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Following Ruth’s recent piece on Peruvian food, here’s what we’ve been drinking on our way around the country. (If you’d like to know what we drank in Brazil, Uruguay, Argentina and Chile, click here.)

 


 

Café
guillermodina-1280Like Brazil, Peru grows a lot of coffee. The selva (jungle) region provides the perfect climate both for industrial-scale businesses and cottage-industry producers such as Guillermo and Dina, a lovely couple who grow coffee on the smallholding behind their tiny shop in the hamlet of Río Pisco (en route to Oxapampa). Also like Brazil, though, Peru doesn’t seem terribly interested in drinking it: the coffee here is generally thin, powdered and unappealing. In nearly three months, the best cup we’ve had was served to Will during his recent, unplanned overnight stay at a Catholic mission in the rural village of Chacas. The coffee, rocket fuel by any other name, came from a Bialetti stovetop moka pot, for the mission is run by Italians.

 


 

Cerveza
beercan-1024With the possible exception of Great Britain, we’re not sure we’ve visited another country with as visible an alcohol problem as Peru. In small towns, it’s not uncommon to see men passed out on the ground in mid-afternoon, slumped in a tangle of clothes and untied shoelaces. More often than not, common-or-garden beer is the culprit. We don’t know whether Peruvians drink more or simply struggle to hold it, but the end result isn’t an edifying sight.

The mainstream marques, usually drunk (or shared) in 620ml bottles, are all ordinary lagers. Cusqueña (from Cusco) is less rough than Cristal or Pilsen Callao; none are especially memorable or objectionable with the exception of the dark, treacly sweet version of Cusqueña (‘negra’), which is vile. In Huaraz, Sierra Andina delivers unremarkable US microbrewery-style beers to a mainly tourist audience. Otherwise, pickings are thin.

 


 

Chicha de jora & frutillada
fruitillada-1024Keen-eyed wanderers strolling towns in southern and south-central Peru may notice coloured plastic bags hanging above the doorways of private homes. This isn’t an attempt to brighten the often-dismal Peruvian streetscape; rather, a bag signifies that the occupants brew and sell chicha de jora, a traditional and rather rough beer made from yellow maize. During late summer, strawberries are sometimes added to the mix to create sweeter, more pleasing frutillada. Like chicha de jora, it’s alcoholic but fairly weak and extremely cheap, a useful excuse for those Peruvians – and, very occasionally, Ruth – who enjoy it for breakfast at streetcorner stalls and markets.

 


 

Chicha morada
chichamorada-1024If we could take one drink with us when we leave Peru, it’d be this extremely moreish refresher. It’s given its colour by the purple maize that makes up the lion’s share of the ingredients, which are boiled together in uncomplicated fashion. However, the key to its appeal is the presence of cinnamon, cloves and limes, which give the drink a pleasing little tang. It’s best served as cold as possible, and fresh; factory-made versions are, at best, pale facsimiles (though that hasn’t stopped Will buying sachets of a powdered version and adding them to his water bottles on the road).

 


 

Inca Kola
incakola-1024We won’t dwell on this lurid, sugar-packed national icon, which we suspect may have only the most cursory connection to the Incas, except to point out that there may be a link between its 80-year popularity and the abysmal, MacGowanesque condition of many Peruvians’ teeth.

 


 

Jugos
juices-1024As Ruth wrote recently, Peru delights in its astonishing variety of produce, and this variety is rarely displayed to better effect than at the juice bars in the markets of even the smaller towns and villages. Some of the juices available are familiar tastes: naranja (orange; sometimes squeezed to order from carts in town centres), piña (pineapple), maracuya (passion fruit). Others, though, are more unusual: we’ve enjoyed such poetically named fruits as tumbo, camu camu and granadilla. The richest pickings are in the selva, where the most exotic and colourful fruits are cultivated.

 


 

Pisco sours
piscosour-1024What caipirinhas are to Brazil, pisco sours are to Peru, at least up to a point. Made with pisco, lemon juice, a dash of bitters and (crucially) an egg white, it’s indisputably the national cocktail. However, unlike the caipirinha, it’s rarely seen or offered in small towns, where it’s regarded as a bit frou-frou by no-nonsense campesinos. Tourist-friendly bars and restaurants often promise variations on the theme (a maracuya sour, for instance, adds passion fruit to the mix). But as with martinis, the classic recipe is streets ahead of its siblings.

Pisco itself, incidentally, is a kind of grape brandy, often pretty strong. Taken in isolation, the good stuff is silky-smooth. The cheaper varieties are best used as paint stripper.

 


 

Random soft drinks

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Inca Kola and Coke together rule the soft-drink shelves here. However, unrelated variations on their sugary theme are available in better-stocked stores; collectively, Peruvians have a terribly sweet tooth. We found Villa Kola in Guillermo and Dina’s shop on the way to Oxapampa; it’s made in the small, coffee-growing town of Villa Rica, sold locally, and stuffed with enough sugar to trigger epilepsy in anyone who goes within 50 paces of a case. We also recently chanced upon Kola Inglesa (literally, ‘English cola’), a traffic-light red concoction launched a century ago but recently rebranded as part of the Fanta range. The flavour bears the vaguest resemblance to Panda Pop cherryade. What it has to do with England is anyone’s guess.

 


 

Vino
peruwine-1024Yes, there is such a thing as Peruvian wine. Yes, there are various very good reasons why you’ve probably never drunk any.

 


 

from Caraz, 02, Peru