Dining in Mom "or" Pop Eateries in Peru's Sacred Valley
At a couple of the restaurants we visited in the Sacred Valley, there was a only a single person working in the whole restaurant, taking on the duties of waiter, cook, and cashier. So instead of a mom and pop operation, these really were mom or pop operations! What's more, we were the only customers in the restaurant both times!
There was a side of me that was a bit skeptical about how the meal would go, especially wondering how fresh the food would be if the cook had to whip up a dinner for four while we're all waiting around in the dining room for the dishes to come out.
Thankfully, the sound of frying and a healthy wait for the food assured me that the food was fresh, and whats' more the fare at both places were just excellent - worthy of any travel guide.
Our first meal in Peru was at Peru Buen Gusto in Urubamba, along the main road. Our dishes came out one by one starting with this adobo, a stew cooked in chicha beer.
Then we had a caldo de gallina - chicken soup, with hard boiled egg, potato, and I believe yucca.
Then we had the tacu tacu, which is this rice and beans patty. I'd never heard of it, but it was really delicious - the meat and beans came together in a meaty union. Really seemed like comfort food. Served with lomo saltado and french fries.
We had also ordered lomo saltado, not knowing that the lomo in the "tacu tacu lomo" we had ordered was this very lomo saltado. The national dish of Peru, and found on every Peruvian restaurant outside of the country, it was exciting to finally have it in Peru! A stir fry of tender beef, onions, tomatoes, and soy sauce, it's a dish that really shows, I think, the welcoming nature of Peru. That is, foreign imports like soy sauce became so integrated into the culture that you can find it in every town big and small, incorporated into their national dish.
All of the food was wonderfully fresh, with no evidence of pre-cooked and reheated french fries for example, something all too common in Spain.
The next day, we had a stop in Chinchero, the weaving village. Our guide first took us to another restaurant, but it was really cold, both in terms of the highly air-conditioned interior but also the vibes of the place. We were alone in a large dining room with tablecloth-covered table and presented with a menu with prices that I would even consider a bit pricey in the US. We asked kindly if there was another option, and so the guide took here: Andean Coffee Cafe Snack Restaurant. Is that really the name? :)
This restaurant was the definition of homey. There were just two tables in the dining room (maybe there were more beyond the kitchen?), and the proprietress/cook/waitress came out to take our order.
She recommended the alpaca loin, which was super tender, just as she promised. It was coated with a savory spice rub that I cannot place - could it include garlic and ají? There were simple sides of slices of cucumber and tomato, and local potatoes. You'll note that Andean Coffee Cafe Snack Restaurant really takes care with their presentation, with the pyramidal rice!
Of course, we also had to try the lomo saltado here. It was also delicious, especially with the fresh fries served under the stir fry to better soak the sauce.
Then we had another Peruvian classic, ají de gallina. Pulled strips of chicken breast were smothered in a creamy, kind of cheesy sauce, that also had a surprising kick to it! It was garnished with olives and half of a hard boiled egg.
We also got a plate of chicharrones, served with a different style of potatoes from the other dishes: fried slices of potatoes, along with some cucumber and tomato garnished with mint. The pork belly, freshly fried to a crisp, was as yummy as it sounds, and the dish was once again a display of care shown by the cook for presentation. After all, she could have just given us more of the boiled potatoes or french fries from the other dishes, but instead prepared potatoes in a different way for this one.
In the middle of our meal in Chinchero, the proprietress's young son came home from school wearing his backpack, and brightly greeted us with "¡Hola! ¡Hola!" and continued to past us to another part of the restaurant (or home?). It was just such a pleasant, unexpected encounter that made me love the little eatery even more.
We would go on to eat at other, more fancy places in Peru, but these two mom "or" pop restaurants really stood out in my memory of the trip, for delivering not only beautiful, delicious meals, but also showing a warm hospitality from just a single person taking on all of the responsibilities of a restaurant.
Peru Buen Gusto
Av. Mariscal Castilla 113, Urubamba, Peru
Andean Coffee Cafe, Snack, Restaurant
Near the parking lot of the Chinchero Market, Chinchero, Peru