My favourite way to absorb a new culture is through its food and the Peruvians are proud of their food. Sharing a meal is an excuse to spend time to get to know another person, talking about how the food is made is always a conversation starter, and cooking together is the most fun of all!

Last week, Sara and Tabita came over for a work meeting that never did happen (because we’re still waiting for a package of materials from the US that is now two weeks over due and is being held in Lima – long story!), so they spent the afternoon teaching us how to cook papa a la huancaina (Huancayo potatoes). Potatoes are the staple food here in Peru. This Maria and I observed as soon as we arrived here and visited El Museo de La Nación (The Museum of the Nation) in Lima, which was undergoing major renovations and only had two exhibits open – one on the Shining Path and the other on potatoes. It seems common here for Peruvians to eat potatoes with rice as a meal. And speaking of carbs, I remember having lunch at a friend’s house a couple weeks ago and his sister made rice and quinoa for us! That’s like eating rice and rice!

Every morning, Maria and I drink mate de coca (coca tea). One can find coca leaves being sold everywhere in the markets and the Peruvians believe it to be a cure-all plant. For my uneasy stomach last week, for example? Apparently, more coca leaves steeped in hot water longer would make me feel better for sure. During our coca shops, Maria and I have also learned that we can ask for the better quality coca leaves to chew on (not that we do – although, I have to admit that I’ve tried it and it just tastes like leaf).

The dish I was most scared to try was cuy (guinea pig). If the idea already seems unappealing, imagine seeing dozens of live guinea pigs crawling over each other in mesh bags or cages everywhere in the streets. But when you’re in a small village and all the mothers want to show their appreciation for the work you’re doing with their infants by serving you their most prized piece of meat, there’s little you can do. The director of the infant nutrition program of Cáritas (Cesar) tells me it’s super healthy, rich in protein, with very little fat. So I had to try it. I held its little paw in my hand as I tried to scrape the meat off – it’s tough and chewy. They say that the skin is eaten too, but I couldn’t even chew it.

I’ve always considered myself a food junkie. The Food Network is the only channel I watch on TV and I love fine dining even though I don’t have critique-worthy taste buds – almost any kind of food or pastry or dessert or drink tastes lovely to me. But I’ve always known that I’ve been missing a huge part of the world of food – cooking! So I’ve been loving the past month that I’ve spent with Maria who lets me be her assistant. We’ve been making a lot of beans and soups; maybe I’ll perfect these by the end of the trip. As an aside, I was cutting potatoes for our carrot and potato soup yesterday when I accidentally cut a small piece of my thumb off. I put pressure on it for two hours, but it wouldn’t stop bleeding. Eventually, I chose the alcohol route so it would close up. Pain pain pain. My sister says this is why I should have taken cooking classes in high school. Haha!

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