Fresh Fish in the Garden, The Laguna Azul

Above Cuzco, on the edge of the great Inca complex of Sacsayhuaman, with its massive, zigzagged wall, sits a different complex that draws Cuzqueños young and old.  To an outsider , its adobe walls and tile roof might look old, but this follows modern trends that have spread through Peru like a hurricane from the coast.

Simply, and romantically called Laguna Azul, the “Blue Lagoon”, it shares a name with an old film of teenagers coming of age while stranded on an idyllic pacific atoll, but locals often call it the “piscigranja” or “fish-farm” because its man made pond roils with trout.

A craze for fish similarly roils Peru, where ceviche (cebiche in the preferred Peruvian spelling) is one of the most popular dishes nation wide and increasingly a symbol of national identity.  But fresh fish is not easily available in the country’s highlands, despite the increase in air transport.  Nevertheless the demand for fish, and not just for ceviche, but for a range of fish dishes, grows.

As a result, farming fish has spread.  The coast of Lake Titicaca is lined with fish tanks to meet the demand for fish, especially trout.  Introduced from North America in 1928, trout have spread through the river systems of the Titicaca basin and nearby river systems, such as those of Cuzco.  And, in the last decades, in an attempt to develop new sources of income for rural peoples, fish farming has also spread.

Wild sources of trout suffer because of the increasing demand, as more and more Peruvians want to eat fish, especially fish that carry an aura of progress and modernity like trout.   As a result, a ban on selling wild trout entered into effect in Cuzco, and elsewhere, this last July 28th and fish farms claim ever more importance.

Entrance to the Blue Lagoon
Entrance to the Blue Lagoon

While the city of Cuzco, outside the tourist zone, has many cevicherías, it has even more restaurants that prepare and sell dishes made of trout.  But the piscigranja is distinctive.   Its large pond is surrounded by grass and on one bank rises a glass enclosed gazebo with tables where people can watch the ducks coursing across the water, or see families on the wooden pier feeding the fish.   Other people climb on plastic swans to peddle around the pond.

Of course, the Lagun Azul has a large room away from the garden where people can also eat, but the garden gazebo, with its park-like feel, draws guests.

The menu almost entirely con consists of trout, fresh trout.  The dishes are not adventuresome nor creative.  They are standard Peruvian offerings: pan-fried trout fillet, trout in garlic sauce, chicharrón of trout (deep fried, breaded chunks of trout), and trout milanesa (breaded and fried trout fillet); all served with potatoes and salad.

Trout in Garlic Sauce
Trout in Garlic Sauce

Though standard, the trout is fresh, juicy and flaky.  It has none of the fishiness of trout that has to travel to market.  Instead its taste is clean and naturally complex.

Every day people climb from the city to the piscigranja for lunch. And on weekends the place fills, pulsing with the laughter and play of children and the intense looks of lovers.    Sometimes it is the destination, and other times it is part of an outing that takes in the broad-grassy areas of the White Christ that stands over the city, or the park of Sacsayhuaman.

Dining in the Gazebo at Laguna Azul
Dining in the Gazebo at Laguna Azul

For tourists, right next to the Laguna Azul, horses are for rent.  One can take a ride, along a set of trails, with a flute playing guide walking along side, to the Temple of the Moon and other sites.   One can go for a ride in the morning and finish with a meal poolside of fresh caught fish.

In this the piscigranja fits another trend in Peru as more garden restaurants open on the edges of its cities for weekend and special occasion outing.

But whether it is the garden, the pool, or the fish that draws you, Laguna Azul offers a respite from the give and take, pounding horns, and constant energy of the city, as well as trout that will make you want to come back for more.

A taxi from the city will take you to the restaurant. Just ask the driver to carry you to the “piscigranja”.

The Piscigranja of Cuzco
The Piscigranja of Cuzco

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