Smoothies of fresh fruit, many of them unusual tropical fruits native to Peru, in wide and tall glasses, boom among Cuzco restaurants. Once relegated to the market and odd sidewalks — where they still are found — fruits blended into a smooth delight not only claim restaurant menus in Cuzco, but have become stars in places of their own.
Peru is one of the great centers of plant domestication. Not only is it home to the potato–which alone changed the history of the world–its highlands, valleys, desert coasts, and jungle lowlands raised numerous fruits that the Spanish did not take with them to Europe. As a result, only recently are these amazing, and often odd shaped, bursts of flavor beginning to be known to a broader public.
One that did cross the Spanish barrier is the papaya. In the north people see the small and expensive Hawaiian papayas, witnesses to a trade route that drew South America and the Pacific Islands together. But most people have never tried them. That is ok, because their flavor and texture thousands of miles from home cannot compare with a papaya, whether one of the unbelievably large ones from the markets, or one of the small ones called arequipeñas, recently harvested, freshly sliced and served with a squeeze of lemon.
It is a fruit that, while good by itself, like a self-effacing and understated quaker, is best when joined with other, bolder flavors. For that pairing, nothing is better than maracuyá, commonly called in English passion fruit, a tart burst of light like a nova. When first seen it is far too bright, but at a distance of hundreds of light years becomes a delight. So is maracuyá (a wrinkled and ugly fruit when ripe, though its flower is one of the joys of a garden) best tasted diluted and especially when combined with other fruits like papaya.
There is aguaymanto, related to the ground cherry of North America. It is a tangy-sweet yellow fruit about the size of a cherry that comes in a papery husk and grown on a nondescript weedy looking plant. Yet it is wonderful combined with other fruit for juices, or made into preserves.
The chirimoya, often called custard apple in English and a relative of the pawpaw indigenous to North America (but almost unknown other than as a tree.) Looking like a grenade that will explode at any minute, the chirimoya is deceptively armored. Its armor is soft and pliable, Maybe leathery is a better description. When opened it has a milder flavor than other fruits but when one eats the whitish flesh that surrounds its large, shiny black seeds, one is transported to a different world of sensorial pleasure.
Then there is lúcuma. If ever there was a rare and amazing treat, it was lúcuma. The fruit is reminiscent of a quince–though few people in the Industrialized world know what a quince is any more. LIke so many other fruits, quinces have lost in the industrial production of apples, oranges, and bananas. Lúcuma never made it to the stage, but its day is coming.
Unlike a quince, the lúcuma has a large pit and comes from a small tree with long, fingerlike, waxy leaves.
But its flavor is musky and sweet, completely unlike the tart-sweet of apples that are slowly being bred into beauty and just a hint of flavor. Lúcuma is an epiphany that fruit can completely escape the palette of expected fruit flavors and yet make one want to come back for more and more.
These are but five of a whole array of fruit known to the Incas and eaten by them and their descendants. Few have been widely known outside the Andes, though papayas, passion fruit have. But all, as well as the rest of their under-known colleagues, are well worth trying.
These indigenous fruits are hardly the only ones known in Cuzco. Almost all the mainstream fruit of the West is found here, only naturally flavor enhanced.
A small chain of two restaurants centering on fruit smoothies has opened a location right on Cuzco’s main square, directly opposite McDonalds (Its other locations is Espaderos corner of Marquez streets.) But a taste of its smoothies, from fruit pulled right off the displays on its walls, is as unlike the hormone and chemical saturated mc-everything as a living being is from a photograph.
Called Yajúu (and pronounced like a certain, common email and much else provider), this place resurrects the original meaning of the shout because like a “eureka” it is what you will shout when you try their smoothies.
Yes I know in the north there are all kinds of smoothie shops and so, what is new in Peru having its own, other than its local fruit. Well, here is what is new. In the north the smoothie shops often rely on ice-cream or yogurt to give the smoothies depth and richness. Not here. They are just fruit, and a little water (or if you wish, milk) blended until smooth and delicious. Pure fruit.
Ok. They do have a menu item where you can do additives if you must. But it is so cool to just see row after row of combinations of fruit on the menu.
If the smoothie alone does not satisfy you and you feel the urge for some fast food, Yajúu also offers hamburgers (including one from alpaca meat) and vegetarian sandwiches. Like the juices, the burgers are completely different from McDonalds, and are packed with flavor. But the burgers and sandwiches are a sideshow. The fruit takes center stage.
Here is a list of restaurants in Cuzco claiming to focus on juice/ smoothies.