There is many a street cart or “hole-in-the-wall” in Cusco where you can find really authentic Andean or Peruvian cuisine. But if you are one of those fussy people who prefers to eat on a seat with a table and cutlery, and a bottle of decent wine to wash it all down, then Deva, “Restaurant Tipico” ticks all the boxes, and many more besides.
Deva’s unassuming entrance is located on a narrow, cobbled one-way street about a five minute walk from the Plaza de Armas. Despite being surrounded by dozens of restaurants all plying for the same tourist trade, Deva offers something quite different: Pure, undiluted traditional Cusquena cuisine, and what’s more, every single wine on their fairly extensive list is also from Peru.
This may all seem like a brave if not risky move in a town with so many excellent restaurants of international standards, but in my opinion it’s a risk that has paid off. And unlike many of Cusco’s popular restaurants who merely pay lip service to their national cuisine, dining at Deva will not leave you needing to re-budget for the rest of your trip.
In touch with its inner Inca
If, like me, you come over all Indiana Jones every time you walk between the magnificent Inca walls of Cusco’s narrow passageways then you will love Deva’s décor. There’s interlocking stonework; Inca motifs adorn the walls; and it’s all illuminated by llama-shaped light fittings carved from smooth green stone. If that’s not enough to impress, then you should take a trip to the spacious bathrooms where you cannot fail to marvel at the taps which are a true homage to both modern technology and Inca engineering. I shall say no more.
Deva’s subtly Inca-themed interior
With the addition of piped Andean pipe music it may all sound a bit like a Disneyesque Machu-Picchu-Land but in reality the “theme” is quite subtle, and complemented by nice touches like vases of fresh flowers strategically placed throughout, including in those roomy bathrooms.
The staff are friendly, professional and knowledgeable, explaining the menu and each dish’s ingredients in both English and Spanish. Our waiter told us with obvious pride that all the kitchen staff are locals from Cusco and that wherever possible they use local organic ingredients.
An unpretentious and wholesome Menu
The menu is not flashy or showy – the food here is all about respecting culinary tradition and giving diners a taste of genuine local cooking with just a few concessions to dishes from other parts of Peru. Don’t expect daintily presented designer cuisine, but do expect honest, hearty food.
Starters include broad bean (fava bean) salad, quinoa risotto and stuffed rocoto chillis or if you fancy something a little more hearty you could plump for a bowl of chicken broth or creamed sweetcorn soup with huacatay or Andean mint. For the sophisticates there is also a non-Cusco starter: Tiradito – slices of raw trout marinated in yellow aji chillis and lemon juice.
A word of warning however before you order – you may not need starters, especially if you are a recent arrival and your appetite is still getting used to the altitude. Complementary appetisers come as a pleasant surprise but may well negate the need for a full three or even two course meal.
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
First up was a basket of roasted corn kernels with cow’s cheese and a small glass of chicha, traditional fermented corn beer. Slightly tangy and rather reminiscent of scrumpy cider, its flavour is unexpected but not unpleasant. If you do develop a taste for chicha and are feeling adventurous, look out for the “chicha signs” as you wander around town. Any building displaying a red plastic bag on the end of a bamboo pole or similar means you can pop in and buy yourself a glass of home-brew for just a few Soles.
Corn, cheese and chicha – surprise snacks to start
Our corn, cheese and chicha was followed by cubes of chuta bread from Oropesa, a village about 25km outside Cusco, served with a salsa of aji chillis and tree tomatoes – similar to the regular variety but elongated in shape and with a delicate citrus flavour.
And so to the main event
Main courses are not huge but after our mini starters we didn’t need gargartuan portions and what some may consider a lack of size they certainly made up for in taste. The alpaca loin with three kinds of quinoa (pictured, top) was tender and full of flavour. The braised beef brisket was rich, lean and melt-in-the-mouth. And our most adventurous dish – tarwi with alpaca stew was a real discovery. For the uninitiated – which included me – tarwi is a puree of lupine beans with pieces of Andean cheese. Other main courses include two types of guinea pig, roast suckling pig and adobo, a rich pork stew.
The dessert menu is limited, consisting only of ice-cream or Deva’s dessert trilogy, which for us was lattice pumpkin pie with marmalade topping, orange ice-cream, and dark and white soft-centred chocolates. We were a little disappointed that the custard apple ice-cream was off but the replacement caramel-flavoured orange variety was excellent.
Good to share: The Deva Dessert Trilogy
Peruvian wine may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but the range on offer at Deva is broad and I would happily recommend Intipallka’s Malbec at 100 Soles a bottle (around £21.50 or US$36) or 20 Soles (£4.25 or $7) for a glass, or Tacama’s Gran Blanco (Sauvignon, Semillon, Chenin) at 80 Soles a bottle (£17.25 or US$28.50) or just 17 Soles (£3.50 or US$6) for a glass.
Whilst you would never describe Deva as fine dining, the combination of professional, friendly service, a commitment to authentic local cooking, and delightful, subtly themed surroundings make Deva a welcome change from some of the more identikit tourist restaurants in Cusco. And with complimentary appetisers, starters from just 15 Soles (£3.25 or US$5.25) and mains from only 30 Soles (£6.50 or US$10.75) It’s an excellent choice for a good value, informal meal.