhead, I looked out and noticed some of the winery staff standing outside with cell phone cameras in hand, filming our lift off. I hate to disappoint them if they were expecting someone famous, so I we all put on our shades and gave a little wave. Ha!