27 August 2012

Terrific tortas: a finger-licking-good tour of northern Peru

Peruvians collectively have a huge sweet tooth. Kids are constantly seen sucking on lollipops or fizzy drinks, cake shops proliferate and display the most garishly coloured examples of cake decoration ever seen anywhere, and street vendors sell sweet treats like churros, a deep-fried honey-filled pastry, revolución caliente, crunchy, spicy cookies and the rice and milk combination, arroz con leche. Dulce de leche, a sweet made by heating sweetened milk, is a big favourite here, both eaten on its own and as a filling in pastries or an icing on cakes. It is just a little addictive! And, of course, Peru grows its own cacao beans, so people have been making chocolate here for over a thousand years.

All that being said, is it any wonder that Sarah and I decided we needed to eat our way around northern Peru? Or, to put it a little more delicately, we embarked on a gastronomic torta tour, sampling the cakes of the towns and cities we visited.

Cake number one:
This was the first cake of the tour, a dessert of chocolate cake that Sarah enjoyed at the Mama Mia Restaurant in Chiclayo. For some unknown reason, I didn’t have any dessert that night – I think I had simply eaten too much Chicharron de pollo, deep-fried chicken and chips, to fit in anything else.

Cakes two and three:
These are typical examples of the vivid and gaudily decorated cakes I described above. We had gone for a wander through the huge local market in central Chiclayo and saw these cakes in a shop specialising in kids’ birthday cakes. This is the sort of cake we buy for our birthday parties at Picaflor House. They are super sweet and the kids love them.

Cakes four and five:
After a 3-hour early morning bus ride from Chiclayo to Trujillo, Sarah and I had a wonderful time walking round inner-city Trujillo with our lovely guide, Henry. But, little breakfast and all that walking made us hungry so, after our city tour and before our afternoon tour to one of the local archaeological sites, we enjoyed a sumptuous three-course lunch for the tiny sum of S/16.50 – that’s about US$6 – at Romana Restaurant. After a delicious salad entrée and a main course of chicken, I had a slice of crema volteada, a little like crème caramel, and Sarah had delicia de chocolate, a rather decadent concoction that would please even the fussiest of chocoholics!

Cake six:
I wasn’t exactly sure what this cake was made of when I ordered it – the usual procedure was to go to the cake counter and point – but it turned out to be carrot cake. And it was a very moist and quite delicious cake but I’m used to carrot cake with a cream cheese frosting and I found the dulce de leche filling and icing far too sweet – so sweet, in fact, that I left most of it. I kid you not!

Cakes seven and eight:
This was a relatively lazy day for us – every other day we had tours booked, starting early, but this day we slept in and, only later, booked ourselves tickets to a performance of the local horses and dancers (more on that in a future blog). Back in town later, we checked out the exhibits in the local toy museum, then decided it must be time for cake! This time I chose a divine tiramisu, an international classic, and Sarah had delicia de almendra, or almond delight. I’m reliably told it was indeed delightful!

Cake nine:
I don’t know why I don’t have a photo of cake ten – Sarah must’ve gulped it down before I had time to shoot it! We were at Arturio’s, another of Trujillo’s rather excellent culinary establishments, where I indulged in what was called a fruit soufflé, though it was actually layers of sponge cake and cream with bits of succulent fruit thrown in to the mix. It was light and finger-licking good.

And so ends this little tour of the tortas of northern Peru. Astoundingly, I didn’t put on any weight on our tour, probably because we did a ton of walking, but I wouldn’t recommend trying a tour like this without plenty of exercise. I do, however, recommend sampling the sweet delights of Peru.

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