A Bite of the City of Eternal Spring

2010.Jan.05 Tuesday · 3 comments

in Food & Recipes, Life

Things I’ve been informed of or witness to this week living with Henry’s family….

  • Water may be the foundation of life, but who would want to drink it? Maybe if you flavor it with some burnt barley, or weeds from the roadside, or something you found in the market that you’re quite sure is a cure for something you might have. Better to drink Inca Cola, which is a true traditional beverage going back into the history of the Incan Empire (which we do not call an empire, because they were all love and goodness and always accomplished everything by consensus without ever the need of force or threat). Inca Cola, after all, has herbs in it.
  • Never use pepper or cumin more than once a week each in your cooking or you will die.
  • Chilies and garlic are important to cuisine as long as you are in perfect health. If you have anything wrong with you, don’t eat anything with chilies or garlic or you will die.
  • The reason that white rice is really, really cheap is because the government knows that it’s the most nutritious thing you can eat, so they keep it that way. Eat lots of it because it has all the nutrition you need. You can supplement with white bread, potatoes and yuca, which also contain everything your body needs.
  • Sugar and salt are necessary to life and can be used with abandon.
  • Drinking to excess (i.e., preferably to the point of passing out), particularly beer, is proof that Peruvians are happier than anyone else and know how to enjoy life to the fullest. If you can get into a fight, beat someone up or be beaten up while drunk it’s even more proof, especially if it’s with someone close to you. Children and spouses included.
  • If you have any money left at the end of the day it’s best to spend it, preferably on something alcoholic, because you never know if you’re going to wake up the next morning. Saving for the future is a capitalistic, imperialistic concept.
  • The government of Peru doesn’t fairly represent the people, because the people are diverse and have their own local traditions. All other countries, however, are homogeneous and the people are exactly as portrayed by their leaders. Peru is the richest country in the world, only the Peruvians haven’t organized to show the world that. They will. Soon. Ojo.
  • Following this reasoning, a clearly logical leap, anything made in Peru is of the finest quality. Other countries, without exception, produce inferior goods. In all areas of production and manufacturing. The cheap local prices are because so many Peruvians are poor and couldn’t afford the true price of the high quality of their goods. It also fools the foreigners.
  • That the US is not the only place where knowledge of geography is… lacking. I found that living in Buenos Aires I am living either, just a little south in Peru, near to Macchu Pichu, in Chile, in the United States, maybe somewhere near to New York, or in the country of Barcelona. That the concept of a country the size of the US (or, for that matter, the size of the world) is just out of the reality of many of the people I met – the idea that there could be two points that were not reachable by bus within 48 hours at the absolute outside was simply mind-boggling.
  • Likewise that there was anywhere on earth that was not virtually 100% Catholic is, apparently, inconceivable – Jews, Protestants, Hindus, Buddhists, whatever, are either just a local name for Catholicism, which is the only religion that actually exists, or, they were, combined, no more than 1 in a million (or some other very large number) people, which made me quite the rarity. The thought that even amongst those there could be people who don’t believe in the trinity was unthinkable.

I’m sure there was more. On to some food.

Jorge el Pavo

This is Jorge. He doesn’t know it yet, but he’s going to be dinner for New Year’s Eve. We went to the Mercado Mayorista and wandered along the sidewalk, poking at birds that one person or another was offering. It was, of course, a given that I was going to be buying the turkey for the evening – the 100-150 soles wasn’t coming out of anyone else’s pocket. That’s okay, I told Henry upfront that I would, but that the family would have to chip in on everything else that went on the table. They did, too, without complaint, which surprised me I must admit, given how things went our last visit.

Jorge el Pavo

I’m going to spare you the few photos I snapped as we turned Jorge into dinner (he needed a name, we all agreed, what can I say?). Getting him drunk on a liter of cheap red wine made him far more docile, and also, apparently, turns the meat whiter. Hanging him upside down and cutting out his tongue allowed him to perish quickly, and also, apparently, turns the meat whiter (that one almost makes sense as the turkey is drained of blood). Dunking him in boiling water to remove his feathers was next, then cutting him into pieces and coating him with various spice mixtures secured from a specialist in the market in such things – no oven to cook him in, so this electric dutch oven on the ground had to suffice.

Jorge el Pavo

And, a few hours later, he was delicious. Henry’s older sister, Violeta, digs in with gusto. Along with turkey, our NYE dinner had a potato, pea and beet salad, pannetone, hot chocolate, and the cheapest sparkling wine findable. We had fun.


We did eat out a bit, not much. Mostly we ate in on sudado, one of our favorite fish stews, the remains of turkey, and various cheap and easy dishes. We did go out for mollejitas, chicken gizzards, one night – with another of his sister’s and her family (they chipped in what they could this time, I still paid the majority, but I have the feeling, though he denies it, that he talked with them about their behavior last time). We tried both the al sillao, with soy, and al ajo, with garlic. We had lunch one day at a cuyería, where we tried a few dishes, this, cecinas, basically beef jerky – though almost to a crunchy dried state – served over yuca…

Cuy guisado

And, cuy guisado, stewed guinea pig – here served with cracked wheat that’s been boiled with “ashes” – I assume, more or less, lye. It certainly has a sort of soapy taste to it which I suppose one could get used to, but I have to admit I wasn’t fond of. It popped up again on other days with various grains.


Sunday, as I mentioned in the last post, we went to the Mercado Santo Domingo, where we picked up all the ingredients for making ceviche… for 15-20 people… of whom, 7 actually showed up, including us. So we had a whole lot. They were continuing to nibble on it Sunday evening, and as people dropped by they were given small plates, a few plates were made up for neighbors and delivered to them, and, perhaps, they’re still working on it. We had fun making it, I’m quite thankful though, that at least these days, the family has a working refrigerator (Henry’s doing over the last couple of years, along with things like windows and doors and a partial roof).

Chuno trio

Late afternoon, the chuño sellers came wandering through ‘hood. A couple of elderly women who’d made up batches of this semi-sweet dish, in three versions – potato, corn and pumpkin – served up by ladling them out of old paint buckets. Chuño itself is a naturally freeze-dried potato. The family says they’re fermented too – I think, though, that that’s after rehydrating them, though I’m not clear on that. It forms the basis for the sweet puree into which the featured ingredient is then introduced. I can’t say I’m fond of these, though the pumpkin one was at least a bit more palatable.

La Union

Then it was off to La Union with two of Henry’s sisters. He was going to come, but decided to hang with his brother-in-law who had dropped by with a colleague (and distant cousin) – they were busy going through the early stages of what turned into a 24 bottle (620ml) drinking binge that also involved haranguing me for not drinking more than a glass or two. Mercado La Union is also, like Santo Domingo, only open on Sundays, but opens in the evening, around 4 or 5 p.m., and stays open until about 10 p.m. or later. It’s almost all people from the “hills”, who come to town for the afternoon and evening – offering wares you can take home and prepare yourself…

La Union

Some pre-prepared snacks…

La Union

Herbs for various medicinal and cooking uses…

La Union

Or, pots of various stews and such – you just pull up a seat on whatever’s around, or stand, and eat. Most plates are small and cost a single sole, roughly 32 cents, though a few reach the astronomical heights of 2 or 3 soles.

La Union

This is chicharron, fried pork, over mote, the big white kernels of corn, once again washed or boiled in ashes.

La Union

I asked the woman in the photo above if she would make me a little combination plate with a taste of everything she had, and she agreed, for a whole 3 soles. I’m not even sure I know everything that was on the plate – homemade morcilla sausages atop, here called rellenos, in the front, patasca, bits of meat that have been preserved sort of escabeche style, served over corn that’s been stewed with yerba buena – the best thing on the plate, some stewed peas, a sort of tripe-ish thing that wasn’t high on my hit list, though the tomato and chili stewed potatoes it was served over were great, some squash, and I think that was it. On the way out we grabbed a couple of papas rellenas – deep-fried oblongs of mashed potato filled with herbs and topped with mayo and chili sauce; and picarones, pumpkin doughnuts in honey.

Next, we journey north….


{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

marcia January 9, 2010 at 17:29

Im from Peru and I cant relate to any of the things you say (well, maybe the part about salt and sugar is true :-)). Obviously, for the pictures and for what you describe, Henry’s family is on the poorest end of Peruvian society (wich means education is lacking) so I hope you are not trying to generalize about peruvians from your experiences with Henry’s family. Nothing wrong with them, but thats not the Peru I happen to know. It does make me sad that they havent had education and for what you said (drink their (liittle) money away) they waste whatever opportunity they could create to improve themselves.

dan January 9, 2010 at 20:42

Marcia, not at all generalizing – my point was, I think, how this particular segment of society lives and thinks, or at least based on the time I’ve spent with family members of his over the years. If you read through other posts I’ve made on other parts of Peru and experiences with others, it can be a different viewpoint.

At the same time, regardless of your personal experience, it should be noted that well over 50% of Peru’s population live below the “poverty line”, and more than 25% are considered to be living “in destitution” – one of the worst levels in all of Latin America. Henry’s family, while poor, own their own homes, work, pay their bills, raise families, and while his older brothers and sisters haven’t been to college, they’ve all completed high school/secondario, and over half of their kids have been to college.

It’s not necessarily a lack of education (though some of the weird stuff, like the cumin and pepper, are probably just strange family myths that have been passed down started who knows when), but also the quality of education – for example, we went to the Sipán museum, and the “historian” who guided us through, college educated, actually stood there and talked about how in the period that this culture was dominant in the area, from 100-700AD, Europe and Asia were still primitive, barbaric cultures, with little traces of their history from that period – that if you went to “The British Museum” the only things you’d find from that era would be from Sipán and surrounds, that there are no artifacts from the rest of the world. When I asked about the Roman Empire, Ottoman Empire, the Greeks, etc., his response was “you’ve been told lots of lies in your schools, none of them ever amounted to anything, nor is their any evidence of them as advanced civilizations”.

This echoes things like our visit a couple of years ago to the Puno area where our tour guide, a doctoral student in astrophysics, was spouting things about how blacks are still slaves in the U.S., that none of them has ever actually been freed or allowed to work a real job (I wonder how he coped with us electing a black president), that he was going to be the first latino in the entire field of astrophysics, because no latino had ever before gotten that far (what about his professors?) – all stuff he was told at the U of Puno. As to the Catholic stuff, it dominates everything from print media to radio to television, and much of the stuff I mentioned is broadcast, daily, into people’s homes on every television channel out there.

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