Peruvian Cooking 101

March madness, indeed. Throughout the past month, I’ve had a very hard time feeling grounded (not keeping up with the blog surely didn’t help) – between receiving college decisions and thinking about what direction my life is heading in the coming months, I’ve been feeling a little overwhelmed. But as I know well, there’s nothing better to keep: food.

This afternoon, I had a wonderful day with my host family and fellow housemates. Sundays are volunteers’ collective day off and the same goes for all the members of our host family. With that said, Sundays are more often than not, a grand day of rest and food and today was no exception.

Left to right: Allie, Hannah, Herald, Naomi

Left to right: Allie (back of her head), Hannah, Herald, Naomi

For those who don’t know, I live with the most amazing host family one could ever have the honor of living with. For the past seven months, Herald, Nancy and their son Andrés have invited me into their home and become really like a second family to me.

When Herald grew up, one of his family’s traditions was that they would eat ceviche together every Sunday for almuerzo (lunch). Ceviche is a specialty for the costal region of Peru and the juice of limón and aroma/flavor from ají amarillo make it especially distinct. This afternoon, all of us CEDED volunteers who are living in the house crowded into the kitchen to learn how to make the incredibly delicious dish.

Ceviche is a dish which is made by “cooking” seafood by marinating it in the juice rom citrus fruits i.e. lemon or lime juice. Depending on the type of seafood, the fish can be ready within five minutes, as was the type we made this afternoon. There are many different variations of ceviche, depending on geographical region and such. The ceviche we learned how to make today is a mix of fish, limón, garlic, cliantro, ground celery, pepper, ginger, ají amarillo and salt. After it marinates, it is placed on a lettuce leaf and accompanied by one or two slices of boiled sweet potato. We also had sides of white beans and a type of popcorn.

Needless to say, it was really amazing.

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Later that afternoon, we had a second round of Peruvian cooking 101, when Nancy showed us how to make a classic dish: arroz con pollo. Sadly, I do not have any pictures of it, although I wouldn’t say that pictures of food will be ending any time soon. Arroz con pollo is essentially what its name says: rice and chicken. However, the arroz con pollo that was made today is made by flavoring the rice and chicken with a flavorful base consisting of cilantro (it makes the rice green), onion, garlic, choclo (Peruvian corn), ají amarillo and peas (or other vegetables like carrots or bell peppers). The chicken is first cooked in the sauce of cilantro and spices and once ready, taken out so that the rice can cook in its flavorful broth. In the end, all of it is combined and then eaten and it’s really really great. The chicken is always incredibly moist and flavorful and with a little bit of ají and fresh cut onion, it’s pretty perfect. Arroz con pollo is probably my second favorite dish – first being lomo saltado, but that could be worthy of it’s own post.

Between our morning of learning how to make ceviche and afternoon lesson in all things arroz con pollo, it was a day filled with fun conversation and really good food. What was almost even better, was that between all the cooking and eating, I was also able to finally check some major things off of a myriad of my to-do lists (I have many different lists) and feel better about the basic organization of my life. (Always a good thing.)

All in all, today was the perfect way of helping me remember that in times of stress, spending time with friends and family can be the best remedy. But more importantly, food. Always.

To Trujillo and Back

While I have taken a multitude of day trips to different districts in Lima, up until earlier this week, I had not actually left the city. To be honest, this break was the first trip that resembled any sort of vacation that I’ve had in a long time and it was great to just travel. Although out of the people who I work with, I am by far the least traveled and sometimes it leaves me feeling a little green. For example, this trip included my first time going on a travel bus – both of them were night busses (not to be confused with the Knight Bus) and staying in a hostal. Nonetheless, the flip side of the situation is that I know that I’m surrounded by people who really know their stuff.

That knowledge was really helpful, because even though this little trip was pretty short, I think I might have been a little overwhelmed if I had done it alone. I still find it hard to believe that we did all that we did in the time that we had. Here’s a basic break down of the logistics:

  • Monday, 11:30 pm: Bus departed Lima
  • Tuesday, 9:00 am: Arrived in Trujillo
  • All the fun times in Huanchaco and Trujillo
  • Wednesday, 10:45 pm: Bus departed Trujillo
  • Thursday, 9:00 am: Arrived in Lima

So what does “All the fun times in Huanchaco and Trujillo” entail? Loads!

The hostal that we stayed in is located in a small beach town called Huanchaco, which is located outside of the central city of Trujillo. When we arrived, we were proper ready for some breakfast. We were served a questionable meal about thirty minutes after leaving Lima the night before and none of us ate much of what we were given (although the alfajore was palatable). Our hostal, MyFriend, had a pretty decent restaurant. The atmosphere was everything you would expect from a surf hostal. Where the walls weren’t covered by framed photos of swells, they were lined with surfboards. A combination of Latin American and beach time resulted in a very very relaxed pace of service, but all of us were too tired to really make anything of it. As if the surf hostal didn’t remind me of Santa Cruz enough, the resident surf instructor, Victor, (they offer full rentals of boards and gear to those who want to take lessons) was wearing a Santa Cruz skate boarding company t-shirt. Too much.

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The beach was about two blocks down the street from the hostal. In fact, there’s a clear shot view of the beach right outside of the hostal’s door. (I still regret not taking a picture of the view!) Although despite the fact that all we had done since arriving in Trujillo was recline on the beach and eat, we were all in for a good power nap. Simply put, Tuesday was tranquillo.

On Wednesday morning we visited the ruins of Chan Chan which are located about half way between Huanchaco and Trujillo. Visiting these ruins was much more enjoyable than the trip to the ruins of Pachacamac – the main reason being that it was incredible to be able to really walk around the palace ruins and semi-freely wander. Yolekha had been before so she provided us with a bit of a tour. Our trusty Lonely Planet guide book supplemented the tour with its ever present knowledge and occasional witty remark.

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Rookie move, I know.

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One of the most interesting parts of the trip was the visit to SKIP (Supporting Kids in Peru). One of the main reasons we went to Trujillo was to visit Yolekha because she’s just finishing up her time volunteering with SKIP. Fun facts: 1. Like Building Dignity, SKIP is an Omprakash Partner organization. 2. I almost volunteered with SKIP. We spent about an hour talking with volunteers and the organizations coordinators at the center about their programming and sharing our own work as well. It was a little surreal to be walking around SKIP’s classrooms and outdoor areas, because being a SKIP volunteer very well could have been what my life looked like. Nevertheless, the visit reinforced how grateful I feel to be involved with Building Dignity and the people that I have gotten to know over the past few months.

Before heading out for dinner and subsequently back to Lima, I got to meet a woman who is in the same Omprakash Volunteer Grant cycle as me! It was so cool to be able to network and meet another grant recipient and in general, someone that I only knew through email and reading responses to material we worked on in EdGE. I think that we may be the first grant recipients to have ever met in person. We very well couldn’t be the first, but I think that the idea sounds really nice.

You did good, Trujillo. Maybe I’ll pass through on my way to Ecuador…

The Scenic Route to Pachacamac

The plan was to go to Pachacamac, have lunch and come home. That happened, but also a lot more.

I learned about this opportunity to go to Pachacamac from Ana María about two weeks ago. She mentioned that her friend Oscar (or Fernando, I don’t know but there’s more to this and that’s for another day) was giving a tour to a group of school children for a field trip and that if I wanted, I could go with them. Roxana could come too and we wouldn’t even have to chaperone or anything. I thought why not and sure let’s do it! As the trip day got closer, I learned more about what this trip would entail, however, never could I have anticipated what actually happened.

Hannah, Roxana, Ana María’s sister, Amelia and me set out for our trip to Pachacamac at around 8 this morning. We met Oscar at the kids’ school and waited for them on the bus. I was hoping that we would just casually sit in the back and be able to do our own thing, but that did not happen. Once the kids arrived, got seated and we were ready to go (which is no easy feat), we were publicly acknowledged and as all of the kids turned in their seats to look at the “turístas”, I realized that we really didn’t know what we got ourselves into.

Our trip to Pachacamac was really quite the package deal. Not only did we go to the said destination, but also made a few pit stops along the way. We got off of the bus to see some cows (two times), a river bed and this sort of hauntingly beautiful hill top:

One of ten crosses that are located on this hill

The cross at the tip top is just one of ten that are located on this hill.

We made our way through the backroads of Villa El Salvador and through districts that I don’t know the name of and by lunch time we finally made it to places that said “Pachacamac” in their name in some context. That gave us hope, although we had yet to get to the ruins.

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We took a much needed break from the rambunctious group of kids and went to find lunch. Oscar helped us find this particular restaurant that was affordable and had vegetarian options. The food was pretty good as well! I am all about the lomo saltado/verdura saltado so that’s what I got.  It was delicious.

After a quick stop to look at more cows and almost have kids get run over while crossing the street, we finally made it to the ruins of Pachacamac.

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Emelia, Roxana, me, Hannah

The fact that this incredible archeological complex was just minutes away from where I live was surreal. (We went a very roundabout way with the kids, because it only took less than ten minutes to get back home on the bus.) Pachacamac was the most important religious site for the indigenous people of Peru’s costal region and dedicated to the god of the same name. There are more than a dozen pyramidal ruins, many dwellings and frescos. From the first indigenous people (said to have first occupied the site during 200 CE), to the Incas who so revered Pachacamac’s powerful religious standing to the point where they allowed Pachacamac to coexist with their own sun god, Inti, to Pizarro who crashed the party in classic conquistador fashion and left Pachacamac to be forgotten. But not for long (well sort of), because in the 19th century, archeologists began to excavate the site and the rest is history.

Getting to walk around Pachacamac definitely made up for all the random, often tiring little trips along the way. But before we could square this trip away and head back home, we were once again publicly acknowledged. This time we were applauded by the kids and their teachers (I like to think for enduring almost seven hours with 30 third graders and one bus) and many pictures were taken. It was sweet. One of my favorite moments was when the kids’ teacher had her student get out of his seat to take a picture of her sitting with all of us, all while the bus was steam rolling down the highway.

All in all, it was quite a day. I don’t think I’ll be signing up to tag along on another field trip like this one, but nevertheless, it was nothing short of memorable.

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Liquid Gold a.k.a. Yogurt

One of the hardest things about being vegan was the lack of yogurt – specifically greek yogurt.  Sure, there are the “non-dairy yogurt style” products, but if you have ever had those, you know quite well that those don’t cut it. Not even close. So for about two precious months, I shamelessly ate loads of greek yogurt. It was a quite a glorious time in my life, yes it was. Then I came to Peru and my greek-yogurt-centric life came to a sudden halt. There’s yogurt here, but unlike the sour cream consistency of yogurt in the US, it’s more like a beverage here in Peru.

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It’s like the liquidy part of kefir. It’s also very sweet. (Even the natural flavor is sweeter than the plain yogurt that’s in the US.) But nonetheless, there are a myriad of flavors, lactose-free and even soy. Another interesting factoid about this yogurt is that it’s shelf stable. This has enabled me to create a stock-pile of sorts, as you can see above. (I also have one in the refrigerator.) The only catch is that the woman who I buy my yogurt from doesn’t always have the same flavors all the time. It’s quite the struggle. My favorite is the Light Natural because it’s fat free and has no added sugar. This is probably because it is the closest thing that resembles greek yogurt. I also like the ActiBIO which is fat-free, sweetened with stevia and has flax seeds. Pretty fancy. Last night I went to the (assumedly only) supermarket that’s in Villa El Salvador for the first time and my yogurt dreams were fulfilled.

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This supermarket had an entire refrigerated isle devoted to yogurt. It was beautiful. I had never seen such a large selection and it was almost a little overwhelming. I quickly searched for the Light Natural, but they sadly did not have any. Instead, I found four other flavors of the Light variety and decided that the vanilla would be a pretty safe bet. It has been added to my stock pile and I am excited to try it. Much like the Light Natural, the bottle for Vainilla Francesa features a picture of a woman being…”light”?

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So that’s that for this Monday’s “Peruvian Food Monday”. There’s been a lot going on regarding non-food related activity, so I’ll be catching up on that stuff in the coming days.

Chinita on Chifa

(Let the first official Peruvian Food Monday commence!) 

China. Chinita. I have been addressed by either, from little kids to adults. But I really don’t mind. I know that there’s no malice behind the moniker, so there really isn’t a reason to be miffed or anything. (Although, I think it confuses people when I tell people that I am from the US but that I was born in China.) Before coming to Peru, I definitely thought about how great of a minority I would be, or the social perception of Asian people. During the research I did pre-departure, I learned that Asian people weren’t as much of a minority than I had anticipated. There’s even an Chinese food scene.

Around the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Chinese immigrants came to Peru and their culinary influence is still prominent in the country. The term used for this type of cuisine is “Chifa” and there are restaurants all over the place. In Villa El Salvador (assumedly in other places as well) there are these green and orange tents that dot the main thoroughfares and all of them cook Chifa. I’m not sure if they are organized in any sort of way, but there is one conveniently about twenty feet away from where I live. At first, I was sort of sketched out by these places because I didn’t want to get any sort of weird food poisoning. But every night that I would come home late from CEDED, the place was hoppin’. A place that’s consistently busy can’t be bad, right?

The first time Roxana and I went to this place, we both ordered the arroz chaufa aka fried rice. When the woman came with our plates, my mouth dropped and my eyes widened. The portion was gigantic. The plate wasn’t even that big, but somehow they managed to fill it with at least four cups of fried rice. It was a glorious mountain of rice with chicken, egg, peas, carrots, and green onion.  It was overwhelming but also really really fabulous. Because the entire plate cost 6 PEN (Peruvian Nuevo Soles), which is around 2 USD. It made awesome leftovers.

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So, that was my first experience at our neighborhood Chifa joint. Last night we decided to go again and we were ravenous. And rightfully so, because we had originally intended to go on Saturday night, but that night’s festivities lead to the cancellation of our Chifa dinner. The bad food from the night before also increased our need for Chifa tenfold.

This time, I ordered the “salvaje”. Essentially, it was arroz chaufa (portions just as big) but with noodles and vegetables added to the mix. I was very enthusiastic about the veggies: broccoli, bell pepper, snow peas (so fancy), cabbage, sprouts (not so into that). Reason being, I really love me some vegetables and the amount I’ve had while being here is significantly less than what I’m used to. I will take what I can get. And this was real good.

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See the salvaje. Taste the salvaje. (Just get a ticket to Lima.)

I am all about budget friendly meals that make for delicious leftovers and Chifa seems to fit the bill. Although, now I have established yet another dangerous food habit (e.g. the panadería across the street, coconut cookies at the Sunday flea market, the snack lady who sells virtually every nut known to man for my trail mix, the abundance of alfajor cookies that are everywhere). Oh, well. I say it’s community building. Yeah.