Tuesday, July 24, 2012

A Journey of a Lifetime ( Part 5 ) The Maras Salt Mines

From Moray -- the group headed towards the famous salt mines of Maras. It is also known as Salinas de Maras. Maras has an elevation of 11,500 feet above sea level. This picturesque town is home to the most important salt mines in the region. The salt mines date back to Inca times and at one point was the largest salt producer in the Sacred Valley.

Our driver stopped at the top so we could get a nice overview of the salt mines. It was amazing! What looked like a patchwork quilt of white and various shades of brown cascading down a hillside were in fact thousands of terraced salt mines that have existed since pre-Inca times yet are still operable till today. Fascinated by its beauty and astonished by the fact salt can actually come from ancient mines and not only from sea water, I was left speechless by the site of salt encrusted ponds before me.

According to Jesus, our guide, there are approximately 5740 pools dug into the mountainside that each yield about 150 kg of salt per month. Each salt pool is worked by a family. He explained to us how the process was done.  The salt is actually not mined but rather it all comes from a tiny stream above the hill that has been redirected to ponds.  The ponds are stacked over and over on the hill side, with the top pond spilling into the lower one until it reaches the cliff side. Once a pond is full -- the stream is directed to new ponds as the ones that are full are left to evaporate, leaving the salt behind. 

Being very curious, I asked him why did the Incas build these salt mines high up in the mountains --- this is what he answered, " the Incans believed that by building these mines up in the mountains they will be closer to their Gods "..

Lulu and I decided not to go down and get a closer view of the salt mines. After taking souvenir shots of the salt mines, we were going to our next stop --- to have lunch with a Peruvian family. This was going to be our first Peruvian meal. 

We arrived at our destination a little past 1:00 pm. Everyone was hungry. We proceeded to the dining room and took our seats and waited for the food to be served. Jesus started to explain that we will be served local dishes that are very popular in their country. I must admit that when I arrived in Lima with little more than a vague knowledge of quinoa, ceviche, cuy ( roasted guinea pig ) and alpaca. I did not know what to expect.  Jesus informed us that there are 3 staples in Peruvian cuisine. These are corn,  potatoes and chilies. In fact there are more than 400 varieties of potatoes in Peru and 200 varities of corn.  

Here was what we had:

We started with QUINOA ( pronounced KEEN-WAH ) soup. Everyone enjoyed the soup. Some of us even had second servings.

Boiled OXALIS TUBER - a variety of potato found in Peru.

Boiled CORN KERNELS - these kernels were HUGE!! Someone in our group made a comment that it looked like " radioactive " kernels because of its size.

QUINOA SALAD - It was one of my favorite dishes in Peru. It was served cold with some vegetables and cheese mixed in. 

ROCOTO RELLENO which are stuffed Rocoto peppers with a kick ( they're a little hot and spicy ). They are usually filled with meat, onions, egg whites, olives and sometimes with nuts. According to Jesus, this dish originally comes from Arequipa.

Then the main dish was finally brought out.... Cuy or the roasted Guinea pig. Each of us were given a small slice on our plate in order to try it out.

Here is a view of my sampler plate of Inca grilled dishes - the one that you see on the right side is a slice of CUY ( the roasted Guinea pig ). The one below is grilled chicken and the one on top is grilled trucha ( trout ).

Jesus explained to us that the roasted Guinea pig was a delicacy in Peru. Most of the people in the group opted not to try it. The Peruvians are very proud of their roasted guinea pigs and can’t understand why anyone would not want to sample their local dish. It’s as natural to them as a Frenchman eating snails or a Filipino eating balut.

Being very adventurous I decided to try out this much talked about dish of Peru. As I looked at it -- it reminded me of our roasted pork ( lechon ).  I started first with the skin which looked crunchy. To my surprise - the skin was not crunchy at all. It tasted like a day old lechon skin which was ready to be transformed into " paksiw ".  Then I took a deep breath for courage then cut and mostly combed at the meat with my fork. I tried the meat. It was pungent and had a gamey taste, perhaps from the herb stuffing. There was a certain slipperiness to it. The meat was stringy and chewy. It tasted like pork with an aftertaste...and with that one bite I thought that was enough cuy for me!

Are you one of those who tries every unusual food as part of your food experience or do you stick to the familiar dishes that you’d eat at home? Would Guinea pig be on your list of things to try?

1 comment:

  1. I'm loving your Peru blog series. MP is in my bucket list but here I am, reading your other adventures. Like you, I'd likely try the Cuy. Try lang. If I don't like it, it would remain on the plate.

    Beautiful writing. Enjoying your blogs!