Foodie Friday: Perrito Caliente

Sure, yesterday was thanksgiving and we made  it back to the States in time to celebrate but featuring turkey just doesn’t seem right to us, given that it is virtually impossible to find anywhere south of the border.  Instead, in honor of Turkey Day, we figured we’d offer our readers a taste of another USA treat.  One we know and love that just hasn’t been the same south of the border: the hot dog.

There is an expression sometimes uttered in Washington, that the two things you never want to see made: sausages and  laws.  I don’t disagree.  So we’ll skip the creation process of these encased little snacks and instead focus on the different varieties we’ve tasted.

Guatemala– the rather tasteless cheveres scared us a bit and we generally shied away.  Only available after dark on the street they always smelled a bit foul and the fixins were never particularly appetizing.

Colombia– we had our first taste of the South American version of the hot dog, where it was actually called a perrito caliente (little hot dog).  It was smothered in smashed up plantain or potato chips, doused with an army of sauces and covered with onions.  The chips were really what separated it from the NYC variety, that and that in Colombia the one we had was microwaved instead of flame cooked or boiled in water. 

Brazil– I don’t remember what they called it, but we ate it at a stand in Cuiaba. It was on a toasted bun with cheese, ham, hot dog, lettuce, ketchup, mayo, crunchie fries and tomato.  It was by far the greasiest piece of meat we’ve eaten in our entire lives.  We felt sick afterwards.

Bolivia– Instead of just a hot dog, Bolivia is a fan of salchipapas (also common in Peru), cut up hot dog on french fries.  The hot dog isn’t the highlight, but with all that grease on one plate, it can’t taste bad.  Plus, they always had ketchup.  Yum.

Argentina- had in my opinion, the most fun with the hot dog called a Super PanchoIn these the dog was usually about a foot long, if not longer, and didn’t come close to fitting inside the bun.  The number of sauces piled on top (ketchup, mustard, mayo, golf sauce) is rather unsettling and these are almost never sold in street side stands and instead are sold in small Super Pancho shops.  The best part is that like Colombia and Brazil, crunchy potato sticks are put all over the top.

Chile- very similar to Argentina except that the sauces we tried were all… unsettling.  Also called a pancho, and the one we tried in Santiago, well we did have video, but trust us you wouldn’t want to see it.

In truth though, nothing comes close to a good Sabrett or Hebrew National dog from a NYC vendor, covered in ketchup (a rarity anywhere but the USA) mustard, onions, relish, and maybe some onions and if you’re really lucky some chili sauce.  In fact, just thinking about the late night dogs we used to get in college from Manouch has me salivating.  Washington, D.C.’s specialty is the half-smoke, a plump and short spicy beef dog served on a plain bun or better yet at Ben’s served smothered in chili.  Since we haven’t been up to New York (or even Washington, DC) in awhile we had to ask a friend to fine one to enjoy for us…it wasn’t too difficult to convince him to do it though.

(Jill’s Editors Note: Danny was raised by a New Yorker, so he’s completely biased. This post is clearly wrong.  He has left our the best hot dog on the planet- the Chicago Char-Dog.  A char-broiled beef delight covered in ketchup, mustard, onions and kosher dill slices served on a poppy seed bun. Hmm… it just makes my mouth water. Anyone know where I can get one of these on the east coast before mid-december?)

Big Foot Tour Operator (Cusco, Peru)

Recommended by our guidebook we booked our Salkantay Trail trek through Big Foot Operators mostly because they were the only ones recommended by the guidebook that got back to our online requests for information. Very responsive to our initial inquiries and questions via email, we realized we were paying more than the normal rate, but expected to have a better experience.

The staff at Big Foot was extremely professional and as we signed the waivers, contracts and paid for the tour, they went over specific details of the trek with us and provided us with a written receipt outlining what was and was not included in the trek. We were sure there would be no surprises on the trek and were under the impression that Big Foot ran the trail tours themselves with their own guides and staff.

Unfortunately we were wrong, they operate only as a middle man, sending their clients off on tours by other operators. This resulted in a number of very disappointing surprises.

On the second morning we were told that boiled water for our water bottles would only be provided at breakfast, not at all meals as the details from Big Foot stated. Walking on average 8 hours a day, this was completely unacceptable to us, especially given that it was written on our documents from Big Foot. Fortunately we had our own water purifier so we were able to fend for ourselves, however this is such a huge health and safety issue at the high altitudes on the Salkantay that we could not just accept it as fact. Then came strike number two. Combined with clients from other travel agencies and tour operators we had paid almost a third more than everyone else in our group. This wouldn’t have bothered us so much if we felt that we were getting what we had paid for, but the value just wasn’t there. From the poor quality of the equipment to waiting almost two hours for lunch, and almost losing people on the trail, time and time again the tour failed to live up to our expectations of quality.

Little surprises continued to pop up and we found ourselves paying out of pocket for not included transportation to the hot springs and having to pay to put our bags on the train from Hidroelectrica to Aguas Calientes and Macchu Picchu. The issue was not the money it was that the additional costs were surprises despite having going through the details very specifically in writing with Big Foot.

We spoke with Big Foot about our quality concerns and the deviations from our contract upon our return in Cusco. Basically because they are a middle man and not a tour operator they couldn’t live up to their contract. After meeting with our group and the guide, Big Foot agreed to refund us part of our tour price, which while our wallets were happy, we were still disappointed that it had to come to a refund. Overall we had a good time on the Salkantay Trail, but despite resolving the situation, they’re unable to promise anything on the tour since they aren’t the operator and thus we cannot recommend them.

Galaxia Expeditions (Huaraz, Peru)

Llangaduco- Santa Cruz 4d/3n

This is an incredible trek. Although the hike goes through a pass at almost 4800m, it is a relatively easy trek, with the last two days being down hill. The trek could be easily compressed into three days or two long days. That being said, we lacked the necessary camping equipment and instead of skipping the trek joined with Galaxia Expeditions. Gear, guide, and food, the total was about $120 per person plus a 60 sole entrance fee to the park. If you go, a lot of the local villages are trying to tack on additional fees to help support their communities. It’s up to you whether you pay or choose to dispute the fee, but either way be prepared with small bills.

Our trek lasted 4 days (from Llangaduco to Santa Cruz), with the longest and hardest day being day number two when we cleared the pass. The tour was handled professionally and our guide even spoke a little english! Each day we carried a small backpack with our water and layers of outerwear which were rapidly changed seemingly every 200m or so in altitude. The rest of our gear was brought to the next camp by mules.

With temperatures below 0 degrees Celcius, individual camping gear was extremely important. Luckily we had excellent gear through Galaxia Expeditions, appropriate for the climate and altitude and in good condition. Hot breakfast and dinner were prepared for the group by Emilio, our camp cook and mule driver, and each morning we were given a high calorie bagged lunch. Each afternoon upon our arrival at camp we were greeted with hot beverages and snacks. Overall it was a great experience.

The Egypt of the Americas

Peru may be known for Machu Picchu. It may be pondered for the Nazca Lines. It might even be remembered for its supurb pollo with a drink of Inca Kola. Really though, Peru is still so much more.

We spent longer in Peru than we have spent in any other single country on our trip. We had intended to continue with our Spanish lessons but caught up in trying as hard as could to ‘see and do’ it all. We nearly got robbed on our entry into the country. We toured the ruins of pre Incan civilizations. We hiked at nearly 3 miles in altitude while suffering from Diarrhea  and made it in and out of one of the world’s deepest canyons.  Best of all we were visited by our friend Leah who joined us as we did the Salcantay Trek to Machu Picchu.

Before heading out to Bolivia though there was one more thing we just had to do. We’d fallen in love with Peruvian chicken long before we ever entered the country. While here we became enamoured with the rest of her cuisine from  from lomo saltado to rocotto relleno.

Last up though was something very very important, Cuy.

It really was fitting that Disney chose to release its G-Force movie about a bunch of crime fitting Guinea Pigs now so that we could watch it while we were here in Peru. Because for our last meal, that’s exactly what we ate.

Cuy is a delicacy here, one we first learned of while in Ecuador. Guinea pigs are indigenous to this region and have been cherished as a source of food and nutrition for millennium. Sure we enjoyed our Alpaca steak, rich in nutrients and low in fat like American Bison (one of our favorites and something we made sure to eat on our brief visit back to the USA in July) but that’s just not quite the same a cute and cuddly RODENT.

So we sought out an ordered. It came and we ate. We had been warned that it was very bony and did not contain much meat. There it sat on the plate, with a side of rice, some lettuce, and a couple of potatoes. We stared at it a bit, grossed ourselves out for a minute or two. The band in the restaurant continued to play and we continued to stare our formerly furry friend down. Finally forks went up and in we dug. To be honest, I think my pinky finger has more meat than I was able to pull off that carcass but we did manage a taste and to all of you wondering…tastes just like chicken.

To Bolivia (with our visas already in hand) we go!

Always COCA-Cola

It is absolutely amazing just how common Coca-Cola is. We have found it in ever city, in every country, in every restaurant, of our entire trip. We have found in on islands and every sidewalk vendor we’ve seen. When we traveled La Moskitia in Honduras we encountered people with virtually nothing from the outside world, except Coca-Cola cooled with a solar powered refrigerator.

I think the thing that most impresses me is just how many different sizes of Coke bottles we’ve found: 237ml, 250ml, 12oz, 295ml, 410ml, 16oz, 500ml, 600ml/20oz, 625ml, 1L, 1.325L, 1.5L, 2L, 2.25L, 2.5L, 3L, & 3.5L bottles. And I doubt that’s even all of it. Cokes supreme dominance is something that is completely remarkable. So completely does it dominate that even though every snack stand is filled with Frito-Lay (owned by Pepsi-Co) products they almost never have Pepsi. Always Coca-Cola.

Fitting that in Peru, home of Inca Cola…the beverage that Coke finally purchased a few years ago rather than continue with beverage wars…we really start to learn about the Coca leave itself. (By the way, Inca Kola is basically liquid bubble gum. So if you like bubble gum you will LOVE Inca Kola).

So the truth you ask? Rumors have always abounded about Coca-Cola´s relation with this controversial plant. In Peru and Bolivia we chew it to help with the altitude and even make a tea out of it. Dare we bring it back to the USA, we´ll likely be arrested…so how could Coca-Cola be pulling this off?

They won their court case way back at the start of the century and up to at least 1985 it had been confirmed that our fuzzy drink contains extract from the coca leaf.

Really though, this isn´t so important. Coca-Cola, if indeed its newer formula does still contain coca extract, only uses it for flavoring. The ironic thing here is that many people will tell you that coca is not a drug. These are probably the same people who are drinking it in tea and chewing it to help with the altitude. Of course its a drug if you use it for these purposes…but that doesn´t make it any more dangerous than the fix any of us gets from the caffeine in a cup a coffee or relief from some Tylenol.

The coca leaf itself is one of the world´s first plants to come under domestication, used in the Andes by indigenous peoples for millennium for a variety of purposes a brief google search will only begin to mention. It´s powers to heal and help are many but obviously its power to cause harm can be great as well.