One of the things I think [poets] enjoy about a great meal is that it goes away… that you make a terrific meal for friends and family, and if you succeed, it’s gone. And there’s this pleasure in that because it’s exactly the opposite of writing a poem or writing anything. You are struggling and struggling, and finishing means it’s permanent, or at least feels that way. ~ Kevin Young, the editor of “The Hungry Ear”
We knew it would be great. It just had to be. Standing on the platform at Poroy Station, you couldn’t help but be impressed by the beautiful blue and gold spectacle there on the tracks. It was once an Orient Express train; now it is known as the Belmond Hiram Bingham train to Macchu Picchu. Greeted with Intipalka Extra Brut sparkling Peruvian wine and white glove service, we were shown to our seats and told by the maître d’ that our luncheon would be served promptly at 11AM.
Through the window, we could see the dancers on the platform dressed in colorful Peruvian alpaca woven wool costumes twirling to pan pipe music and drums. Soon the train whistled and, at the sound of a bell and steam rushing out from the engine, we began our journey through the sacred valley and onto the ancient ruins of Machu Picchu.
Dear Passengers, Our meal is prepared with ingredients that Pachamama or Mother Earth offered us. The trout, avocado and corn are grown and raised in these valleys. The dessert will delight you with a unique mixture of flavours of our local products including a variety of corns which are collected from the Sacred Valley of the Incas. Allin mikhúkuy káchun! ~Hiram Bingham Train Menu
We had a couple of hours before lunch would be served. So, we made our way to the back of the train where the bar car was located. Coca tea for my altitude headache along with delicate pastries and sweet rolls made for a lovely light breakfast. The plush armchairs and large windows in the lounge area of the car gave us a front row seat to a visual symphony of gorgeous fertile landscapes, rushing rivers, waterfalls, and emblematic animals like the llamas and alpaca.
Coca tea on the Hiram Bingham train was more of a refreshing Moroccan mint, palate cleansing flavor experience than the no-nonsense medicinal coca tea from our hotel. The pain au chocolat and crescent rolls, while perhaps more Parisian than Peruvian, were so light and buttery that you felt as if you could be a 19th century Le Train Bleu passenger on your way to the south of France. They were very well done, and while perhaps not culturally accurate or indigenous, eating them with the smooth minty coca tea became an instant antidote to all my Bohemian existential angst. Coca tea definitely has a “cast all your cares and worries aside” quality to it. Let’s just say, Celestial Seasonings would fly off US shelves if they added that magical ingredient to their Tension Tamer tea.
After a couple of cupfuls, a trip to the well-appointed restroom, and taking in the open air panoramic views of the valley from the small terrace at the back of the glass observatory car, tea time was over and lunch time began. We returned to our seats for the main food event.
First to take the stage was the appetizer: Wayllabamba’s Smoked Trout with mashed fava beans, quinoa tabbouleh. All of the food served on the train is sourced from small organic family farms on the land the train travels through. Wayllabamba is the first campsite for those hiking the Inca Trail. In Quechua, Wayllabamba means ‘grassy plain’.
Alongside the grassy plain of Wayllabamba runs the Kusichaka River which is home to many fish varieties including popular wild rainbow and brown trout. This lovely trout was like eating smokey Japanese rice paper. It melted onto your tongue and, mixed with the texture of the quinoa and flava beans, made for a light beginning that left us excitedly anticipating the main course
But, before moving on from the opening act in this three part culinary concert, I must take a brief intermission to discuss the wine.
To pair your brunch we have carefully selected this wine to create a unique experience. ~Hiram Bingham Train Menu
We could have chosen to deviate from the white and red wine options included with our admission. They have additional bottles, including some from Europe, at additional cost. However, this whole experience was already feeling a little more Bougie than Boho, and we wanted to experience South American wines that went really well with the tasting menu. So, we stayed with what the sommelier had pre-selected for this meal.
Accompanying our appetizer was a glass of Tacama Blanco de Blancos D.O. Ica, Peru. It was pale in color, very drinkable and refreshing. It reminded me of Cakebread’s Sauvignon Blanc from back home in Northern California. It was the perfect companion for the trout. The dry acidity in the top note helped the fish melt in your mouth, while the soft, sweet after taste it left behind nicely rounded out each bite.
Upon finishing that glass, our red glasses were filled with a unique Merlot. The Montes Classic Series Merlot D.O Valle de Colchagua, Chile was unlike any Merlot I have tried. It had pinot-like tanins and a spice to it that reminded me of a Hess Collection red to compare it, once again, to wine from home. As soon as our glasses were filled with Merlot, the main dish appeared: Grilled Tenderloin Beef.
The meat was tender and served with a traditional Peruvian sautéed sauce, rustic mashed potatoes, and a bouquet of colorful steamed vegetables. Each bite sent me straight to Inca god heaven.
Last, but certainly not least, was dessert: Sacred Valley’s Corn Cheesecake. Its foundation was constructed from crispy corn flour, the next layer was a light cheese cake the top of which was garnished with a sprig of Andean mint and Chulpi’s corn praline. But, this was not all. There was a beautiful brushstroke of purple corn and elderberry sauce on the plate to dip each decadent spoonful of cheesecake into.
The saying “It isn’t over until the fat lady sings” rings true once more here. The final note of this exquisite culinary concert was a silver tray of cookies and Pâte à Choux washed down with freshly brewed coffee and cream before pulling up to Aguas Calientes station. I was the fat lady, and my soul was singing after experiencing the transcendental meal and journey of a lifetime aboard the Hiram Bingham Train to Machu Picchu.