My friend, fellow teacher Amy, and I decided to splurge a bit and try what seems to be a fairly unique restaurant, not just in Arequipa, but in South America. Sonccollay is located on the Plaza de Armas and is listed as a “pre-Inkan” restaurant, serving the traditional foods of the Andean region. I was most interested in the cuy–local guinea pig. I’d had it earlier in the week, but it was fried and I wanted to try a traditional roasted dish.
Amy and I had each met the owner, while we were on separate free walking tours. The tour ends at the restaurant, which has an impressive view of the plaza below and the surrounding mountains. The owner is personable with a commanding voice, but seemed quite disheveled and stressed both times I saw him. He seems to run the restaurant almost entirely alone!
While I had a good time (mostly because of good company) and enjoyed the food, I’m not sure if I can recommend the restaurant. It was a bit over-priced and we waited almost 2 hours to eat, despite being one of the few diners. They also took almost all my cash, since they had “trouble” accepting credit cards, though the menu had indicated that they did. I also felt the owner was openly disappointed with our orders–we hadn’t spent enough money to satisfy him. I won’t go back.
Do not expect beef, chicken, garlic, onions or cilantro when eating here. The main meats are alpaca, cuy, duck and “river shrimp.” And everything is a little charred, typical of the use of stone and wood logs. Most of the reviews I read simply raved about the food, but I thought it was good, but not fantastic. Of course, I’m really put out by being expected to wait a long time to order and receive food in what was clearly not a busy night. I also felt I was slightly over charged based on the menu prices.
There are highlights, however. The restaurant seats diners on a second story balcony over looking the Plaza de Armas. It’s great for people watching and we even observed the ceremony to take down the flags in the courtyard. The owner will give you a brief tour of the kitchen, which should not be missed. And the view from the roof is simply spectacular.
Those who follow this blog probably also know my slogan: “Traveling the World, one bite at a time.” I’ll taste almost anything at least once. This week, I’ve crossed two more culinary milestones off my list: Cuy and Alpaca.
I’ll start with the Alpaca. It was a steak filet (lomo), grilled (asado) and served medium with a fresh vegetable sauce and french fries (papas fritas). Alpaca is a very lean meat, much like deer, so roasting needs to be slow. Overcooking could quickly dry out and toughen this meat. Fortunately, my chef was an old hand and I suffered neither issue, though it seems to be a naturally tough meat and I neede a knife to cut it. Despite the outward resemblance to deer, the meat was mild with no gamey taste. It was much like beef, frankly, and I’m not sure I could tell the difference. It was flavorful. I can recommend it!
The cuy was not quite as I was expecting. First, let me explain that cuy is guinea pig, native to the Andes and once a staple in this area. I was ordering from a menu entirely in Spanish, so sometimes I’m a tad surprised by the resulting dish. Good thing I’ll eat almost anything. I’d expected the cuy to be roasted, which is traditional. This was deep fried filets, dipped first in cornmeal. I suspect the same cornmeal is used for trout. Tucha is very popular here and it’s usually deep fried. I detected a fishy smell with the first bite, which was disappointing. This turned out to be a very fatty piece of meat, so deep frying made for a somewhat greasy, heavy dish. After a few bites, I pulled away the breading and fatty skin and just ate the small amount of meat remaining, which, tasted like dark meat chicken. Isn’t that always the way? The saving grace to the meal was the creamy “Andean herb” sauce. It looked like it might taste too “green” but proved mild with a hint of mint. I used a couple of the ubiquitous french fries to sop up the last of the sauce, though I left most of the fatty skin and breading.
I’m going to have to give cuy another try, but find a roasted dish. I’m dining with a friend Sunday, so may try it then.