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Friday, January 15, 2010

Peruvian Food

Chicken noodle soup for the soul?
Pachamanca a la tierra - Under this blessed mound, meat, potatoes and spices are being cooked over hot rocks. Real pit barbeque!
Pachamanca - Soup's on!

I remember applying to the Peace Corps and thinking what would the food be like in one of these strange, exotic places. Would I be eating monkey brain on the half shell, ox dick soup, fried fish sphincter? Would I share a moment of laughter and humility with my host family after biting into a sheep’s eyeball squirting the juice all over myself? Fortunately and unfortunately, no. I haven’t eaten anything that exotic. I did have a bite of cuy (guinea pig) at a food tasting and did have soup with an entire chicken foot and hearts, liver, and gizzards in a pension with thatch walls and roof. But other than that nothing too exotic.

When I got my assignment for Peru, I looked on Wikipedia to see what kind of food they eat here. First on the list – sweet potatoes. I thought to myself “F#ck! The one food on the planet I detest, they have 32,000 varieties of.” Thankfully I’ve only had to choke down sweet potatoes a handful of times since I’ve been here and I’m getting used to them poco a poco.

The typical daily Peruvian diet is pretty basic – rice, potatoes, and chicken. Fortunately it’s served up in a variety of ways so it doesn’t seem like you’re eating the same thing every day.

Breakfast – A typical breakfast for me these days includes some small rolls baked fresh daily at the local bakery with some avena - a runny, sweet oatmeal. I have had full-on fried pork chops with rice and sweet potatoes, rice with diced onion and tuna fish, spaghetti with a red sauce, fruit salad, and bread with olives (watch those pits) for breakfast. It’s no sausage and egg McMuffin, coffee and hash browns but it gets me through to lunch and is probably better for me.

Lunch is the main meal of the day here in Peru. I eat at a pension for lunch. A pension is a restaurant where the locals eat on a daily basis, the owner of the pension keeps track of the meals you eat and you pay at the end of the month. Lunch starts off with a bowl of hot soup, generally some variety of chicken noodle soup with a squeeze of lime and a little spoonful of spicy aji sauce to give it a kick. The soups are pretty tasty but when it’s 100 degrees out, beads of sweat start to develop on my forehead (which of course extends all the way to the back of my skull). Segundo (2nd course) - chicken, rice, and potatoes in its various forms.
Occasionally beef is substituted for the chicken.
On these days I get excited for the beef but am reminded straight away that the beef here is, well… it sucks to be perfectly frank. I’ve taken up eating fried beef liver from time to time not because I particularly like liver but it’s a change of pace and has something by body seems to be craving (likely iron).

Dinner- Variation on lunch except without the soup

Some of my favorite Peruvian dishes: Pachamanca - various kinds of meats, potatoes and spices cooked over hot rocks all buried in the ground for several hours. This is a meal that takes many hours to prepare so it’s for special events and is similar to our Thanksgiving feast. I’ve had it a couple of times (once for Thanksgiving) and both times it has been absolutely phenomenal! Sopa seca con carapulcra – spaghetti tossed in a kind of pesto sauce with a side of a dried potato in a tangy reddish sauce. Cebiche – raw fish, onion and aji “cooked” with freshly squeezed lime juice. The juice at the bottom of the glass when you’re done is called Leche de Tigre which is supposed to be good for hang-overs and your sex drive (there’s a number of ways I could go with this but since my conservative Texas family’s reading…). Anticuchos - Grilled slices of beef heart on a skewer with a side of aji sauce.

Overall the food here tastes pretty good and there’s not a whole lot of picking at it with a fork wondering what the f*ck it is and where you’re going to spit it out when the family’s not looking. If the food here would have been inedible, I would have employed the method used by my cousin Jay when he was a kid in the Phillipines – store the food up in one or both cheeks during dinner, spit the wad out in a paper napkin, and toss the paper napkin on roof after dinner. Thankfully I don’t have to do that since the clothes lines and the cats are on the roof.

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