As I have previously commented, we do our grocery shopping both at mercados (markets with lots of small stalls), and big grocery stores. There are 3 main grocery store chains, one company owning 2 of them – I am not going to name them since they don’t need the advertising, having taken business away from the local mercados and lots of small independent businesses. There are 2 around where we live and we do shop at each since they have different prices and different offerings although the bulk of stuff is the exact same thing. Of course we shop for the specials, called offertas here. I think because we live next to a wealthy neighbourhood, they have more western type foods but these are ridiculously expensive. We have also found a few small Chinese grocery stores but they tend to sell prepared foods, e.g. sauces & seasoning mixes which I do buy since we have very limited kitchen supplies of both food & utensils with which to cook.
The following is just a mish mash of observations about FOOD!! – a topic I absolutely adore.
Chocolate: N e s t l e clearly has a stranglehold here, this chocolate company being the worst, having no ethics to speak of when it comes to the practices used to grow and harvest the cocoa beans – think child sweat labour of the worst kind, profit being the only thing they care about. This is compared to Cadbury (update: Cadbury recently got bought out by another big evil food co – k r a f t and are refusing to follow fair trade organic procurement as Cadbury had done). I have these opinions since I had students in my course at Mount Alison University do a project on chocolate and so I learned a bit of the history of these two companies, and Cadbury had a more conscientious beginning which continues (or did) more or less today. One can find and purchase organic, fair trade chocolate bars & similar but the price is triple back home so guess what I only treat myself to this once in a blue moon.
Salt. We actually find they don’t use that much salt. Some exceptions are when you order fries which by the way are so much better here, when they do at times put copious amounts of salt on them. Otherwise I find potato chips and similar far less salty. I am enjoying the savoury flavoured plantain chips (don’t care for the sweet ones), and they are certainly not salty, not salty enough for Ross of course. It seems to be more common to have hot sauce as a restaurant would have salt & pepper.
Fast food: People do love their fast food here. One can find all the same fast food joints as in NA. And to think I thought I would never step foot in such places for the whole year because I had heard about the amazing food available in Lima, the current gastronomic capital of South America. Well I have already and just after one month. In a strange way it is at times a comfort food now. As Ross can attest to as can I the food even at the fast food joints tastes way better than back home. I had a donut at Dunkin Donuts and it was so much better in taste and texture compared to Tims back home. Ross has tried the MacDs and was shocked at how much better it was – the quality and taste of the meat – it was actually all meat, and of the bun and it was bigger. There is a fast food hamburger chain here that I was not familiar with, Bembos, which has a veggie burger at only some outlets as I found out, and it was alright. Have yet to do a subway although sandwiches are so common as a food item, mainly ham and/or cheese on white bread, so why bother. Of course there are the various pizza joints and chicken places – chicken more on that later. What is different is that for the most part you can get most of this delivered to your home usually via motorcycles – not a bad service.
Bread: White bread – let me count the many ways you can prepare white bread in buns – different shapes and sizes, different textures, different quantities of sweet, different ways of preparing it, e.g. what they call arabe bread what we call pita for example. There are panaderias – bakeries – but they are not common (alas not that close to where we live or rather just not in the direction where we would regularly go). They are not found at the mercados for some reason which is a bummer – perhaps they were years ago? I have learned that in some neighbourhoods including where we live there are the bread ladies and their tricycle carts which travel around the area in the early morning sounding their horns so that folks can get their fresh daily break allotment. The bread area of the grocery store has many different varieties, all freshly made on a daily basis. I am still not sick of having chocolate croissants – outstanding here since there is just so much chocolate in them and of a good taste, not like the pain au chocolat which have these two tiny slivers of chocolate in them. However, much of the breads are of the wonderbread variety so just lots of air – I have never had a baguette that was more air than actual bread ingredients – yuck!. Some of the denser white buns are unfortunately sweeter. Thankfully they do have multigrain bread, what they call here integral – say it like in French, which is their brown/whole wheat/multigrain breads. However some of it looks just like wonderbread, while some of it is artisanal and quite good. Some varieties were very sweet as I noticed with many of the white breads elsewhere. Peruvians love their sweets from what I understand – and of course they have an obesity problem but sugary drinks are the biggest culprit of this.
Yogurt: Essentially all the yogurt here is of the liquid variety which I so don’t care for but if you want it you eat it that way. Fortunately there is one variety that is very thick and sold in those old milk bottles. The firm yogurt is sold as a greek style and is very expensive comparatively speaking so I don’t imbibe. It turns out they eat their cereal with yogurt instead of milk – again sorry but yuck, well not that yuck but just not my cuppa tea.
Fruit: We are big papaya fans and so we have had plenty of this, as well as fresh pineapple. I have tried a few other types of fruit. A sweet oval tomato called Peruvian aguaymanto (ground cherries) the size of quail eggs which have a thick skin and so because of this I am not a fan. There are varieties of passion fruit which are alright, and one other with this beautiful magenta flesh colour but filled with seeds. This oddly enough is called tuna otherwise known as cactus fruit or prickly pear (I think we would be familiar with this plant). I have discovered a new delicious Amazonian rainforest fruit called camu camu which is consumed in juice form. I haven’t actually seen the fruit itself (update – I have now at la Parada Mercado) but have tasted the juice and it is awesome with a very lovely deep pink colour. Ross & I are just not big fruit fans. I have a problem with seeds, thick skins and pulp – the texture is a total turn off for me. I know not particularly healthy am I but I make up for it with my love of vegetables.
Juice & other drinks: All over the city are street vendors selling fresh fruit and freshly squeezed fruit juices e.g. orange, watermelon and pineapple, but they are warm (maybe they add some cold water but I don’t see any refrigeration, only fresh fruit). I have not indulged in this since I am not a fan of un-refrigerated fruit and especially juice. I find it strange that I don’t like really cold drinks in Canada, always asking for my water without ice in restaurants, but now that I am here I so covet cold drinks. And the thought of fresh luke warm juice totally turns me off. Obviously this is a heat thing. I am seriously considering picking up a blender so we can make our own juices with fresh fruit since there is so much available for good prices. Perhaps in the winter I will try it as the weather cools. It is great of course that is it available. I have learned that folks used to consume lots of fruit in the form of home made juice but this custom has waned with the advent of all the sugary pop drinks, namely Inka Cola (which I have to say I like since to me it tastes like cream soda but others say it tastes like bubble gum!) and coca cola of course being the two favorites, and then the other usual ones like fanta & sprite. You can buy 2.5, 3 and 4 liter pop bottles. This is mainly the younger generation drinking pop instead of fresh juices and water. I gather there was a cholera and salmonella outbreak in the early 1990s and so most folks now either have bottled water if they can afford it or else they boil their water (which I thought would cost more but the cost of natural gas which is what they use for cooking is cheap relatively speaking).
Obesity: One of the Suco volunteers, Amelie, a nutritionist, is working on a project to do with nutrition. In her initial research she learned that Peru’s stats pertaining to obesity are pretty abysmal along the lines of the U.S.. I do find they like their sweets, although not sweets I care for for the most part. I do love a good alfajore although this is originally a treat from Argentina (like an oreo cookie although larger or smaller, the two cookies being a shortbread and filling is caramel – dulce de leche or manjarblanco). I have tasted melt in your mouth alfajores – just to die for. Then there are the orejitas otherwise known as butterfly pastry cookies and some other word I can’t remember at the moment – something from my childhood.
Japanese/Chinese: We finally tried our local Japanese restaurant, just a ½ block from our apartment. We had planned to go there sometime but our cooking gas ran out just as I was starting to cook dinner so we needed to eat out. Side note: so there is no piped in gas, you get gas in a tank the size like in RVs, you initially pay a deposit and for one full tank and then call then it is empty and within a few hours you get a replacement. Ross has some photos of the folks who deliver the gas either by bicycle or small motorcycles or 3 wheeled carts. It is pretty impressive to see a bicycle with 3 tanks on the back. The menu was essentially illegible but not because it was in Spanish rather the menu items were in Japanese so I only recognized some items like soba & udon noodles, & maki. I had a temporary brain fart when I asked the owner/cook when did he or his family come to Peru, completely forgetting about the Fujimori empire/legacy. It is strange I think that there are gazillion chinese or chifa restaurants here and so few Japanese ones. Well the food was good and authentic, just not cheap but then Japanese food is never cheap but that’s why it is better. There are gazillion Chinese restaurants here called Chifa restaurants. Alas the Chinese food here is of the westernized variety and a fusion of Chinese and Peruvian for the most part which was disappointing for Ross since he so loves authentic Chinese food. These restaurants are the few places I can get tofu instead of meat but I have to say the tofu is very boring, not marinated or deep fried – the way I love it best. I have been told there are actual authentic Chinese restaurants, we just have to find them.
Menus – already talked about this in a previous post – remember the cheap lunch menus.
Fish: Are fish eating experiences have been few. We of course were going to try the famous ceviche – raw fish marinated in lots of lemon and other seasonings. Alas our one experience was when we were somewhat ill and haven’t tried it since – yet. In the Paracas post I describe our fish meal experience. I am a big crab, shrimp, crayfish fan but these just aren’t as popular compared to other stuff I think. When we head to Cusco we will try river crayfish which are supposed to be enormous, (and of course Ross will try cuy – guinea pig – I will pass on this since it is usually served whole – not at all appetizing to say the least. More on this after our trip in May.
Snacky things: I am finding that all the crackers & cookies that are available in the grocery stores here are so incredibly dry. I am trying several different savory crackers for more or less healthy snacks while at work (there are several varieties of what could be called crackers of whole grains, e.g. sesame seeds) of which there isn’t that much variety really which is fine, but they are incredibly dry and must be consumed with some dip or similar. Soda crackers are big here which I have not yet tried, but it is common to eat these with the super popular common national dish of ceviche (raw fish of various sorts marinated in lime juices).
Meats: From Ross and less so from myself the meat here is far superior to what one finds in NA. The chicken is divine – so utterly tender and tasty. Even the free range chicken that you get from many folks who raise meat kings in Nova Scotia where you pay 3 to 4 times more for doesn’t come close at all. I can only surmise that it is the food they consume since the bulk of chicken are raised in factory farms (see again post on Paracas for some comments on this and one photo of such a farm). There are gazillion chicken restaurants, there being different ways the chicken is cooked and seasoned. I am absolutely astounded at the quantity of chicken eaten in this city (don’t know if this is the same in the rest of the country – will find out soon enough). I can’t help but feel that if you are born a chicken well I pity you since your life will be so short and mostly horrific. Millions of chickens are consumed each day – each day, not each month or each year. When you go to the mercados which is the only way I will buy/eat chicken – I know I am a hypocrite but I try to eat only meat at home so that I have some idea of where the chicken came from – you see the whole thing – head, feet, guts, hanging in a row. You can get any or all parts. I have yet to find free range chicken but will make the extra effort to find it. We are for the most part not consuming pig/pork since we have tons of it at home, so that leaves beef. Again it just tastes so much better – according to Ross (I do eat a bit but only small morsels). I have yet to see any quantity of livestock besides the chicken farms.
Miscellaneous: I know that even when consuming the same product in different parts of the world, the taste of said good may be slightly modified to cater to the country’s culinary palate. So for example, ritz cheese crackers here may taste somewhat different from those sold in Canada which might be different from those sold in the U.S.. I also realize that we are living in a desert so in the production processes there could be factors at work simply in the air of said factories, e.g. the humidity level of the air, which could impact the product when packaged. As you might know, all crackers and cookies are 1st packed in small packages and then in a larger package for sale – probably a double protection to guard against moisture impact. It seems there is a dual problem of high humidity and dry desert air – sort of a weird combo in Lima and this is where the majority of the production takes place, only a smaller portion coming from other South American countries or beyond. I also know that one has to be constantly hydrating oneself because of the heat. I sometimes wonder how much does this impact my own palate. I now have a familiar taste and feel in my mouth when I know I am dehydrated although I don’t feel thirsty. It is a pastiness with a slight off taste. Update – this does seem to have changed now that we are in a season of transition – technically fall but not of the kind we would be familiar with e.g. no leaves falling off trees – so from summer to winter.
Just as I was about to post this I couldn’t help but notice that I spoke about certain food items but not others. I guess this has to do with the fact that I like certain food items and so explore these when I come to a new place but I have missed some items. For example, I haven’t spoken about vegetables, coffee, so this will have to come into a part 2. And we will have new food experiences as we begin to travel in the country. So stay tuned.
¡Buen provecho! Salud! as you savour and give thanks for the food and drink you are consuming.