Describe a typical dish. What foods are your favorites?
I think we’re always curious about how others eat. If you think about it, we schedule meetings, dates, and reunions around food. Food is a part of our national culture and we are fascinated by other types of meals around the world. Go to any major city in the States and you’ll find pages and pages in the phone book of Mexican, Thai, Chinese, etc. restaurants. Not so in Peru. Even in Lima, I have only ever heard of one Mexican food restaurant and not many more than one or two of any other restaurants with different ethnic foods. Peruvians are very proud of their food. I once heard a Peruvian say that they had read that according to an article she had read, Peru had the third best food in the world after France and Japan. I tried not to laugh when she told me she had found the random article on the internet. Plus, let’s face it; there is great Indian food and Italian food that might rank a little higher in the minds of others. The good news, for me, is that I don’t hate Peruvian food. But I do admit to coming to Peru hoping for great Mexican type foods. Spicy dishes full of flavor on sizzling plates with homemade tortillas. The reality, although still very tasty, is quite different.
Here a typical family eats foods high in starch and carbohydrate content. Most dishes come with a mound of rice AND a mound of potatoes or a mound of potatoes AND a mound of pasta. Peruvians really enjoy condiments (as they call them), but it’s not like mayo and mustard (although those are included from time to time) usually they like sauces like chili sauce examples include aji Amarillo which is generally put over potatoes which is not really that spicy but is very tasty or papa/cuy picante which is spicy potatoes and guinea pig with ground up rocotto (the chili of Peru) on top. This is one of my favorite foods. I became a vegetarian in Peru (for health reasons) but I still eat cuy (guinea pig). The way I see it is I only get two years to eat the cute little things we put in cages and call pets, so I should take advantage. Not to mention, cuy is very expensive for Peruvians so it would be impolite to not eat it if someone put it before me. For every ounce of starch I eat, I probably only eat about a ¼ of an ounce of vegetables, and I would never eat fruit if I didn’t buy it for myself.
I might have written about this before, but there are a lot of myths of health based around food. Like many in the world, many Peruvians believe that water – at room temperature or colder – will cause a cold. What we consider “old wives tales” prevail in parts of this culture as science. The worst one in my opinion is the idea that fruits are “cold” foods that will cause someone to be sick longer. I don’t know many people in the States that don’t know that Vitamin C can help prevent colds and boost the immune system, and what’s the best source of Vitamin C? Citrus fruits, of course. I get so frustrated when people ask me which vitamin they should take (actual pill-like vitamin) to heal themselves. I’ll tell them the vitamin and then I’ll say, but it’s really better to get your vitamin intake from foods like broccoli, oranges, strawberries, etc. They look at me like I’m crazy and then tell me their DOCTOR told them to not eat those things. Their DOCTOR! I don’t frustrate very easily when it comes to obvious cultural differences, but this is one that really bothers me. I can’t handle when medical professionals believe the same myths that science has proven aren’t true. Science has proven that we can drink cold beverages and not catch a cold or that “cold” foods do not give you a cold, right? Or am I crazy? That’s always a possibility.
Some Peruvian food really is good though, even if it does lack a side salad, and I appreciate my family’s recent efforts to include more vegetables in their diet. I’ve even been able to introduce such foods as macaroni and cheese, lasagna, tacos, and my family’s personal favorite: vegetable soup! My host dad calls it, sopa de colores (soup of colors) because I’m always expounding on the idea that all you need to do to have a good vegetable dish is to have a number of different colors and I tell them the key to good vegetable soup is to find as many different colored vegetables (and fruits b/c we always include tomatoes) as possible. My host sister, Yuli has now made this soup twice without me around. I’m pretty proud of her and excited if this is the one dish they will continue to eat after I leave. I’m trying to write a blog about taco night, because when I came into the Peace Corps, I strangely enough had the idea that all food in Latin America was like Mexican food, oh how wrong I was, so more on that later.
These pictures are of California Cafe where I spend my internet time. Pretty cool place, huh?