The sound of bouncing huaynos, a traditional music, reaches into the street to call people in. It is the sonoral calling card of Cuzco’s picanterías, its historic restaurants serving local food. The lilting sound of charangos and guitars bounces off the cobblestones across from San Blas’ market and triggers one’s salivary glans to work. Unlike the picanterías, however, this small one room restaurant, with a big florally decorated, buffet of salads in the middle on a round table, does not serve meat. It is a local vegetarian restaurant.
While Cuzco increasingly attracts money from the outside to open new food venues, This place, simply called Natural, from its roses on the salad bar to its offerings emphasizing traditional Andean products, is local. It is owned by a young woman from Cuzco, Karen, who when we visited was working in the back room kitchen.
This is not a splashy, fancy restaurant, but a humble place that hopes to move people in and out with comfort, appeals to tradition, and good food. It does not have a bombastic menu with photos of an encyclopedia of dishes, but rather only serves set meals prepared fresh and in quantity.
Each day it has two main dishes for people to choose from, accompanied by soup, salad, and soft drink, as well as followed by desert.
The place is small and has tables packed in to accommodate the maximal number of clients. Nevertheless, the kinds of tables with benches rather than chairs, as well as the decorations makes it feel comfortable and inviting.
Maybe it is just the flowers on each table, or maybe it is the warm greeting from Enyer, a young man who somehow makes his way effortlessly from table to table in the tight space with a smile and comfort to greet people, tell them the offerings, and take their order.
After Enyer left us to our table, we filled small plates with lettuce, shredded cabbage, carrots, and cucmbers to which we added a local dressing. As we ate and conversed, some tourists sat behind us. They praised the salad dressing to Enyer and asked him for its recipe.
From its repertoire of local soups made vegetarian, this day the offering was a barley soup, called morón. It had a light flavor that was pleasing.
Enyer approached us again, as we ate, and asked which of the two offerings for the main course today would we want. They were a green rice made with cilantro and soy meat, and a spaghetti in a white sauce and also with soy meat. Among us we chose both.
Both offerings were tasty and satisfying, athough they did not quite approach the depth of of both dishes made more traditionally.
But this meal, including the desert and a drink of “refresco”, a refreshing drink, made from orange and carrot juices, only cost 5 Soles, the equivalent of just less than 2 US dollars.
The desert was called Sambito and its filled our space with the smell of fresh cinnamon.
You can find this place on Chiwanpata street 652 , across from the San Blas Market, and let its huaynos entice you to try its vegetarian offerings.
Although not tackled much by Cuzco’s high end restaurants (Green’s being the notable exception) vegetarian fare is a place where the ideas of Novo-Andean Cuisine are taking root. Natural Vegetarian Food and Wine is a new addition to that scene.