Chocolate Beer

Peru is the Gastronomic Capital of the World, Surely they Must have Chocolate Liquor.

For many people, when they’re having a bit of a stressful day, what do they reach for as a comfort?  For some, it’s sweet treats like chocolate. For others, it might be a glass of wine or pisco (if you’re in Peru). But did you know that both these popular things, chocolate and alcohol, actually come from the same Cacao fruit?

If you crack open the Cacao fruit, inside you’ll find a white, spongy pulp with the cocoa beans inside. If you’ve seen the chirimoya fruit on your travels, it looks a lot like this.

The cacao bean itself it bitter, but the spongy pulp is all sugar (looks like it was always chocolate’s destiny to be sweet!). But what happens if you leave the sugary pulp alone…it ferments into alcohol.

No Chocolate Liquor in Lima?

As I learnt at Chocomuseo, the cacao farmers in the Peruvian Amazon have developed the technique to take this fermented cacao pulp and process it into an alcoholic spirit. But, here’s the tease- they won’t ship it to Lima!

As I myself will not be visiting the Amazon on this trip, I pass on the investigative baton to any traveler in Peru who will be taking a trip to an area near cacao plantations. Chocolate Liquor? Let’s track some down! Until that time, we might all have to be content with some chocolaty pisco which you can purchase at one of the Choco Museo stores across Lima. Pop in for a free sample, they have sites in Miraflores, Barranco, and Plaza de Armas. But be careful, tasty treats like this are hard to put down!

Beckie is a volunteer with the Karikuy Volunteer Program in Lima, Peru.

When in Peru, drink as the Peruvians? Absolutely. But no, I’m not talking about Pisco this time, but Peru’s very own, home-grown, range of cervezas. That’s Peruvian beers, to you and me.

The most popular of Peruvian beers on offer are Cuzqueña, Pilsen Callao, and Cristal. These are the beers that you will find in any little shop or bar, and probably what you will find in the hand of a local come a weekend night.

Peruvian Beers
Peruvian beers on offer

But, which is better? To find out, I sacrificed myself for the sake of this blog, and did a taste test. A blind taste test at that, just to be fair.

Cuzqueña is the ultimate winner of the three in taste, both in ‘blonde’ (pale) and ‘negro’ (dark) variations (yes, I tried them both). This is probably Peru’s signature beer, and the bottles themselves are reason enough to  make a purchase (you might recognize that famous 12 sided-brick Inca Wall in Cuzco city adorning the bottom). It’s also reflected in the price, although they still certainly make a good souvenir and/or gift (and/or personal supply).

The next option is Pilsen Callao. It’s also the middle of the price variations, and the Peruvians have kept faithful to their price=quality assessment when it comes to beer, in my opinion. Finally, for the price of the others, you can have yourself a satisfying 1 litre bottle of Cristal to enjoy. Considering this is the lower-priced option, I think it certainly tops special brew (if you know, you know). It’s not complete filth and I would even venture to say that it is still nice enough to warrant ordering at a bar.

Just… a wall of beer

So, my final recommendations on Peruvian beers?

Actually, I would recommend Cristal. The bottle is bigger, which means you can share it around more easily with the other members of your party (you didn’t think I did those taste-tests all by  myself, did you?). And after all, sharing alcohol is the spirit of drinking Peruvian beers here in Peru, and what you will compromise on taste you will make up for in friendships. Cuzqueña is by far the best taste, but maybe keep this as a nice gift for your friends back home.

Lima Markets where art thou?

I couldn’t help but think back to Dorothy’s famous line in the iconic childhood film Wizard of Oz “We’re not in Kansas anymore, Toto” when I first realized there were no more double espressos or maple pecan tarts to be had at my beloved favorite Canadian coffee shop Second Cup.

Naturally, I was a little bewildered and a tad lost wondering where my Peruvian neighbors purchased their food or even daily household necessities. With my curiosity piqued to its max, the other volunteers and I ventured out into various Lima Markets and into a world of churros, hamburgesas, tortas and much much more.

Let me begin by saying that if you long to escape the over-trodden path that is the typical tourist circuit of Lima, begin by heading over to your nearest mercado to experience an authentic representation of Peruvian life. The morning is the most opportune time to cruise into the heart of these delightfully overwhelming mazes of fresh produce, butcher’s, baker’s and most likely, I wouldn’t be surprised, even candlestick makers.

Lima Markets
Variety is King in Lima Markets

The majority of venders are out at this time selling their goods and most Peruvians purchase their food early in the morning for the entire day since freshness is an important component of Peruvian way of life. As we entered one of our first Lima Markets in the town of Pueblo Libre the sight of newly baked chocolate cake, and warm caramel-filled churros immediately seized all of my attention.

It took a lot of will power but eventually I was able to draw my gaze to the local wonders of exotic produce; sweat mangos and papayas, buttery paltas (avocados) and tangerines, half of which I found difficult to identify and most of which were locally grown. Almost anything can be found at this mercado from household items, clothing and toiletries to even the infamous orange powdered Tang of the 90’s which apparently still exists and is going strong as I have seen it in a few Lima markets so far.

Visiting as many Lima Markets as possible can be an adventure.

After gorging on a delicious meal for roughly 4 soles (approximately $1 US) consisting of steak pieces, fried onions, rice, potatoes and a bowl of soup, I recommend heading over to Emancipación street in Cercado de Lima. This bustling street of shops and stands is divided into themed sections, one of which we volunteers have deemed “surgical alley” for its odd assortment of test tubes, ambulance beds, microscopes and oxygen tanks for sale. You can find anything in Lima markets really.

Lima Market Menu
Typical Peruvian Dish

Almost anything you will ever possibly need is conveniently located right here and a lot of which is sold at an inexpensive price. Would you like to know how many pounds you’ve gained after a hardy market meal? To my amazement, this is indeed made possible by the people selling the chance to hop on a scale for 60 cents along the sidewalk. Forgot your cell phone at home? No worries, just ask one of the guys soliciting calls from their cell phones on almost every other block.

I have also recently discovered the many wonders and fruitfulness of my own neighborhood of Planeta. Just around the corner from our humble abode lives the popular “Hamburger Man” selling delicious hamburgesas from his own front door topped with fried eggs fries and salad for less than 2 soles. Further down from him is “Cake Lady” who, after the freshly baked caramel-filled cake I had last night, I’m hoping will become my new best friend.

Hamburger from Markets of Lima
A Treat from Hamburger Man

After tasting the mouth watering fruits and foods bursting with flavor available right in my own neighborhood, it is clear that I may not be in Kansas anymore but I’m sure I’m pretty close to heaven.