Good news! My food adventures did continue, this time with chiriuchu! Yesterday was Corpus Christi here in Cusco and in addition to the Saints, the city was full of food and cerveza. The Plaza de San Francisco was converted into a bustling marketplace of chiriuchu vendors and port-o-potties. Here people could escape the crowd in the Plaza de Armas (and join a possibly even bigger crowd) to indulge in this classic Peruvian dish. So what is chiriuchu?
Chiriuchu is both enchanting and repulsive, an entire country on one plate. It consists of food from all three regions of Perú: la costa (the coast), la selva (the jungle), and la sierra (the mountains). I have wanted to try cuy, or guinea pig, since arriving in Cusco, and chiriuchu finally gave me the opportunity to! Also on my plate was kancha, a type of roasted corn, chicken, jerky (of what I’m not quite sure), blood sausage, a slice of queso fresco, seaweed, fish eggs, and torreja, a type of Spanish cornbread. On the very top of this mountain of food was a piece of rocoto, a pepper that looks like a harmless red bell pepper but is much, much spicier. I unknowingly took a huge bite of it before I started chowing down, and it definitely started my meal off on an interesting foot.
Lauren and I, being the food-obsessed, intrepid girls we are, arrived at the Plaza de San Francisco ready to devour an entire plate of chiriuchu each. Once we found some seats under an extremely crowded tent and not only saw but also smelled the plastic bucket of fish eggs marinating in the sun, however, we began having second thoughts. Of course we were still going to try this mysterious, captivating dish, but maybe sharing it was the way to go…A couple minutes later, a plate was set between us and we were all ready to go!
I was very thankful for my Cusqueña because it certainly helped some of the items on my plate go down a bit easier. The cuy, I have to say, was actually done really well. It had a bit of a strange odor to it–as Lauren so wonderfully put it, it tasted like “how Petsmart smells”–and some of it got under my fingernails (no utensils at the festival!) and resurfaced later as I was getting ready to go to bed. Nevertheless, I ate my fair share of guinea pig and enjoyed it. I tried absolutely everything the chiriuchu had to offer. The seaweed was quite tasty, as was the kancha and queso fresco. One thing I had a hard time swallowing, however, was the blood sausage. I’ve always been scared of this meat concoction since I saw it on Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern. I don’t mean to put down anyone’s cup of tea, but this liver/blood patty tasted more like a cow pie in a field on a hot, humid summer’s day. Cow pie aside, I would definitely return to the festival and share a plate of chiriuchu with a good friend again (and just leave all the blood sausage for him or her!). It was absolutely incredible to be among so many locals, eating a dish that is such a huge part of their culture. I was also extremely happy that basically everyone in my group tried at least some part of the chiriuchu. I have had such a great time in Perú thanks to the open-mindedness and adventurous spirit we all share.
I am positive that one day I’ll return to Cusco for Corpus Christi and navigate the packed streets like a pro. But until then, the very peculiar smell of cuy and taste of blood sausage will stay with me, occupying a special place in my foodie heart.