I must admit I've been off the radar for quite a while now. But, I have my reasons...
So on September 1st I boarded my flight to Peru where I would spend the next four months teaching, traveling and tasting South America. I had the privilege of spending two of those few months in Arequipa, also known as the White City. Here I list just a few of the many things I am beginning to miss as I type this from my desk on a drizzly, dark winter's afternoon.
One of my favourite things about Arequipa is the relentless sunshine and blue skies twinned with the city´s famous white stone. I think it's best viewed from one of the rooftop bars in Plaza de Armas, where they'll wrap you warm in a colourful poncho at the faintest whistle of a breeze. Even better is watching the blue sky melt into oranges, reds, pinks and purples at sunset, visit the Mirador de Yanahuara or Sachaca to get an iconic view of Misti volcano whilst it changes colour.
Mirador de Yanahuara
Mirador de Sachaca
The regional cuisine of Arequipa is recognised and envied across Peru. They like chilli, and lots of it. Perhaps their most famous dish is the 'rocotto relleno', from the outside a humungous red bell pepper. The dish is in fact a deadly hot red chilli pepper cooked on a gradual heat for hours to mellow its intensity and release further notes of flavor. It is filled with slow cooked beef, spices, currants, and topped with a melting layer of cheese. Of course it's Peru so the dish wouldn't be complete without a side order of stodge, this time in the form of 'pastel de papa', a rich layering of potato and yes, more cheese.
Wanting something a little more light? I know just the thing - 'soltero de queso', to you and me that's a cheese salad. It's actually a refreshing bowl of choclo (giant Peruvian corn), black olives, broad beans, peppers, dressed with fresh herbs, chillies, vinegar, oil and a zap of lime, and the fresh white cheese.
Arequipa has a wealth of fresh and local ingredients. One of which is their river shrimp. This forms the basis of 'chupe de camarones' - a deep and warming bowl of prawn soup, delicately spiced with Peruvian aji pepper, oregano and rocotto and adorned with giant river shrimp, rice, cheese, egg, potatoes and choclo corn. If you try one thing in Arequipa make it this!
Strolling along the street you're bound to notice women in traditional dress wheeling a cart of ice. This is in fact 'Queso helado', sensing a cheese theme here? Don't worry, this one doesn't actually have cheese. It's the traditional ice cream of Arequipa, consisting of condensed and evaporated milk infused with coconut, vanilla, cinnamon and cloves and served in icey shavings. Lovely on a hot day of sight seeing.
And the day wouldn't be complete without a drink at the end. My best version of the nation's beloved pisco sours was an aguaymanto sours at La Casona del Pisco, a gastrobar serving beautiful cocktails and elegant food.
Peru is not the place for your low fat, no carb, no fun diet. The food is filling and hearty, so embrace it. And dine at a typical Arequipan 'picantería' restaurant like Tipika, packed with large family groups on a weekend lunch time and set in an open garden on Calle Luna Pizarro; Picantería La Benita in the serene Claustros de la Compania; or La Nuevo Palomino the local favourite.
Or, take a little escape from it and head to one of my favourite gringo hangouts in Arequipa - Chaqchao, a rooftop bar, café and chocolate shop. A hit with expats and gringos, as well as a few edgy locals. It serves a mean cup of coffee, freshly baked cakes, craft beer and chocolate workshops. Go there for an afternoon on the sunny terrace, or watch the sun set over Santa Catalina on the streetside balcony. What more could a girl want!
Admire the local produce at the San Camilo market stocking just some of the thousand Peruvian potato varieties, and grab a fresh juice for only 3 soles.
Set in the beating heart of the historical centre is another city - Santa Catalina monastery. The 16th century monastery is a stunning patch work of burnt red and blue cloisters and white streets, still alive with the rush of elegant fountains and bright flower beds. Take a guided tour and travel back in time to the hidden city.
It's not just the historical city which pulls people to the Arequipa region. Arequipa is home to the breathtaking and almost otherworldly Colca Canyon and Valley. A tour of the rugged agricultural landscape and local communities, as well as the chance to see the famous Condors is unmissable. I was entirely lost for words, especially under the freak weather conditions of rain and snow.
Squint! And you may be able to spot one.
The inhabitants of Arequipa are said to be very proud, so proud in fact that they consider themselves Arequipeños, not Peruvians. So after 2 months I'd say that I'm just a little bit proud to call myself una Arequipeña.
I am an amateur cook blogging about the food I eat and cook, and my travels along the way.