Saturday, July 24, 2010

Organic Delights? Yes, Please.

Today, we went to a bioferia in the Parque Reducto #2. In other words, I spent my morning with Lima’s yuppies at the organic farmer’s market. We got a little lost getting there, but the minute we saw the lush panoply of lettuces at the first stall, we knew it had been worth it. My first purchase was a half wheel of creamy, glistening queso fresco, or fresh cow’s milk cheese. It was so fresh, you could practically hear the cultures working…ok maybe not quite that fresh. At this moment, I’m eating it on fresh bread with a little ají de rocoto and it balances the spice perfectly. This market had many treasures, including those lettuces (I picked up purple and green varieties), some delicate baby spinach, beautiful roma tomatoes that made the ones in the supermarket look like laughable impostors, yucca and every kind of potato, including something called olluco that looks like a fingerling except it is yellow with fuchsia spots. There was also quinoa, many kinds of beans, lovely pink radishes, avocados the size of my head, and some carrots that made my wrists look small (I admit that isn’t hard to do, but still).

Ok, I’m done with the rapturous listing. There were some highlights that we got to enjoy right there, like the sample of fresh queso de cabra rolled in herbs, which had such a delicate flavor that picky people might not even know it was goat cheese (I promptly bought some). And then there were the vegetarians. They had a stall selling some traditional Peruvian dishes such as rocoto relleno and papa rellena, except instead of a meat filling they had a quinoa and vegetable mix. They were also making some palm sized pizzettes with fresh mozzarella, tomato, basil and caramelized onion, on the comal to your order. I got a papa rellena with salsa criolla (red onion, lime, cilantro, white vinegar) and a little pizzette, and I had them add a slice of roasted eggplant to it as well.

Delicious. The caramelized onion added a little sweetness to the combo on the pizzette, and the freshness of all the ingredients really shone through. It didn’t taste like Italy, but rather like Latin America owning Italian flavor combos. It was refreshing because the “Italian” I’ve had here has been mediocre at best. The papa rellena should have been heavy, but was instead wonderfully light and fluffy, and the quinoa had nuttiness and depth as well as that scrumptious delicate texture.

Making it all even more pleasant and healthy, it was all wrapped in biodegradable, recycled paper AND the people where quite friendly and willing to answer all my questions about the names of things…though I’m sure they wondered why my education has been so lacking, they were really rather patient.

Eating these treats in the park, with the rare winter sun shining on us, was a Saturday morning worth travelling for.

By the way, the vegetarians have a café:

El Alma Zen: Cocina Orgánica

Recavarren 298, at the corner of block 4 of José Gálvez, Miraflores, Lima

Next time: The Second Best Sandwich on Earth, and why tripe in Florence still takes the cake.

Monday, July 19, 2010

An unpleasant realization

This weekend had some gustatory pleasures, including my very first Pisco Sour. I do have a complaint though. For whatever reason, restaurants have really…unexceptional…wine and beer. Apparently there is some law that prohibits the brewing of beer with anything more than 5% alcohol per volume, which means no brown ales or stouts or IPAs or really anything at all that tickles my fancy. If you know me, you know how a good IPA makes my heart flutter with joy, so this makes me quite sad. However, this law still doesn’t explain why quality restaurants in a country that imports a bunch of really good argentine wines have such pitiful wine lists. This baffling reality essentially means well-executed, thoughtful, fresh, seasonal meals with NO WINE OR BEER.

There is an upside: the cocktails I’ve had here are truly wonderful. Pisco is a versatile liquor that isn’t overpowered by the fresh ingredients used in traditional Pisco Sours or in some of the fruitier versions I’ve tasted. To my palate, Pisco Sour (pisco, lime juice, muddled lime, simple syrup, egg white froth) tastes like a margarita without the bite of tequila. Instead it has a mellow, rounded taste that is still super refrescante (and rather intoxicating)!

I like this pisco stuff, I look forward to trying more variations on the traditional Sour with all the gorgeous fresh juices that are readily available here, but…

I miss good beer.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Glossary for the week

Cebiche mixto: Mixed fresh seafood (in this case: fish, squid, scallops, octopus, cockels and crab) cold cooked with fresh lime juice, cilantro, onion and a little chili. Spelled ceviche in Mexico.

Ají: Capsicum, or chili.

Maracuyá: Passionfruit

Pisco: A grape liquor like a brandy, it is DOC and comes from only a few regions of Peru.ú

Sopa de mariscos: Seafood soup with a seafood based broth.

Calamari: Squid (the small ones).

Cockels: A small bivalve like a clam.

Choclo: Corn and maiz.

Rocoto: A moderately spicy chili.

Palta: Avocado.

Friday, July 16, 2010

What's in a name...

The other day, I asked this waiter what palta was. He proceeded to explain, “Es una fruta verde y cremosa, pero no es dulce, es un poco salada.” Roughly translated, that means: It is a green, creamy fruit. It isn’t sweet but rather a little salty. My reaction was something like, “Oh…ew.”

Today, I realized that palta is in fact avocado.

I love avocado. I really, really love avocado. I eat it straight from its husk (peel?), sprinkled with a little salt and a generous amount of fresh lime.

Point is, that is honestly the nastiest description of an avocado I have ever heard. But how else do you describe it? Ideas, anyone?

First Week pt. 2

The first night here we picked up half a rotisserie chicken and French fries from the supermarket around the corner. Yes, the supermarket! The chicken was juicy and roasty and great. But the French fries were AMAZING. They sure know what to do with a potato in this town. Not greasy, perfectly golden, crispy on the outside and meltingly smooth on the inside, these were some French fries that put France AND Netherlands to shame (and there was no mayo involved, thank goodness). Did I mention I got them from the supermarket?

I think I’m going to love this city. I already am enjoying it, the combination of familiar elements and complete newness is appealing and comfortable. It reminds me strongly of Mexico City: the colorful old houses next to modern apartments next to crumbling and abandoned buildings of indeterminate age and purpose. Lima is vibrant and friendly, the people are polite and helpful, but thus far give somewhat crap directions. Maybe this is because every street seems to have a counterpart on the other side of the district, a twin with the exact same name, but none of the addresses we’re looking for. This is ok, because everyone knows wandering leads you to the best food, but I can see how it might be difficult if I actually had to be anywhere. Lima also reminds me of San Francisco, because it sits on the cliffs above the awesome beauty of the Pacific Ocean and thus benefits from salty, comforting sea breezes all day. It is also foggy by 3 pm if not before, and that in itself is guaranteed to make me feel at home.

I am already learning here, simply because navigating a Peruvian menu is daunting. I don’t know what any of this food is, it all sounds strange and exciting and supremely different from Mexican food. To start with, the native ingredients are quite distinct, including a variety of potatoes I wouldn’t ever have contemplated, incredible seafood, some beautiful corn and a bunch of different chiles. Thing is, they all have different names than these things do in Mexico, so I almost feel like I’m learning a new language to describe them all. Corn is neither elote nor maíz, but rather choclo. Chile isn’t chile, it is ají, and there are many different colors and intensities of spice used in the food. There is this natty bell pepper type thing called rocoto, it is spicy despite its innocently familiar look…

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Lima: The First Week

I’m not sure why I want to write to you, an imaginary public. I have not felt the urge to write out loud for a long time, since I was a kid, I think. For some reason, at the beginning of my second long foreign adventure of this year, I want to be witnessed again. Will you, the people who I imagine are reading or may read this account, do me the kindness of witnessing my words? Though nothing can ever really reassure us humans that we are being truly understood, I like the idea that we all constantly try. This journal will be my practice while here, my little piece of trying to be understood.

My stories might be about food, about eating and drinking. I won’t rule out politics, art viewing and making, socializing, reading or touristing, either. I can’t rule out loving, I won’t rule out negativity, but I will try to rule out dishonesty now, before starting.

So…I am in Lima, Peru right now, and it is almost five in the morning. I’m not sure why I am awake, but as I lay in bed I could not stop thinking about what I ate today (yesterday). Mostly, my body remembers the lime. I had a cebiche mixto for lunch, and the lime was the first and last thing I tasted. It had such a sweet zing, it made my whole body scrunch in pleasure. It cleaned my tongue for each almost translucent, delicately plump, utterly fresh piece of fish I put in my mouth. It brightened the flavor of the fish as it mellowed the bite of the purple onion liberally sprinkled all over my plate. It cut through the spice of the ají that I, Mexican that I am, mixed into the glorious cocktail of seafood before me. (Speaking of cocktails, the maracuyá, or passionfruit, sour made with fresh juice and pisco tasted deceptively healthy. One could probably drink a deeply unhealthy amount before noticing that it was in fact alcoholic.)

Alright, so the whole meal made me quite happy in the way that only new gastronomic delights can. The second course was the most flavorful sopa de mariscos (seafood soup) I’ve ever had. The broth was red and deep from the shrimp heads they used to make it, liberally dosed with cilantro and onions, and teeming with super fresh seafood: crab legs, scallops (on the shell!), calamaris, shrimps, octopus, cockels and white fish.

If that doesn’t sound delectable to you, then I think we should part company now.

…Just kidding. Maybe.