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Peru, thanks to its huge range of fresh ingredients and an ever-growing number of world-class chefs, has long been recognized as South America’s culinary capital. While Lima takes much of the international limelight, Cusco – with its exciting fusion of Andean ingredients and modern cooking techniques – is fast becoming Peru’s second foodie hub. From hands-on cooking classes to street-food tours, here are the best culinary experiences to have in Cusco.
Recently opened by Christian Manrique, a chef trained at the prestigious Le Cordon Bleu Culinary Arts School, TASTE Peruvian Cooking Studio is the newest kitchen in town – but is fast becoming one of the top culinary classes in Cusco, thanks to its creative menu, small groups, and hands-on cooking.
The three-hour classes start with a tour of Cusco’s most famous market, Mercado San Pedro, where you’ll learn about the huge variety of exotic fruits, spices, and ancient medicinal plants, as well as the important role they play in Andean cooking. After this, you’ll head to Christian’s state-of-the-art cooking studio, located in a beautifully restored 200-year-old colonial home. With your stylish TASTE apron on, you’ll kickstart the class with a Pisco sour making class, followed by a hands-on three-course cooking session where you’ll learn to make delicious Andean/Peruvian classics with a modern twist. Expect mouthwatering dishes such as sashimi-style tiradito, quinoa-encrusted alpaca steak, and an exotic fruits parfait.
The pachamanca – a traditional, usually celebratory, meat-and-potatoes meal cooked under hot stones – has been a popular dish in rural Andean communities for centuries. It’s even believed by locals to predate the Incas. Many of the rural communities that surround Cusco, such as in the Sacred Valley and Ausangate regions, still practice this tradition today.
Peruvian Cooking Classes have a special class running every Saturday between May and August (the pachamanca is best prepared during the dry season), where you’ll be taken to a local farm near Cusco and learn to cook pachamanca like a local, from building and lighting the stone oven to marinading the alpaca meat.
With many of the country’s cacao farms just a few hours away from the city, Cusco serves up some of Peru’s highest-quality chocolate. The best way to taste it? Make your own! The ever-popular ChocoMuseu offers 40- and 90-minute classes where (as well as learning about Peru’s fascinating cacao history) you’ll get to prepare, mold, and decorate your very own chocolates with a range of local flavors such as chili, coca leaf, and the Andean mint, muña. The difference between the 40- and 90-minute class is that, in the longer class, you get to grind the chocolate yourself.
Peru is undoubtedly the king of ceviche, which is believed to have originated here: raw fish marinated in lime juice, chillies, and cilantro. Whilst it’s most famous in Lima, thanks to their huge variety of fresh fish, Cusco also produces some of the world’s best trout ceviche. The Ceviche Experience offers a two-hour ceviche cooking class, where, after making your own pisco sour aperitif, you’ll learn to prepare trout ceviche like a pro. The best bit? You’ll be sipping your pisco and marinading your trout out on their sun-drenched colonial terrace overlooking Cusco’s beautiful Plaza de Armas.
Sugar-coated churros, juicy anticuchos (beef heart skewers), steaming pulled pork tamales, choclo (corn) with cheese, rocoto peppers… Cusco’s streets aren’t short of culinary delights, and offer the best (and cheapest!) way to get to know the most traditional local snacks. You’ll see vendors all around town, but all the best treats are in and around Cusco’s most famous market, Mercado San Pedro. If you’re around on a Saturday and can handle an even crazier market, head to Barratillo. On the other hand, if you fancy hunting out the best food stalls in town, as well as learning more about Cusco’s fascinating street-food culture, Curious Monkey Food Tours offer highly recommended street-food tours which, of course, come with plenty of tastings.
Cuy, a whole fried or roasted guinea pig, has been Peru’s most popular delicacy for thousands of years – and today is a must-try for any visitor in Cusco. It’s not for the fainthearted: the abnormally large cuy usually comes whole on the plate, teeth, claws, and ears included. However, if you can get past the slightly terrifying appearance, it tastes pretty good! The best place to try it is in the San Blas restaurant Pachapapa, where the guinea pig is slow-roasted in a wood-fire oven, making the skin nice and crispy.