As much as we like discovering places on our own, there are some instances where it really pays to have a local guide. We love learning about local food cultures and traditions, but that can be pretty difficult to do on your own. You need someone to tell you not only what you’re eating but how it’s grown, cooked, and the traditions that are associated with the food.
We had some very unique and off-the-beaten path food experiences on our recent tour of the Sacred Valley and Machu Picchu with Adventure Life. The beauty of being in a such a small group tour (our group was only 4 people total) is that you can tell the guide where your interests lie and he or she can usually adjust the schedule and/or information to suit those interests.
When our guide learned we loved food, he went out of his way to show us the local way, and we loved every minute of it.
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Quinoa and Potato Harvests
Even though the tour we were on was primarily focused on archaeological sites, our guide made time for a few food-related stops since he knew we love learning about food cultures. In the Sacred Valley, we saw people harvesting quinoa, so we pulled over and watched them work a bit as we learned about quinoa’s surging demand over the past decade. We even got to try our hand at cutting down the quinoa stalks with the farmer’s permission, which was much harder than it looked. Chop too high or at the wrong angle and the stalk is going to stay put! Giving this a try certainly increased our appreciation for the work that goes into a product that is going wild at home right now.
Later in the day we pulled over in another field to watch potatoes being harvested. We learned that the giant jugs of liquid the workers were drinking was chicha, a fermented corn drink. We also got to watch the head woman build a fire in a stone oven, right there in the field, in order to cook some potatoes for the workers.
Another spontaneous stop was to a bakery in Ollantaytambo. We got to go behind the scenes to watch the men pull the little rolls out of the wood burning oven with a massive hook. Even better, we got to buy some rolls and try them. It’s not often you get to try delicious homemade bread straight from the oven, and the fresh stuff certainly makes up for the stale bread you often get throughout South America!
Salt Mine in Maras
A litte more on the tourist trail is the Pre-Inca Salt Mine in Maras. The first glimpse of it is quite impressive, as it sits near the bottom of a valley and you drive in from the top of the adjacent mountains. A saltwater spring feeds the pools via channels, and rocks placed in the channels direct the water away from full pools and towards empty pools. The water is simply evaporated over time, leaving behind the salt. This process is repeated several times in each pool before the salt is harvested. Foodies will rejoice at the gift shops adjacent to the mine that sell many different kinds of salts and salt products where we naturally picked up a few bags for ourselves. (Although not from Maras, Peruvian salt is a huge export!).
On the last day of the tour as we headed back to Cuzco, we got to stop at a chicha house where we learned how chicha is made and sampled different varieties. Corn is dried, sprouted underground, and then fermented in water for several days. I was not a fan of the plain chicha, but we also got to try frutillada which is chicha with strawberry juice added. Delicious!
Now I have to wonder, how much of this food ends up in the amazing restaurants in Cusco nearby?
We’d like to thank our friends at Adventure Life for inviting us on the tour of the Sacred Valley and Machu Picchu tour. If you are looking for a great tour company to travel with, we highly recommend them!