International Potato Day – El Día Internacional de la Papa!

Just a short blog entry this time.  I had no intention of writing an article about this topic but then this morning while on f b I read an article by Vibe (an interesting news source) that made me really angry.  Check out Plant Pirates, article with video.  So here’s my recent engagement with potatoes. Happy belated International Potato Day!! (It was May 30th)

During this past week/weekend there were many events held throughout the country celebrating the potato!!  I can’t seem to recall such an event(s) happening wherever I have lived.  Of course it helps that the day is in May here so it works for the growing season. It would have to be celebrated much later in Canada if there was any hope of having anything to eat from that season.  I know potatoes keep well but fresh potatoes are best!!  I decided we would go to an event in the centre of Lima, in el Parque de la Expocision.  I had no idea what to expect but that didn’t matter since I just wanted to buy potatoes and perhaps participate in some taste testing?

It ended up being a lovely hot day which was a treat because since we have been back in Lima after our trip to Cusco, the weather has been typical dreary drizzly winter cool. Yuck – SAD here you come!! There were lots of folks about in the park, not necessarily for the potato event I am thinking since Limenos just love hanging out in the parks especially when the weather is good.

The area cordoned off for the event I would have to say was pretty non-descript.  Not much in terms of making it look festive.  There didn’t appear to be that many people considering the size of the area – there was a rather large empty middle area.  Perhaps it was the time of day, close to midday but before lunch which tends to be later here around 1ish.  Yes, there were many white marquises set up all along the borders where there were producers and sellers of potatoes from all regions of the country clearly labelled. I am not sure how many areas but at least 3 dozen plus.  A great variety for sure.  There were also some producers/sellers of area cheeses, bread, ham, honey, various grains e.g. quinoa, products made with potatoes like flour & tocosh, cama products, and some delish organic coffee.  I have to say I didn’t see any organic potatoes or with such a certification/labelling but I might have missed this. This doesn’t mean many weren’t grown using organic methods as much would have been.

I was like how am I to decide from where to buy some potatoes.  There was one marquis with displays of a variety of types of potatoes with labels. It was like a grandstand set up at a school’s outdoor sports field or indoor school gym, each bench having bowls of potatoes, but you couldn’t really get close to it so I only glanced as I walked past.  This needed to be much more interactive or engaging display, one you could walk around in.

I ended up looking for and finding and thus buying a mixed variety bag from Ancash since one of my colleagues had just returned from doing a training with the local organic producers in that area.  I also liked this stand since they had labels for each type of potato although not in the individual bags.  I also ended up buying another bag of potatoes of these kooky wrinkled fingerling type – see below

these being native potatoes.  Here they do not prewash their spuds for sale, except maybe at the grocery store (I don’t know since the only veg I buy at grocery stores are mushrooms – why would you buy your veg at these stores when there are local markets everywhere. Support your local businesses even if they aren’t organic).

Before I came to Peru, I had learned about the International Potato Center, known by its Spanish acronym CIP. I was excited about this discovery but then bummed since you can’t just visit the place, only as a school/study group.  From their website, “There are over 4,000 edible varieties of potato, mostly found in the Andes of South America. Potato is the third most important food crop in the world after rice and wheat in terms of human consumption. More than a billion people worldwide eat potato, and global total crop production exceeds 300 million metric tons.  Potato is a critical crop in terms of food security in the face of population growth and increased hunger rates. For example, China, the world’s biggest consumer of potatoes, expects that fully 50% of the increased food production it will need to meet demand in the next 20 years will come from potatoes.”

If I understand correctly, one reason they have so many varieties of potatoes is that different varieties grow at different altitudes.  They have what are called native potatoes and these are ones that have not been hybridized, they are the original potato varieties.  I have been told with these that if you boil them you have to be very careful since if they are overboiled by just a fraction then you simply have potato water as they seem to explode at a certain point.

We had to head to the bank at one point but returned to buy some more produce.  And then it was time for a bite to eat.  I had expected the prepared food stands to have a variety of types of potatoes on offer, at least in terms of means of preparation. Alas I was disappointed.  The only way you could get potato was with this one roasted pork/beef dish and it was boiled.  I was so in the mood for fries.  Bummer!! This was the 2nd time we, or rather Ross, had this dish of barbequed pork, roasted in this huge stainless steel metal contraption, the size of a large bathtub filled with coals, slow cooked I imagined, skin and all.  It is served with mainly red onion and lettuce salad (they only grow and eat red sweet onions here – just the custom from what I was told), ½ boiled potato, the meat and two sauces to choose from.  You could have cocktails made with potato alcohol. I sampled the papa pisco – so a pisco sour made with potato alcohol and the grape based pisco booze.  Not my cup of tea, so instead I had the camu camu juice, my fav juice at the moment, even better than guava.

I am truly astounded at the utter lack of diversity in potato production in North America.  We have corporate and agribusiness to ‘thank’ for that.  I have always hated MacDs’ French fries – what is the matter with people who want skinny salty sweet (yes they add sugar to their fries) pieces of something that barely has the texture of potato within the outer fried part.  Why do all fast food burgers joints have to have this type of imho shit pseudo potato fry?  I know I am in the minority but still, there is such a thing as niche marketing.  Check out “You’ll Never Eat McDonald’s French Fries Again After Watching This”  a clip from Michael Pollan, an author, activist, journalist, and professor of journalism at the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism.

Don’t get me wrong.  I do love fries. But I want big chunks surrounded by crispiness, like the Belgium style fries.  And with mayo please….  I used to like ketchup when I was a lot younger but for a few decades now I have to have my mayo or mayo based dipping sauces, a curry flavoured one is tasty.  That’s my Dutch heritage shining through and this makes me very happy.  It has been wonderful here not having to ask for mayo since this is the custom here, and you can also have a spicy pepper mayo based sauce as well.  Yum yum!!

So far this week, as we were low on food, I have fried up some potatoes twice and they were delish.  It was quite the job to clean them however since many aren’t of a smooth round variety and I am missing having a dishwashing brush.  There are beautiful colours, purple and pinks, and of course yellows and whites, and of course amazing shapes and sizes!  You can tell they didn’t use pesticides since there was plenty of evidence of those little worms that just love potatoes, easily enough cut out and with only a fraction of loss of product in the end.  Yum yum!!

Well I thought this was going to be a short blog entry.  Oh well when I get started writing…the academic in me.  Happy potato eating!

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2 Responses to International Potato Day – El Día Internacional de la Papa!

  1. Linda says:

    Thanks for the great potato post from ground zero! Spuds are under-rated for sure. I always think about the Acadian settlers who relied on the humble potato for survival – little else grew successfully, if I recall my grade 6 history lesson. The Acadians are up there in their creativity in potato cuisine…think rappie pie (rapure). A bizarre method of preparation, but the result is astonishing – “delish”!!

    Wish you could bring some of the unusual varieties back to NS – but my experience in moving potatoes across the border was unsuccessful…

    • wwolfvan says:

      Yes I would love to bring some potato varieties back to NS, however, a good article from Vice (Plant Pirates) would make me feel I was not doing the ethically right thing. There has to be a way to bring some but giving fair compensation, and of course not going into any big production, just local consumption. I am wondering about planting potatoes from seed though since this isn’t the common way. More research to do.

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