Not all classrooms have four walls. And while a lifetime of lectures, compelling reads and infinite Google searches arm us with knowledge and know-how, it is travel that remains our greatest teacher.
Travel immerses us — in a destination, in a different culture, in an unknown landscape with foreign food — and it never stops teaching us about our planet, our history, ourselves and each other.
Regardless of whether we travel for adventure and adrenaline, or disconnection and solitude, each journey educates us. We may encounter a largely misunderstood species and learn about its struggle for survival, or perhaps discover the story behind a particular landscape, or take the time to personally get to know the people we meet. These authentic, first-hand experiences are a million times better than any textbook.
And then, there’s the food, glorious food. Perhaps one of the most enjoyable aspects of travel is the unashamed indulgence (coupled with the knowledge that calories obviously don’t count when you’re on holiday).
Learning about a destination also means immersing yourself in all of its feisty flavours, moreish menus, irresistible desserts and sneaky “it’s five o’clock somewhere” tipples.
When in Rome
Food memories are powerful. Often a specific flavour or local delicacy will conjure up some of the best travel moments from our memory bank. Do you look back on your adventures and relive them through their food? I do.
I can recall queuing impatiently for the best street-slice pizzas in Rome, lingering over posh tea and scones in London, salvaging every last crumb of Austria’s famous sachertort, unapologetically going back for seconds of the fragrant curries in India, and indulging (daily) in still-warm pastel de natas in Portugal.
I even tried to stomach (pun intended) a plate of haggis in Scotland way back when I was a carnivore. And once I’d long since parted ways with my carnivorous self, I (begrudgingly) choked down the tiniest morsel of mbuzi (goat) as a sign of respect for my Maasai friends in Kenya.
The theatre of food is a time-honoured tradition and learning to eat like a local is one of the most indulgent, memorable and often entertaining travel lessons.
Eating your way through Peru
Last year I travelled to Peru for the first time. Besides ceviche, I hadn’t ever really considered Peruvian food, so it was new culinary territory for me. Somehow I’d had the false notion that the meals would be heavy and meat-driven. Far from it. In fact, the food was surprisingly light, organic and bursting with local flavour.
Simple, staple ingredients (things like potatoes, corn, beans, maca and quinoa) that were prolific during the ancient Incan empire still dominate the Peruvian diet to this day. Interestingly, many of the now-trendy superfoods that we pay an arm and a leg for today actually originated in Peru as basic fuel to sustain the Inca warriors.
Peru has a rich culinary heritage influenced by ancient civilisations.
Although Peruvians do love a sinful and creamy cheese sauce, most of their cuisine is healthy and wholesome. And if you love potatoes, then Peru is definitely your place. It is the home of the potato. There are literally thousands of different home-grown varieties, so the prized potato is the star ingredient in many a Peruvian delicacy.
Opposites attract and Peruvians love incorporating tasty juxtapositions: hot and cold; traditional versus modern; tangy mixed with starch; spicy blended with sweet. Some meals are delightfully filling, calorie-laden comfort foods, while others are fresh, clean and light. You’ll find rich and hearty meals for meat-eaters and flavourful seafood galore; however, Peru is also a great place for vegetarians with its countless potato, quinoa and veggie variations.
So, leave that kill-joy diet at home and eat like no one’s watching.
Top 10 things to eat in Peru
There are many variations, all of them moreish. These mashed potato stacks are brightly coloured and topped with meat, avocado, olives … you name it.
Fresh, succulent pieces of raw fish are cured in a tangy citrus juice, then combined with a dash of chili, finely chopped onion and cilantro.
Tender strips of soy-marinated beef are stir-fried with tomatoes, onions, spices and chillies and served most traditionally with a side of fries and/or rice.
Aji de gallina
A hearty dish of shredded chicken, boiled potatoes, black olives and quail eggs cooked curry-style in a yellow chilli pepper and cheese sauce.
Plump, juicy scallops are covered in grated parmesan cheese and broiled to golden, bubbling perfection, then devoured straight from the shell.
Papas a la Huancaína
A popular Peruvian appetiser, this dish gets its name from Huancayo, a city in the central Andean highlands. Slices of boiled potato are smothered in a spicy, creamy Huancaína cheese sauce and garnished with a boiled egg and black olives.
‘Pacha’ is Quechua for ‘earth’, while ‘manka’ means ‘pot’. This traditional earth oven feast of Andean ingredients (marinated lamb, pork, chicken, alpaca or guinea pig, with vegetables and spices) is slow-cooked over hot stones in the ground.
The perfect blend of pisco (a local white brandy), egg whites, lime juice, sugar syrup and Angostura bitters. So delicious, it’s the national drink of Chile and Peru.
Originating in the Andes, this refreshing drink is made from the deep purple juice of Peruvian black corn and garnished with fruit and spices.
Potatoes and superfoods
There are over 3 000 different types of potatoes grown in Peru and we have the ancient Incas to thank for some of today’s most popular superfoods (quinoa, maca root powder, kiwicha, pichu berries, cacao, purple corn and purple potatoes). Healthy and wholesome, these are all widespread (and utterly delicious) in Peru.