Trujillo, Peru – I’m going to take a couple of posts and get back to the topic of food for a bit. All this traveling about makes me hungry. Besides, I think the post on spending a week meeting Henry’s family needs to wait until I can take the time to sit down and think it through. You’ll get snippets as I go through the food…that I think will give you a sense of what it was like. That, and I have limited time to spend writing right now as we only have a couple of days in Lima and we’re doing a lot of running around.
It’s a natural that in Trujillo we start off with ceviche. Trujillo and Lima vie for some sort of imaginary title for the best of the stuff – we’ll see over the next couple of days. Having gotten in late last Saturday night, we’d only stopped by his house to hang out for an hour or so, and headed over bright and early Sunday morning. A good number of the family came by, and at some point, Henry announced we were going out for ceviche. One of his innumerable nephews who shares in the cab driving business (three nephews take turns over the 24 hours in one cab so that it’s always, pretty much, on the road) said he knew of a spot where we could get a really good ceviche. So we piled in the cab… piled I tell you. There were ten of us. In a cab. Thankfully most of his nieces are little wisps. We ended up somewhere in the Libertad barrio, where they all live, at a place called Cebicheria Keiko, filled with locals (as no one else would enter the barrio – something I learned later trying to take cabs there). Somehow we managed to find four tables for two and get them put together out on the sidewalk, since there was no space inside. The owner came out, an order for fuentes of ceviche – or big platters – was placed, and soon we found ourselves gobbling up three large platters… and a couple of plates of yuca, a couple of 2 liter bottles of Inka Kola (the soda of choice in Peru – sort of piss yellow and caramelly sweet) and then three more platters of ceviche suddenly appeared – I start to get nervous, I just know I’m getting stuck with the bill for ten folks eating ceviche, and I only have a 100 sole note in my pocket. How we managed to make it through all this food I’m not sure. Yes I am, it was damned good – not the best ceviche I’ve ever had, but really, really good. And spicy as hell. We were all sweating from the chilies. I get stuck with the bill. It’s only 40-some soles, about $12. Welcome to the barrio. Oh yeah, and except in “nice” restaurants in Peru, you don’t tip, and even then, 5-10% maximum.
After lunch, we hang out for a bit at the house and then decide to head to Huanchaco beach, the one with those reed boats (and not the one I got robbed at, this is days before that). For a foodie who wants to try local stuff, Huanchaco is about the best spot near Trujillo you can go. Beyond that the beach is packed with people, which doesn’t thrill me, it’s also packed with ambulatory vendors. And they sell everything, despite the signs posted all around the beach that say “no ambulatory vendors” in two or three languages, they’re everywhere. Over the couple of hours we were there we were offered: to have our photos taken, inflatable toys, bathing suits, towels, beachwear, cigarettes, beer, sodas, juices, water, tamales, empanadas, ceviche (yes, plates of ceviche carried out on trays), quail eggs (a local specialty – a plate of boiled quail eggs served with sancocho, a spicy onion and chili sauce), cookies, ice cream, a half dozen different kinds of cakes, enchiladas (aren’t those Mexican?), sandwiches in a number of varieties, turrón (a sort of weird orange-ish biscuit filled with honey and the local equivalent of dulce de leche), candy apples, cotton candy, candies by the score, fudge, chancaca (compressed buttons of black sugar), and cocitos (more or less macaroons). And I know I missed a few. And everything is only about 50 centimos to 2 soles, depending on what it is. This is my favorite new snack, cho-cho, it’s a mixture of soaked (but not cooked) white beans that have been peeled, toasted salted corn kernels, and cilantro. They give it to you in a bag and you walk around munching on it.
I’m not sure we even had dinner that night… I think we nibbled on some leftovers his sister Violeta had from lunch (she hadn’t gone with us to the cevicheria). I do know that the next morning, bright and early, Henry and I went to the wholesale food market – more later as it deserves its own photos and prose – and bought a whole bunch of stuff to go and make lunch at the family house. But, of course, being Monday, it’s shambar day in Trujillo. Remember shambar? A vividly yellow wheatberry soup that is only made on Monday. Every Monday. In Trujillo. So we got a pot of it around the corner from the house. Enough to feed a dozen for lunch… 5 soles. Good. Very different from the other version I’d tried. We described the version that our friend Javier makes in La Plata and the family assured us that he was simply making it wrong. I think I’d still choose his in first place. Or maybe I have to spend a couple of Mondays in the kitchen coming up with my own… yes, it’s outdoors, dirt floor, woven reed roof, concrete and brick walls, propane stove, rickety tables, and pans that have seen far better days. I spent the rest of the morning in the “kitchen”… and sort of came up with a Mediterranean bonito stew served over quinoa, along with yuca and choclo (the big kerneled corn) that his sister Maria boiled up on the side. She, and a couple of her daughters, pitched in on making lunch, so I had plenty of help slicing and dicing as I cooked.
For dessert, we had fresh lúcuma. Not that we needed dessert, but I definitely needed to try lúcuma. I’ve been hearing about it for the last two years. I’ve tried a lúcuma flavored ice cream, which wasn’t all that interesting. Lúcuma has got to be the favorite fruit of Peru. It’s also, as far as I know, only grown in Peru, and maybe a bit over the borders into Ecuador to the north and Chile to the south. It’s easily the most popular flavored ice cream in Peru – topping out international flavors like chocolate and vanilla – easily. The descriptions I’ve read of the flavors are that it’s something like a slightly fruity maple syrup. That’s about as dead on a description as you can get. The texture is slightly mealy, it’s not a juicy fruit at all. And really, it tastes like maple syrup, with just a hint of something fruity in the background. It’s kind of like eating maple sugar candies, right down to that slightly grainy mouthfeel. No wonder they like it.