After the intense party atmosphere of Huacachina (with a bar named “Huaca-fucking-china”), tranquil Arequipa felt like a breath of fresh air. Or rather, what fresh air feels like when you can barely suck it in because you’re 2,380 meters (7,809 feet) above sea level… but still.
Surrounded by three looming volcanoes, Arequipa has always played second-fiddle to Lima on Peru's urban travel circuit… but none of us could quite figure out why once we arrived. Jessie, Calvin & I (temporarily sans Owain & Sheila while they took a detour back to Lima to pick up a friend) spent our first day in La Ciudad Blanca meandering aimlessly down cobbled streets in the colonial center—our shoulders brushing haphazardly against the city's eponymous white sandstone buildings—and spent the night eating the best food the town had to offer.
Months before, while still in trip-planning mode, I had seen page after page of glossy Condé Nast Traveler and AFAR magazine spreads describing Peru’s recent culinary renaissance—but the bland rice & bean combinations I’d had thus far had left a great deal to be desired. The three of us agreed we were down to burst our backpacker budgets for the night in hopes of enjoying a truly great meal, so Jessie did some research and later that night, the three of us found ourselves sitting in the grotto-themed ambiance of Zig-Zag Restaurant, wearing paper bibs and ready for our minds to be blown.
And blown they were.
For 64 soles (~$19USD), we noshed (word used intentionally) on freshly baked bread and myriad spreads, got tastebud drunk on mint-infused lemonade (better not to drink alcohol during our first 24 hours at altitude, we reasoned), and ate huge portions of res, alpaca, and pollo… all served sizzling on slabs of volcanic rock. Wonderful conversation and a brief (albeit atmospheric) power outage later, the three of us sauntered back to our hostel with bellies full and questions answered; we finally understood what that hype was all about. As promised, Peru had some excellent food on offer—it turned out we just had to look harder (and pay a bit more) to find it.