Monday, December 05, 2005

Incan Vittles


I figured that food in Peru (and the rest of South America) would be similar to food in Mexico. Not so. I will not go so far as to call the cooking of Peru "distinctive", but it is certainly distinct from that of Mexico. There is probably a burrito hiding around Lima somewhere, but I did not find it. And there are times when it would have been most welcome.

Meals are served in what I would call a European style. Breakfast is generally small - bread, butter, jam, toe or coffee, and milk. I did not see any breakfast cereal and only on the odd occasion did an egg make an appearance and it was always hard boiled. Peruvian bread seems to come perforated in puck-sized discs. It can easily be split into two sides, affording double the target area for your chosen spreads.

Lunch is the big meal of the day and comes in the holy gastronomic trinity of soup, main meal, and dessert. Dinner seems to be something of a matter of personal taste and for us it almost always rivaled lunch in size and complexity so there is really no need to distinguish. Main dishes are generally meat with sides of rice and potatoes. Those of you used to meat and two veg need be prepared for the extra bulk of meat and two starch. Spicing is minimal and I never ate anything that could be described as "hot as in spicy".

A few specifics:

Soups - For me, the soup was often the highlight of the meal. Peruvian broth are often subtle mix of new flavors and the substance of the bowl an unusual combo like noodle and goat or quinoa and llama. Bowls of soup are big and taken with a bit of bread and could be considered a meal on their own. On one notable occasion, I got a bowl of seafood soup that contained just about everything in the sea. It was garnished by an entire crab sitting menacingly on the summit of a mountain of ocean critters.

Salads - Peru does believe in the harmony of the vegetable world. Salads are served as if the chef expected the asparagus to try to start something with the tomatoes so a bit of beet had to be put between them to keep down trouble. The different citizens of your (surprisingly large) plate inhabit their own little fiefdoms and are served without dressing. It is nice if you like a simple plate of segregated raw plant, but not so great if you are looking for a cohesive dish.

Ceviche - I always associated this with Chile, but Jason tells me it actually comes from Spain. At any rate, it is seafood served raw with onions and a lot of lemon juice. For the sake of freshness, it should not be eaten after 2 o'clock. I tried a special variety comprised entirely of shellfish that is supposed to have an aphrodisiac quality. Even my great love of squishy things from the sea was unable to fully overcome the repulsive qualities of an uncooked pile of goo. The more common and less adventurous varieties are very nice, though.

Fried Chicken - Peruvians seem to have a great love of fried chicken. There are a lot of chicken and chips shop around where you can get 1/4, 1/2, or 1/1 chicken and small, medium, or large mountains of chips to match. There are some nice-ish restaurants that specialize in chickens, but they seem like places reserved for a quick meal, birthday parties, youth soccer teams, and the morbidly obese.

Cuy - This is possibly the worst meal I have ever had. Cuy is a guinea pig that has been skinned, gutted, pressed flat, cooked somehow and served up whole on a big plate. It is considered something of a delicacy. I think it sucks. It looks like roadkill, smells of rodent, and is very difficult to eat. What small amount of meat there is resides under a very greasy layer of fat. Yuck.

Heart Skewers - A common street food is beef hearts cooked on skewers over coals. It is not as good as it sounds.

THE Sandwich - Every country has its apres booze food. It is what you eat after the pub or bar or club closes and you have been at it all night and you are dying for a snack. In England, it is the kebab. In the US, it is a hearty breakfast. In Peru, it is The Sandwich of All God's Creatures. Between two pieces of bread, you get: a fried egg, turkey, beef, hot dog, bacon, french fries, and your choice of color of mayo. I prefer pink. You can not help but admire the audacity and zoological scope of the thing.

In conclusion, Peruvian food is unremarkable except for the odd highlight. I would say that it is nothing to write home about if I was not doing just that.


Blogger jason said...

For those of you keeping track at home: seafood soup, cuy, and THE sandwich.

12/16/2005 7:03 PM gmt


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