Matt and I sat on the bus in Urubamba, waiting for it to fill up, so we could go back to our little town of Pisac. A little girl of about five walked onto the bus and ignoring everyone else, she shoved a plastic bag in our faces and said simply, ¨Rocoto relleno?¨
A lot of the time, we ignore vendors for the simple fact that in Peru, every second of the day, at every bus or collectivo stop, on every streetcorner and in every way one could imagine, there are endless people trying to sell something – food, handicrafts, CD´s, juices, massages – the list goes on and on. But that evening was different. Perhaps it was the blank look on the dirty child´s face. Maybe it was her simple insistence. Hell, maybe we were just hungry after the long day of bus rides and hiking.
We paid the two soles, expecting her to just pull one rocoto out of the bulging plastic bag. Matt pressed the coin into her hand and without any further emotion, she thrust the entire bag toward him, nearly dropping it his lap and quickly disappeared. I´d been wanting to try rocoto relleno for some time, but had no idea what I was missing!
We opened the bag. Inside were two rellenos and three small boiled potatoes – a great deal! Rocoto relleno, a classic Peruvian dish whose origins come from the town of Arequipa, is a type of pepper that grows in South America and is usually stuffed with meat and vegetables. No, it doesn´t taste anything like an American stuffed bell pepper, not even close. It´s infinitely better!
The relleno batter (my favorite part) was rich and tasted sort of cheese-like. They were filled with a savory mixture of meat and spices. We polished off the entire contents in the bag in under five minutes and decided immediately to get second serving.
Thus began our obsession with rocoto relleno. It seems like now the entire rocoto relleno world has opened up to us. That next week, all the sole menu places in Pisac were serving them, it seemed. We tried them all.
At the market that Sunday, we went from tent to tent, trying the rocoto relleno of every mamacita in sight. After eating four in a row, we finally headed home. Oddly enough, in response to the tourist palate, the ladies of the market have begun to only serve vegetarian versions of this Peruvian carne classic.
I still haven´t found a rocoto relleno that was as rich and savory and classic as the one that little girl served to us, and certainly not one as economical. But, I certainly plan to keep looking! And I plan to continue to rocoto relleno tours, especially anytime I see a row of vendors all selling them. That´s my favorite way to sample them – four in an hour!