Dining On Alpaca

By BobbyRica | March 26, 2012


I have never been a picky eater. Though I usually stick to the basics: meat, fish, chicken, and greens, I often dream of sitting down on a plateful of critters and crawlers. After eagerly devouring barbecued armadillo as a kid one fateful Sunday, I knew I was an adventurous gourmand waiting for the next challenge. My Andrew Zimmernian taste buds may be complex and hardy, but sometimes I get to stuff my face with something that’s close to heaven.

Upon my visit in Peru, I did get to challenge myself yet again! My Peruvian friend treated me to dinner at the Inka Panaka Restaurante Cultural y Galería de Arte in Cuzco. Intuitive translation of its name should tell us that it’s more than a fine dining institution. It offers the best and the finest of Peruvian culture. Tucked in an alleyway in San Blas, Inka Panaka is a hidden gem for locals and expats alike. Save by a neon marker on its front, all you can see outside is a traditional Peruvian stone house. Inside, its walls are spruced with works of renowned artists like Ricardo Chavez and Guiselle Solaligue, side by side with traditional Andean crafts.


The general ambiance of the restaurant is pleasant as it was comforting. No blaring music, just relaxing chill-out tunes. And that translates pleasantly to their food. Inka Panaka specializes in novoandina or Peruvian nouvelle cuisine. Freshness is emphasized in every meal. Sauces are light and ingredients are in season. From the usual eggs and bacon for breakfast, one can order from an array of soups, chicken, fish, and crepes. If devouring lower life forms with beating vital organs is not to your liking, no need to worry for they have vegetarian options as well.

My amiga linda, Eva, ordered their specialty – two alpaca mignon steaks in cherimoya sauce. Wow, a fitting homage to one of Peru’s cultural icons, so I thought. I asked her for the grade of beef that they use. “No beef.” she said, “It’s genuine alpaca.” And she gave me a wink.


My jaw just dropped. Really? We’re going to chow down on those cuddly cousins of the llama. Cute animals that gave spools of high quality wool that are later spun into luxurious ponchos, shawls, blankets, sweaters, and hats. Those gentle, placid furballs that you would like to bring home as pets will later be served on a platter.

All my trepidations were allayed when Eva assured me that it was perfectly alright. “They just taste like pork,” she said, “only a bit gamey.” Once the waiter served our plates, I threw caution off the door. Man, those chops must be succulent, just by the looks of it. The steak is stuffed with thyme, onion, and tomatoes, and marinated in soy sauce and paprika. The savory aroma is simply mouthwatering.

As I took the first bite, the fleshy meat melts in its buttery goodness, punctuated by the tarty-sweet taste of cherimoya. The marbling is good and the gaminess is very subtle, to the least. So good was the steak that I savored it for an hour, not caring to chat with my friend in between bites. She doesn’t mind though. With a glass of house wine to pair with it, those were one of the most glorious hours of my gastronomic history.

We capped our lovely dinner with a crêpe, topped with vanilla ice cream and drizzled with sauco jam and almonds. The crêpe has a soft texture while its sweetness is just right – not too sweet nor bland. Just like its food, Inka Panaka truly lives up to its reputation as a first-rate restaurant. Much like its tasteful interiors, there’s nothing tacky on its menu. Just fine, no non-sense food.

And I know, Andrew Zimmern is smiling at me.

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