Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Craft Beer in Ayacucho

This post originally appeared in one of my other blogs,

This past weekend I traveled from Lima to the city of Ayacucho (aka Huamanga), where my family is originally from, on my dad's side. There, I had a great time meeting Richy Ledesma, a craft brewer whom I'd been in contact with on FaceBook and who is also friends with a couple of my cousins.

Richy received me at his place, Cervecería Artesanal El Oráculo, and plied me with beers as we spent the evening talking about craft beer and other subjects.

Entirely self-taught, Richy is one of only two craft brewers in Ayacucho, a city 363 road miles from Lima and 9,000 feet up in the Andes.  He produces four or five batches a week on a 100-liter system, which he mainly distributes in bottles, which he fills by hand and carbonates with priming sugar.

In the evenings he opens his little taproom, which is located in a fourth floor walk-up space in downtown, and dispenses beer from his two-tap draft system.

The relative isolation means that everything that goes into a beer but the water, has to be imported. Once to Peru, and thence from Lima to Huamanga. It also means that Richy is fighting against a lack of popular knowledge about beer styles and about hand-crafted beer.

Further, it also means that Richy does not have easy access to examples of the styles he wishes to brew nor to a support community of fellow brewers.  One result of that is that some of El Oráculo's beers are not quite consistent with what we, in the US, would consider the standard for those beers --for example, Punana Porter falls a bit shy when it comes to body  and mouthfeel.

Richy, however, is undaunted and by dint of hard work in what is essentially a one-man operation, he is opening doors for his brews in town and elsewhere.  His beers are even poured at events and festivals as far away as Lima.

El Oráculo's tastiest beers are, by far, Judas and La Vidente.

Judas is a 7.5% abv, 30 IBU, 13 SRM, smooth pale ale with a lovely white head.  I didn't take any notes, so I'm going from memory here, but I believe Richy said that he used Columbus and Kent Goldings hops in this one.

La Vidente is El Oráculo's biggest beer, coming in at 13% abv.  One wouldn't know it, though, when drinking it. It has a bit of warmth, but is not "hot" with alcohol. Rather, tropical fruit notes predominate in the mouth and nose.

If you like craft beer and supporting small independent enterprises, El Oráculo is well worth checking out should you find yourself in Ayacucho.  


Cervecería Artesanal El Oráculo
Calle Nazareno, 2do Pasaje #133
Ayacucho, Peru

Back in Ayacucho

The week following my arrival in Peru I journeyed to Ayacucho in order to spend a few days back in my beloved Huamanga.

Huamanga's main plaza

It has been four years since I had been there last, and I was indeed missing it.  Unlike other trips there in past years, I was on my own and with no agenda other than to just hang out and be there.

Hostal Via Via Plaza

Also, unlike most other years, I did not stay in the old family house, but instead opted for the Hostal Via Via, on the plaza.  The Via Via is located in a converted Spanish-era mansion, that had also previously been the Hotel Sucre, overlooking the main plaza.

So, I just hung out, wandered around a bit downtown, and took in the sights and sounds.

Monument to Gen. Jose de Sucre, victor in the Battle of Ayacucho

28 de Julio Street, looking from the plaza toward the Independence Arch, and the central market.

Church of the Company of Jesus (c. 1700)


One food that people just can't seem to grasp when it is described to them is the granadilla.  Telling them that it is a cousin of the passion fruit just doesn't quite do it.  Describing it is even worse.

It looks like an orange maraca or baby rattle. The inside is filled with gray seeds covered in gray gel, and it kind of looks like snot.  You don't chew or spit out the seeds, but just slurp it all down.

In fact, however, granadillas are awesome.  They have a mild, sweet flavour and a light aroma of ... granadilla.  The pulp goes down really easily and babies love it. They are fun and easy to eat --not messy at all-- and refreshing.  

Easily one of Peru's favorite fruits.

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Eating Gluten-Free in Lima

Well, tickets are bought for our next trip, which is coming up quite soon, and this time Liz will be able to join me in Lima.

That, of course, brings up the matter of traveling and dining gluten-free in Lima, and in Peru generally.

There are, of course, hundreds of dishes and thousands of foods that are naturally gluten-free in Peru. Everthing from amazing fruits and vegetables, to meats, seafood, and dairy. Same as everywhere else, but with the bonus that, as a traveler, one gets to enjoy things that one usually does not get to try. Prepared foods, however, are a whole different matter. 

In terms of gluten awareness, Lima is about where the US was, maybe, fifteen years go. The rest of the country, further back.  And, like in the US, it is often seen as an affectation by the middle class, in imitation of foreign food fads (which is not to say that that appreciation doesn't have a kernel of thruth to it).

Through the work of groups such as the Asociacion de Celiacos del Peru there is increasing awareness celiac disease in Peru, at least at the level of producers and retailers, such that most major supermarkets now have a small section dedicated to certified gluten-free products --mostly cookies, biscuits, and crackers of various sorts. Their website,, says it lists certified foodstuffs but the links do not work at this time (it does, however, offer a list of certified gluten-free medications available in Peru).  Further, and more current, information about foods and restaurants can be found at their Face Book page.

Prepared Foods

The larger food companies, that are subsidiaries of multinational corporations, follow the EU protocols for food labeling, including listing of allergens in the ingredients.  (I have not seen any mention of shared facility or shared equipment on labels.)  Smaller, local producers, are usually less strict.

Specifically, I have been told by the Braedt company that all their products --sausages, chorizo, and so on-- are gluten-free. Sometimes, retailers will buy large packs and split them up into smaller packages for sale.  If you are concerned by this, then make sure to buy Braedt products in their original packaging, or at the Braedthaus stores.

Likewise, the company that makes the popular Tarí hot sauce and the Alacena line of sauces and condiments has indicated that all their products in that line are gluten-free

Dishes to avoid

  • Ají: Not the hot peppers, but the sauce that is made from them and is found at almost every table. If you don't know how it was made, skip it, as a lot of recipes -specially for the creamy ones- contain crackers.  As noted earlier, packaged ají or rocoto pepper sauces from the Alacena or Tarí brands are ok.
  • Crema de rocoto: Same as above
  • Papa rellena: The potato balls are rolled in flour before frying.
  • Chicha de jora:  Andean corn beer, but oftentimes includes a measure of barley.  Producers usually don't list ingredients, so best to avoid it.
  • Emoliente:  A steaming hot herbal drink, which is great for the winter cold, but contains barley.
  • Ocopa:  The sauce contains crackers.
  • Papa a la huancaína:  Traditionally it is made from cheese, aji, salt, and a little oil, but these days chefs are likely to put in ground crackers for consistency and flavor. Ask before ordering.
  • Ají de gallina: Contains bread crumb as a thickener.
  • Lomo saltado:  Contains soy sauce and possibly oyster sauce.  However, you could ask them to make it without the sauces in a clean pan.
  • Pollo a la brasa: The ubiquitous rotisserie chicken.  In most places it is marinated in a mixture that contains soy sauce and/or beer.   For the original (and gluten-free) version made only with salt and fire, you must head out of town a bit to the Granja Azul.
  • Arroz con pollo or Arroz con pato: They are made with beer.
  • Seco de cabrito, Seco de carne, Seco a la norteña: Green-colored stew with a cilantro gravy. May be made with beer or chicha de jora.
  • Sudado:  A steamed fish or seafood stew. Likely to be made with chicha.  Ask before ordering.
  • Sopa patasca or patache: A soup from the Andes. Contains wheat kernels.
  • Jalea: The seafood is breaded or floured, and fried.

Bear in mind that, particularly outside of Lima, trigo (wheat) or cebada (barley) may have different names depending on the form they take. Some examples:
    • Pusra: coarse-ground barley.
    • Morón: coarse-ground toasted barley or wheat.
    • Salvado: bran.

Eating Out

As Peru experiences its culinary boom and more and more cooks come out of culinary schools rather than just home kitchens, it is easier to find restaurants that can and are willing to accommodate requests for gluten-free preparations. This is specially the case the higher one goes up on the price scale.

Here are some tips to make your ordering experience easier:

- Avoid the lunch rush. You'll get better service, a more attentive hearing from your server, and more care from your cooks, if they are not rushed or stressed. Particularly important if you are working across a language barrier.

- Don't go cheap.  Peru is a place with seemingly an eatery on every block. Most of those offer an inexpensive prix-fixe lunch, called the menu (if you want to read the menu, ask for the carta). The nature of these places is that they are meant to get workers on their lunch break in, fed, and out, quickly. The food is already fixed and they have neither the time nor the ability to handle special requests.  Better to go to a restaurant where the ordering is a la carte.

- Don't count on either your server nor the cooks knowing what the heck you are talking about. Most will never have heard of celiac disease (celiaquia), and as for gluten, the thinking is likely to be "I don't know what that is, but know I didn't put any of that in there."  It is better to be as specific as you can as to what foods you need to avoid and which you can eat.

- Give your server and cook something to help them remember what you need.  Liz and I came up with this card a few years ago to present to waiters,

 It says,

I have a disease called celiac disease and I must follow a rigorous gluten-free diet.

I could get very ill should I ingest foods that contain grains or flour from wheat, barley, rye, or oats, or that contain ingredients made with wheat, barley, rye or oats (for example: soy sauce, beer, bread, cookie, various sauces).

I can eat rice, yuca, potatoes, sweet potatoes, beans, meats, eggs, fish and shellfish, fruits, vegetables of all kinds, as long as they are not prepared with ingredients that contain gluten or are prepared on the same surface or with utensils shared with foods with gluten. If in doubts, please use freshly-washed utensils.

Thank you for your help.

More information about celiac disease at

The card has helped a lot, and staff have always been appreciative. In some instances waiters or the kitchen staff asked to hold on to it for reference. Feel free to copy it.

Friday, August 18, 2017

Views from around Lima's main square

Lima's Plaza de Armas or, as it is officially known today, Plaza Mayor, is Lima's main square. It was there that the Spanish city of Lima was founded in 1535, on the site of an existing native settlement.

The square is surrounded by the Cathedral, the Presidential Palace, and City Hall. Many visitors mistakenly think that the buildings are colonial, but the only colonial architectural elements still surviving there are the art cast iron fountain, inaugurated in 1651, and the Royal Magistrate's House, also from the 1600s. Over time earthquakes, fires, and "progress" have led to the reconstruction or replacement of the rest.

The plaza and the surrounding boulevards are usually crowded with tourists, local visitors, taxis, and hawkers.  The reason I was able to capture images relatively devoid of crowds was that on the day I went in late July the plaza was closed to visitors.

Public school teachers from the Cusco region had gone on strike for better wages and better conditions, and had journeyed to Lima to press their case. There, there were joined by local teachers, and were staging rallies and marches a few blocks away, near Congress.  The government had decided to close off the plaza to avoid any disturbances or scenes in the vicinity of the Presidential Palace and to "protect the historic center".

Of course, I did not know that when I ventured downtown and found myself cut off from the bookstore I wished to visit.  After being rebuffed at one intersection, I found a spot where the police were letting a few people in. They shut access just as I was about to go in, and asked us to wait a bit. People got verbally belligerent, and the officer in charge --feeling stung after his earlier gesture-- now insisted that access was definitely closed unless one had an ID showing that one lived or worked in the area.  Fortunately, someone called to him that she had some foreign visitors who had "come all this way to know the historic center", so he instructed her to go in at the far end of the barricade.  Hearing that, I quickly followed, and when challenged, I told the officer there that "he said for tourists to come in this way" and handed him my California driver's license.  The cop glanced at it and waved me through.

Thus, I got to stroll around the periphery of the nearly deserted plaza, emptier that I've ever seen it, and on a serendipitously sunny day.

Lima city hall (built in 1944).

Art cast iron fountain (from1651), and the Presidential Palace (1938).

From L to R: Presidential Palace, Mt. San Cristobal, Royal Magistrate's House (17th C.), Archbishop's Palace (1924).

Lima Cathedral, viewed across the Plaza, from Pasaje Santa Rosa.

In the foreground, the monument to Taulichusco the Elder, last indigenous ruler of Lima.

Old Post Post Office & Telegraphs building

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Huaca Malena

On July 21st, the same day that we visited the cave with the mysterious bones, Orlando and I traveled a bit further south along the Pan-American Highway to Huaca Malena.

Huaca Malena is a precolumbian site in the district of Asia, a couple of miles inland from the coastline.  The site was first established about 200 C.E. but subsequently was apparently all but abandoned for an extended period.  It gained new life as a Wari ceremonial center and necropolis from about 700 C.E. to about 1100 C.E.

The site consists of a large mud-brick platform, with associted terraces, altogether encompassing several acres.  It was first described scientifically in the 1920s by Peruvian archaeologist Julio C. Tello.  Tello and his associates discovered some 300 mummy bundles at Huaca Malena, establishing Huaca Malena as one of the most important pre-Columbian cemeteries on the central coast, along with Paracas and Ancón.

Like many other archaeological sites, after initial study Huaca Malena was left largely unstudied and unprotected and several decades of unscrupulous and indiscriminate looting ensued.

I knew of the looting and thus had a sense of what we'd see, but I was unprepared for the level of destruction visited upon the place and for the sight of a relatively recently-looted mummy abandoned on the surface.

The sheer scale of the damage is sobering. The upper level of the mound has been cratered and almost all architectural features obliterated.

The scale of what has been lost to looters is evinced by the hundreds of skulls that litter the site.

Orlando and I wandered about the mound for over an hour, checking out the exposed remains and artifacts.

One notable feature, among all the piles of skulls and bones, was the high proportion of deformed skulls. Cranial deformation was practiced by several ancient Peruvian cultures and was usually reserved as a mark of high status birth.  The large percentage of them attests to Huaca Malena's importance and the high status of those who were buried there.

 There was also evidence of the sophistication of the ancient Peruvians who lived in the Mala Valley surrounding Huaca Malena, in the form of at least one trephinated skull.

Trephination, or trepanning, is a type of surgical intervention in which a hole is made through the skull to expose the brain, or at least the dura mater, and thus relieve swelling or pressure from injuries. It is, in essence, an early form of brain surgery.  The healing surrounding the opening in the skull in the photo above points to that surgery having been successful, at least insofar as that the individual must have lived for a good length of time following it.

In addition to human bones, Huaca Malena is also littered with the detritus of whatever else the looters did not want.

We found this lovely little woven bag near the exposed mummy.  Orlando, who knows textiles, was able to immediately tell that it was made from a combination of cotton fabric and llama or alpaca wool.  It was sad to know that instead of being in a museum it would just sit there and rot away.

In addition to many textile remnants, we also encountered the remains of several other types of grave goods, including corn cobs, gourds, pacae pods, and camelid bones.

We were particularly surprised when a number large oddly-shaped stones associated with graves --or at least with the pits from which mummies had been looted-- turned out to be whale vertebrae.  Where they grave offerings?  Grave markers? A sign of special status?  However they were intended, they were certainly impressive.