Friday, November 15, 2013

Restaurants Ary Quepay & El Koala.

Arequipa is the city where some of the most outstanding traditional food dishes in the country such as the Rocoto Relleno, Pastel de Papa, Chupe de Camarones, Adobo, Cuy Chactado and more can be enjoyed. Our next venture into restaurants was to try some of the more traditional dishes. Our first stop was at Ary Quepay. Located fairly close to the city center, this is possibly one of the most tourist places for traditional Peruvian cuisine as it is mentioned in most travel guides. As soon as we were seated, a young man called Jamie came up and gave us menus. It is a really hot day so we immediately ordered some beer while we studied the restaurant and menu. The husband-and-wife-run restaurant has an attractive garden themed restaurant with an easy to follow menu of all the traditional Arequipa favorites. The menu is in Spanish, English French, Italian and Portuguese so that just about covers most tourists! But that is where catering to the tourism industry ends because this food is 100% Peruvian with no reservations and what we had was excellent. Jamie brought us our beers and we decided to start with the Relleno Ricotto, a pepper stuffed with a meat and cheese mixture and served with a cooked whole potato wrapped in cheese. We asked him to bring that as an appetizer even though it is on the menu as a main course and to give us a little more time to decide the rest of our meal. It was a tough decision but for our main courses, Tom choose the Corvina (sea bass) Ceviche and I had Adobo since it is Sunday although at Ary Quepay it is on the menu every day. Adobo is pork chops with onions and braised in a chichi (sweet corn drink) and spices, we could taste the cumin. We were to full to order any of the delicious desserts, next time and there will be a next time. The food was excellent, as was the service and great value for the money. Some of the best traditional restaurants in the city are a short taxi ride beyond the downtown area and for traditional food one famous area is Avenida Arancota, frequented mostly by local Peruvian families. About a 10 minute drive from the center of Arequipa and far from the tourist hub, there is another culinary experience is waiting. As the cab driver turns onto Avenida Arancota, it would be natural to be hit with a momentary panic. There seems to be nothing on this road as it extends out into the barren hills. You are pretty sure that the tourist office was wrong, that the taxi driver is wrong and maybe you should go back to those tourist spots but finally a cluster of restaurants appear and the driver pulls over. Ask him which restaurant is good and the reply will be “all of them”. These restaurants are the not to be missed “chicharronerias” and on any given Sunday it seems as though the majority of the local Arequipa population is here walking the avenue to their own personal favorite. Street vendors selling the biggest “chicharrones”, fried pork rind are everywhere. Some of these look like a quarter of a skinned pig, huge sheets of fried pork skin. Outside some of the restaurants there are outdoor barbeques with slabs of pork ribs, whole sides of lamb, lamb cutlets and yes, guinea pig or cuy. Chicharronerias serve pork and on Sunday they make a special dish called “adobo”. Traditionally cooked in a clay pot, Adobo is marinated pork served with a sauce made from spices, onions and chicha de jorra, a fermented beverage made out of black corn. After walking three blocks, both sides of the street, we settle on EL Koala which we had seen from the outset. Their outdoor grill looked and smelled divine and we eyed the pork ribs and lamb hungrily. Entering through a small entrance we were literally in the serving and kitchen area, with a long counter and numerous waitresses bustling back and forth, laden with trays of food. We could see an enormous back room which opened to a patio and garden. As we went back, we realized something else, the place is packed and we are the only gringos here. As a waitress pointed a table to us we were both starting to feel overwhelmed and I think the locals sensed our confusion as they smiled and gestured good naturedly at us. After checking the menu which was mercifully short since the array of food on the grill is really self explanatory, we settled on the pork ribs and rack of lamb with some local beer. When the waitress returned with our beer, she told us the lamb would not be ready for another 20 minutes or so, we assured her that was okay. We are in no hurry as there is so much to absorb. When our plates arrived they were overflowing with food. The meat is served with fried sweet potatoes, roasted yellow potatoes (from a country that grows over 3,000 varieties of potatoes you can never have enough papas) and three different types of salsas in varying degrees of heat. The food was quite delicious and we ate and continued to soak up the atmosphere around us which was made even more enjoyable as the children grew bolder and sidled up to us with shy smiles and quiet “holas”. On Sundays, El Koala is more than just a restaurant, it is a place for families to gather and relax and catch up on the local gossip, a place where their children are comfortable going outside to play or checking out the other diners and yes, a place where they might have the odd chance of watching a gringo make a foray into the local cuisine.

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