I realize that I have neglected to write about one of the most important aspects of any culture: The FOOD!
Perú is divided into three separate regions that run north to south. “On the coast there is a thin strip of arid desert which is surprisingly fertile where it is broken by narrow river valleys. The costa or costal region makes up just 10% of the territory, but is home to about 60% of Peruvians. A broad backbone of brown hills and huge snow-topped mountains (The Andes) fractures the country in two before slipping in the east through rolling green hills of high jungle that drop into huge expanses of lush rainforest which covers about 60% of the country. Even now, the clear geographical split is also a cultural and psychological one, with most inhabitants considering the costa, sierra (highlands) and selva (jungle) to be different worlds in a sense.” (Días-Limaco, 7)
Most of the food that I have experienced has been from the costa and sierra, but I am excited to have a chance to taste the food from the selva, that is for sure.
As you can see from the map, each region has its own dishes it is known for. I am living in Piura, northern Perú, so I have had lots of tasty Ceviche.
Ceviche is fish that appears to be raw, but has actually been “cooked” by limejuice. It is then garnished with onions, yucca, and often choclo (corn). Now I was skeptical at first, but after visiting the best restaurant in town, and trying the 6 varieties (photo above), I was very much convinced. I have never been much of a fish guy, but ceviche has changed my life.
Two other regional foods from my neck of the woods are coffee and cheese. A typical breakfast for me consists of a few cooked potatoes or yucca, with a side of cheese and a cup of coffee. The coffee is really great and the cheese has a pretty strong taste, but I have gotten used to it.
Another “a la pobre” breakfast consists of rice, fried platanos and an egg (I usually make and platano-egg sandwich).
Most meals, my host grandma prepares a juice. The local fruit options are banana, papaya, mango, passion fruit (maracuyá), guayaba, mandarins (naranjia) and chirimoya (aka custard apple. Size of a small grapefruit, with a scaly outer surface and a creamy, luscious pulp scattered throughout with smooth large black seeds).
Another common drink is called chica. Chicha is a drink made from corn. Sometimes people let it ferment into a drink, which is called chicha a la jara or chicha blanca. I have never tried this yet, and have opted for the purple corn drink (chicha morada).
There are two plants that are distinctly Peruvian and are found all over the country: Potatoes and an amazing pepper called Ají. Ají can be a little spicy (if seeds are ground up with the pepper) but I like it for its unique taste. It is often blended into a salsa with onions, or used to spice up almost every dish.
And the potatoes….Whether you knew it or not, Perú is the birthplace of potatoes, which were domesticated over a period of 6,000 years. The Spanish word for potato (papa) is actually the Quechua word for tuber. There are over…..wait for it…… 3,800 varieties of potatoes in Perú! Another interesting statistic: In 1970, Peruvians consumed about 360 pounds of potatoes per person per year. In 1996, consumption had decreased to about 90 pounds per person, but that is still pretty impressive.
Traditional dishes: Christmas and New Years
Turkey happens to be the meat of choice for these special days, accompanied by hot chocolate and an interesting dessert called Paneton, which can only be described as a mixture of angel-food cake and the dreaded holiday gift of fruitcake.
It is fluffy bread with the weird red and green “fruit” clumps spread throughout. It actually tastes pretty good. I was interested on how this odd fruitcake became so popular. Its history pretty intriguing (click link).
And the cuy (coo-ee), the infamous guinea pig. I have tasted this furry critter, and it was not that bad. It was pretty difficult to eat because of all the small bones, and the skin is really thick. But the meat tasted fine! I also added a photo that I thought was very interesting blend of the Peruvian culture with Catholicism.
Churros are kinda like an elephant ear taste (cinnamon and sweet dough) but wrapped up into the form of a breadstick. And inside is a warm liquid called dulce de leche, which is essentially a better form of caramel. They are of course deep fried and found at street vendors. Sooo tasty.
My host mother back during training prepared cakes fairly often, so I was lucky enough to have a tres-leches cake. It has the texture of tiramisu, and is delicious.
In Ayacucho, there were Quechua women who were preparing icecream on the streets. Mayuchi is the Quechua word “to spin” which as you can see in this video is an appropriate name. It is made from cream, cinnamon, sesame, coconut, and other deliciousness. The cups cost about 40 cents, so needless to say, my friends and I had Mayuchi 2 or 3 times a day when we were there.
I have been fortunate enough to travel up and down the coast of Perú for different training exercises, so I will share my favorite dishes with you now:
Lomo Saltado: This dish is basically a steak stir fry with thick French fries, tomatoes, onions, and ají. This dish is one of my favorites, and I am never disappointed.
Aji de Gallina: Chicken threads with Escabeche. this is also one of my all time favorite dishes. It has a creamy sauce that haunts my dreams.
Tacu-tacu: besides having a fun name, THIS happens to be my favorite, and I am always left wanting more. It is pretty basic to make: Its white beans and rice mixed together with cilantro and garlic. It is then fried into a burrito-type shape of godliness. In this photo, it is accompanied with a what can only be described as the most delicious steak-cabob that I have ever had in my entire life.
Caigua con Relleno- Its kind of tough to describe the taste of Caigua, but I have become addicted to any sort or stuffed food since I have come here. Very tasty.
Pachamanca: I had this dish during training, near Lima. Santa Eulalia acuatlly had a Pachamanca festival, which was quite the site to see. The special thing about Pachamanca is how it is prepared. Using wikipedia for help on this one: "Pachamanca is a traditional Peruvian dish based on the baking, with the aid of hot stones (the earthen oven is known as a huatia), of lamb,mutton, pork, chicken or guinea pig, marinated in spices. Other Andean produce, such as potato, green lima beans or "habas", sweet potato, and occasionally cassava, as well as ears of corn, tamale and chile, is included in the baking."
Papa huancaina: This is a common appetizer found throughout Perú. Its potatoes in cheese sauce, garnished with hardboiled egg and olives. I am always happy when this is on the table.
Yucca Relleno (stuffed yucca): I had this tasty snack in Otuzco, La Liberdad. Basically its mashed up yucca that is then stuffed with pepper, ground beef, cumin, oregano, onions, tomatoes, parsley, and sometimes raisins. Oh and then, of course, its deep fried. Yummmm
Antichuchos: Barbecued spicy beef hearts on a skewer. I was not one to voluntarily eat these, but theses stands are all over the place at night, and I happened to feed my hunger after a long night at the bar. I was very happy that I did, these are delicious!
Pisco Sour- This is an alcoholic drink made from grape brandy, limejuice, and egg white. It was a pretty sweet (sugary) drink, a little too rich for my taste. But that won’t stop me from bringing a bottle home with me to share with you all.