Where the brown, barren heights of the Andes begin to roll eastward and downward towards the thick tangle of forests and winding rivers of Amazonia you find the green hills and valleys of Cajamarca. It was here that Francisco Pizarro, along with a few hundred conquistadors on horseback, captured Inca ruler Atahualpa, who was recovering in the still used hot springs after a bitter civil war, and began their dismantling of the Inca Empire. Today, the city in Peru’s Northern Andes is a culinary hotspot. While there are no celebrity chefs or high-end restaurants to speak of, Cajamarca’s beauty lies in its products and traditions. The region is home to Peru’s dairy industry, which makes Cajamarca a leading producer of cheeses and manjar blanco (Peru’s own version of dulce de leche). There’s Granja Porcón, an agro-community whose mushrooms are found in many of the country’s top restaurants. You’ll find endemic potatoes, quinoa, figs, trout, berries and hundreds of other products that rarely see light outside of the region’s market stalls and street vendors. From its over-sized colonial plaza it is reminiscent of Cuzco, but the complete lack of tourists give it an authenticity that is becoming harder to find in the Sacred Valley.
Writer and photographer Nicholas Gill is the editor/publisher of New World Review. He lives in Lima, Peru and Brooklyn, New York. His work has appeared in publications such as the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, CondeNast Traveler, National Geographic Traveler, Afar, and Penthouse. Visit his personal website (nicholas-gill.com) for more information.