Many travel purists would turn their noses up at visiting a curry house in Peru – I mean it’s really not the sort of Indian one comes looking for up in the Andes is it? Well that’s fine by me. If the travel snobs choose to stay away it just means I’m more than likely to get a table at Korma Sutra, the only Indian in Cusco even worth thinking about. And in reality, you get rather more of a taste of Peru than you would expect at this excellent restaurant.
The Perfect Location
Korma Sutra is tucked away on a cobbled pedestrian street above the picturesque Plazoleta San Blas, in one of the most atmospheric and Bohemian quarters of Cusco’s beautiful historic old town, and only a ten minute walk from Cusco’s epicentre, the Plaza de Armas. Andean women in pigtails and tall montera hats and dreadlocked travellers line the narrow streets selling all manner of jewellery, clothing and snacks to passing tourists. But step from this most Peruvian of street scenes into Korma Sutra’s spice-scented entrance and you are spirited instantly to a different world, well a different continent at least…
Korma Sutra is tucked away in Bohemian San Blas
Londoner Nick Garret opened Korma Sutra in 2010, successfully creating a little bit of India in this traditional corner of Cusco. He also manages to combine some positively Peruvian touches with his skill for producing high quality Indian cuisine. From the welcoming entrance you can see his Peruvian team creating generous and tasty dishes in the open kitchen, its walls lined with dozens of colourful Indian spice jars.
In the restaurant itself the friendly and efficient Peruvian waiting staff – it has to be said that in Peru you often get the ‘friendly’, but not the ‘efficient’ – provide service with a smile and although they speak little English I have never been given the wrong order yet in my many visits.
Warm and Welcoming
The restaurant is decorated with Indian art and its warm, purple walls are lined with comfortable banquettes scattered with colourful bejewelled cushions. The music tends to be more contemporary Indian than Zen garden and when full the cosy dining room can get a little noisy. So if you are looking for a quiet spot for a romantic dinner I would recommend weekdays, or at least try to get there early. On the other hand, the atmosphere is convivial and it can be a great place to meet other travelling curry-philes.
ENTERTAINMENT TIP: If looking for fun at night, or to watch sports during the day, or even a taste of home, visit the Wild Rover Hostel Cusco for great food, sports and beer! Entrance to their bar is free even for non-guests
Nick, the owner is also head chef but he freely admits to having had no formal training, just a knack for recreating dishes that he likes, and for reproducing some of the quirkier dishes that proved a big hit with customers in his previous restaurant near Cusco’s Plaza de Armas, notably his more foreigner-friendly takes on Peruvian staples such as alpaca and guinea pig.
A Bit of Indian-Peruvian Fusion
If you only have a short time in Cusco and are genuinely torn between “going Peruvian” and indulging your inner curry fiend, then Korma Sutra can tick both boxes. Amongst the more traditional starters of chicken tandoori, bhajis and samosas is the wonderfully inventive tandoori guinea pig. It does, as the saying goes “taste like chicken”, mostly, and is similar to rabbit – some succulent white meat and quite a few bones. I would certainly recommend giving this style of “cuy” a whirI. To me, a quartered rodent roasted in Indian spices will always be much more appetising than a whole roast guinea pig, its trademark front teeth still intact, staring at me from the plate.
Tastes like chicken: tandoori chicken starter
For your Indian-Peruvian main course you can usually choose from two alpaca dishes – alpaca fillet in chilli sauce or in yoghurt and coriander. These are Korma Sutra’s regular specials and are usually available unless the chef can’t get his hands on alpaca of high enough quality, an occupational hazard when relying on only the freshest of ingredients. If you are lucky enough to sample it here, you can expect to enjoy melt–in-the-mouth meat complemented by subtle herbs and spices with a bit of a kick.
It is not just the quirkier food that appeals at Korma Sutra, and having tried many of the “regular” dishes on the menu I can honestly say you’d be hard pushed not to find something you love. Morever, all the food here benefits from the chef’s insistence on fresh and authentic Indian ingredients, many of which are flown in from Lima or the USA, or purchased from a handful of tried and tested stall holders at Cusco’s local markets. As a result you can actually taste the ingredients in each of the chicken, lamb, bean and tofu dishes on offer with varying degrees of “heat”. If you are feeling brave you can try the super hot chicken or vegetable phaal – and if you get through it you get a free ice cold beer and a certifcate.
Lamb bhuna: your slightly more Indian Indian
Starters are priced from 12 to 24 Soles (£2.50 to £5 or US$4.25 to US$8.50). Standard mains with chicken, tofu or beans are all 27 Soles (£6 or US$10) and lamb-based mains as are all 30 Soles (£6.50 or US$11). Both alpaca specials are priced at 35 Soles (£7.50 or US$12.50) and the phaal is 32 Soles (£7 or US$11.50). All mains come with a choice of plain, cumin or pilau rice and you also get a complementary plate of deep fried nachos with pots of raita, chopped onion and tomato and spicy limo chilli dip.
House wines are a very reasonable 40 Soles a bottle (£8.50 or US$14.25) and for that you get a good Chilean Sauvignon blanc or Cabernet Sauvignon. For 10 Soles more you can upgrade to a Malbec or Merlot. There’s a small selection of cocktails including the good old G&T, Pisco Sours and Mojitos, all priced at just 10 Soles (£2.15 or US$3.75). House wine by the glass is 15 Soles(£3.25 or US$5.70).
Please note, there are no desserts on the menu, but to be fair, you’d struggle to squeeze one in.
If you are the sort of curry aficionado who likes your chicken tikka masala in a day-glo hue of radioactive red, then Korma Sutra is probably not for you. But if you like well-cooked, generously proportioned and good value Indian food – with a conveniently guilt-assuaging nod to Peruvian cuisine – then you should seek this place out when you are next in Cusco.