A few years back, my family and I stayed a couple of nights in Cusco, Peru. We ate a lot of authentic meals before, during, and after our adventure on the Inca Trail. But years later, only two stand out. One was a meal we ate standing on the street outside of our hotel at midnight. We had returned on the train from Machu Picchu to find all the restaurants closed and ourselves near starving. A lone woman stood at her portable roadside grill frying up chicken and egg sandwiches. Everyone in the family agrees that her simple fare remains one of the best meals we have ever eaten in South America.
The second meal was a tad more refined but delicious nonetheless. It also was the most authentic Peruvian meal in Cusco.
Deva, A Cusco Treasure
Although it has been several years since we visited Cusco, our favorite restaurant is still open. We found it only because a very kind waiter in a different restaurant realized that we were truly interested in trying local food. His name was Richard and he recommended that the following night we try Deva, a restaurant specializing in comida típica de Cuzco. In our ignorance, we hadn’t realized that there would be large regional differences in typical foods in Peru. In hindsight, we should have.
Today, Deva is still going strong. Their ethic is to make meals using organic and local produce. In fact, you should read this small excerpt from their website:
Most of our dishes are prepare with organic vegetables. We try to work with local producers whose products have official certification, but, I must admit, that sometimes it is very difficult because of the seasonality of the vegetables, tubers (potatoes), and cereals.
The rainbow trout we use for roasting and in the ceviche comes from Lake Titicaca. Each one has around 4 pounds, this feature gives us the assurance that the portion is firm enough to sustain cooking on the grill.
The alpaca meat is tender and teasty. We always recomend to have it medium rare, Why? Because is the best way, isn’t it? Kidding aside, alpaca meat is very tender but lean, so if we cook it too much can lose tenderness.
Our guinea pigs comes from certificated farms around Cusco and Arequipa. We look for the most young and tender ones. They goes from 4 to 5 weeks, and have from 600 to 700 grams each.
We also have vegetarian & vegan dishes. Local cuisine is full of vegetarian options and eventually we went where our guests more like. The options that we have in our menu are full of flavors, textures and tastes.
Our Meal at Deva
At Deva, we had the pleasure to try:
Cancha – This dish is an appetizer of corn kernels toasted to perfect crunchiness, then salted. The flavor reminded me of Frito corn chips but fresher. You can make your own Cancha with this recipe from whats4eats.
Chicha – This fermented beverage derived from corn is not high in alcohol. It is creamy yellow and a glass of it came with a head of white foam the consistency of softly beaten egg whites. The flavor reminded me of mead, another fermented product. To learn more about chicha in the Andes, check out our article on Ecuadorian Chichas.
Chicha Morada – This beverage is made from blue corn and is not alcoholic. Its color is a deep purple, like the grape juice I remember drinking as a child. The flavor is very sweet and fruity; a typical Chicha Morada includes pineapple, quince, apples, lime juice, cloves, and cinnamon. If you’d like to try and make it for yourself, The Splendid Table offers this recipe.
Cuy – This is the guinea pig you have heard me refer to. My husband bravely gave this one a try and determined that it tasted like… meat. When we asked him to clarify, he clarified with rabbit. That makes sense since guinea pigs and rabbits are raised in very similar ways – hutches and vegetarian diets. Most Peruvians seem to like these guys whole and roasted though my husband tried a half cuy that had been pan-fried and served with a sauce. It was the little bones that got to me… can’t go there.
Alpaca – both of my boys and I tried alpaca. Mine came in a stew and was served with tarwi, which I will describe below. The boys went with steaks. Alpaca is red meat reminiscent of bison.
Quinoa – Quinoa is a very common grain in South America. It has become very common in the United States and is found at every supermarket around. We found quinoa in Peru is most often served in soups, like the one I had for lunch, but it is also served as a side dish, like rice. The grains are round in shape and the texture can be crunchy if lightly cooked and fluffy if cooked completely through.
Tarwi – Tarwi is a legume related to the lupini bean found in Mediterranean cooking. In fact, when I first tried tarwi, I wondered if it might make me sick as folklore in the United States says that lupin seeds or beans are poisonous. Since then, I have learned that people in the Andes have been eating tarwi since ancient times. In Ecuador, they call it chocho. At Deva, they serve tarwi in a dish that was similar to Middle Eastern Hummus. The flavor was slightly bitter and bean-like while the consistency was creamy and smooth.
Deva Offers More Than A Meal
Nowadays, Deva offers more than food. They have expanded their offerings to include cooking classes. The tour begins with a visit to the local San Pedro and Casccaparo markets where you will help chose ingredients for the foods you will make at the restaurant. After helping cook your meal, you will sit down and enjoy the delicious lunch. It’s enough to make me want to go back and visit Cusco once again!