Food on the Inca Trail

Elizabeth Ginsburg, MBA Class of 2014

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I spent the last week of winter break in Peru. Five of my esteemed classmates and I did the Inca Trail, the classic 4-day, 3-night hike to Machu Picchu. It is truly an unforgettable experience. The views are spectacular. Several parts of the trail are extremely difficult but many are wonderful. When booking the 4 day hike, you have to go through a tour operator. There are dozens of operators to choose from and there is really very little, at least that is apparent from their websites, distinguishing one from any other. We ended up being incredibly lucky with the operator we chose. Our tour guide, Gerson (pronounced like Jason) was excellent, and the food was fantastic. And not fantastic by camping standards. This food was so good, we fantasized about flying our chef, Amilcar, back to the states with us so he could open up a restaurant here. We’d heard stories from other people who completed the hike about good food, but even so, we were pleasantly surprised. Every lunch and dinner started with a soup, and a different soup every time. Most main courses consisted of chicken and vegetables in some sort of sauce accompanied by rice and/or potatoes (with some variation here and there. Peru is known for its potatoes and we had the pleasure of trying several different varieties in various preparations.  Below I’ve listed some of the gustatory highlights from each day on the trail.

Day 1

After about four or five hours of hiking, we stopped for a late lunch, feeling slightly famished. At every meal, our porters would set up a dining tent for us, complete with table and chairs, adjacent to a second tent where they prepared our meal. We began with bowls of cream of mushroom soup, followed by Aji de Gallina, a shredded chicken dish in a spicy yellow sauce of cheese, garlic, nuts and Aji chili peppers. It was topped with hard boiled egg and olives and on the side we had rice and sliced potatoes with a sprinkling of cheese (I’ll also note that for every single meal, there was a vegetarian alternative for me. In this case, they replaced the chicken with fava beans). The aji sauce was delicious- thick, rich, and slightly tangy. The rice provided a perfect base with which to soak up the sauce.

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Day 2

The second day is rough. You ascend to an elevation of 14,000 feet in a matter of 6-7 hours, followed by a descent of two and a half hours  After about 9 hours of hiking, we arrived at our campsite and ate “lunch” at 5 o’clock, followed by dinner at 7 o’clock. One highlight of day 2 was definitely the quinoa soup that was featured at dinner. Quinoa soup is a fairly popular dish in Peru and this was as good or better than one we had at a restaurant in Cuzco. Just quinoa and vegetables in a flavorful broth, made even more comforting due to the fact that the second night is at the highest elevation, and subsequently is the coldest.

Day 3

The third day on the trail was my favorite and also featured one of the best lunches. The day did begin with rain but it tapered off before noon and we had beautiful weather the rest of the day. After reaching the second and third highest passes, we stopped at a scenic overlook for a feast that included chicken (or mushrooms, in my case) with carrots and green beans in a creamy, pale orange sauce. This was served alongside fried rice with chicken ham (yes, chicken ham) and an elaborate platter of some of the best roasted, french-fry-like potatoes I’ve ever had, cauliflower and a salad of sliced apple and cucumber. Another highlight of day 3 was the semolina soup served at dinner, similar in composition to the quinoa soup, but with tiny grains of semolina wheat.


Day 4

On the last day of the hike, you wake up at 3:30am in order to make it to the Sun Gate early before the crowds and then finally arriving at Machu Picchu. For our final meal on the trail, we enjoyed delightful pancakes, slightly sweet on their own with a crisp exterior, with dulce de leche on top.

For anyone planning or considering doing the Inca Trail at some point, I would highly recommend our tour operator, Pachamama Tours, and specifically our guide, Gerson. We spent some time in Cuzco and Lima as well and enjoyed equally good food in both cities. I would love to go back some day and see even more. Until then, I have a mission to find Peruvian food in NYC that comes anywhere close to our Inca Trail meals.

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