March 25, 2011

What Amazon CARES Volunteers Eat!

This blog is about the food Amazon CARES volunteers will eat while in Peru.  It is not a traditional food blog about Iquitos and local cuisine, as we westernize our food a bit for our volunteers.  We also serve many vegetarian dishes that are not cooked in any animal fats.  This is not too common in Iquitos.

Amazon CARES employs a housekeeper and cook when volunteers are on-site.  Marlene (pronounced Mar-Lay-Nay) is loved by all, especially for her incredible cooking skills.  Once we had a table combining vegans, vegetarians, lactose intolerant, food allergic volunteers, and she skillfully fed every single one of us.  All foods are washed and cooked in filtered water.

Nobody has ever gotten sick eating food cooked by Marlene, however sometimes people do experience a mild reaction to the quick change in diet.  I caution all travelers about eating food off the street, as this often leads to the harshest stomach reactions.  On a recent trip some adventurous volunteers ate barbecued maggots in the market.  Yuch!  But they survived!

Marlene’s cuisine is a delicious combination of indigenous Amazonian and traditional Peruvian dishes.  Each region of Peru is very distinct, and the Amazon region features cuisine that is very palatable to most travelers.  More adventurous people can sample exotic dishes made with caiman (lagarto), wild boar (huangana), guinea pigs and piranha.  However these dishes will have to be tried at a local restaurant.  At the Amazon CARES lodge we stick with the basics.

We always have vegetarian dishes available and vegan dishes as well, if required.  Fish lovers will delight in the many delicious fish dishes which come from different varieties of catfish, such as Paiche and the delicious Dorado fish.  Good red meat is hard to find in Iquitos, so we spare no expense when preparing a meat dish.  Because of my recurring anemia problems Marlene is one of the few people I know of in Iquitos that can cook red meat and not have it be the texture of shoe leather!  She is quite skilled, and one of my fave dishes of hers is beef or chicken with her famous peanut sauce.

Another favorite dish is fish cooked “Sudado.”  It sort of translates as “Sweaty Fish.”  The fish is bathed and baked in onion, garlic, peppers and tomatoes.  Most dishes have a healthy dose of onions and garlic.   Rice is always served, and Marlene makes crispy French fries for every meal, including breakfast!  There is no shortage of carbs in the local diet!  All meals are served with a delicious salad of lettuce and tomato or maybe just cucumbers.  You will definitely try the “Ensalada de chonta” - Fresh heart of palm salad.  The fresh avocado is also a treat!  The dressing is a light olive oil / lemon variety.

Dessert is always a local fruit.  I particularly love the mini-bananas so much that I have earned the nickname “the white monkey.”  This fruit, called a manzanilla (apple-banana) is sweeter than the traditional larger banana.  In season, mango is hard to resist.  When in Peru, I eat a ton of super exotic fruit, some of it from trees on our own property.  Watermelon is always a very juicy treat.

Volunteers sometimes choose to buy beer or soft drinks in town before retiring to our lodge for the night.  Otherwise, filtered water or a fresh fruit juice (refresco) is always available.  Some of the juices you will taste are Papaya, Camu-Camu (a light pink sweet citrus drink), Maracuya (passion fruit), and Limonada (self-explanatory, except the lemons are small and green in the Amazon).

A popular Peruvian soda named Inka Kola is a must-try.   This sweet bright yellow soda was the only soda in the world that topped Coca-Cola (in the Peruvian market, of course),  until Coca-Cola purchased the company!  Alcoholic drinks include the Pisco Sour (The national drink of Peru.) and Siete Raices (Seven Roots) which is a sugar cane distillate ("firewater") infused with the root and bark of seven local plants.  Beware of this hair-raising drink!

A final word of advice to volunteers;  while staying at the jungle lodges during the travel portion of the expedition, the food will be very safe to eat, but expect more fried foods and a few more exotic offerings than prepared by Marlene.  Any questions, just ask!

A great link for many frequently asked questions, including a generalized packing list is located at  You can’t go wrong if you take the time to learn before you arrive in Iquitos!


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