Tag: chinita

I thought it was about time to post another blog re: food in Huancayo. Every week or so, I spend time with R’s family living the true vida peruana sometimes helping to prepare delish comida (food, but doesn’t comida sound more exotic?), but usually contributing as the official taste-tester. Here, I have had many opportunities to develop my skill of enjoying and appreciating food whether it’s desayuno (breakfast), almuerzo (lunch), cena (dinner), or lonche (which sounds a lot like “lunch-y,” but is actually a Peruvian term referring to something like an “evening tea + snack.”) In the picture, I’m in San Carlos practicing skewering panchos (hot dogs) while R’s mom prepares the bloody anticuchos (cow hearts). Que rico! (Yum!)

Panchos y Anticuchos
I prepared the hot dogs and left the cow hearts for the rest of them.
Now that Maria’s over her month of tummy trouble that hit her hardcore upon arrival in Huancayo, she’s feeling good enough to get back into cooking (her usual refried beans – good thing we bought a blender) and experimenting with random tidbits we find in the mercado (market). A few weeks ago, we discovered how to take advantage of the booths in the mercado that are dedicated solely to condiments. These booths have huge bowls of liquids of different colours – creamy looking sauces, salsas, dark green yummy muck, mysterious spices, the works. All we have to do is tell the lady what we’re cooking with (e.g. pasta with spinach) and she mixes a whole bunch of the liquids together to make a unique homemade sauce just for us! Amazing eh?

Another discovery – the cheese in Concepción (a town just outside of Huancayo). Whenever we run out, we take the trip out just to buy the fresh cheese from the milk factory there. I always get the queso fresco (literally, “fresh cheese”), then María and I share the stronger queso andino (Andean cheese) or queso hollandés (Dutch cheese).

It’s also become a habit that one or both of us take the almost-daily trip to the panadería (bakery) just around the corner from our apartment to not only buy bread (petit pan for me, ciabatta for María) but also treat ourselves to a churro, which is nothing like the churros we know from Disneyland – these Peruvian churros are soft and filled with melted caramel. We always get them heated in the microwave there. I’m at the panadería so often that the ladies there know me by name and I always stop to chat with them a bit. I’m also good friends with the with the helado (ice cream) lady who I always wave to – even when I haven’t been buying many ice cream bars lately because the weather is getting a lot colder. Then there’s the esquina (corner) lady who sits at the corner of the street near our apartment – I always go to her when I have a craving for my favourite Peruvian chocolate bar, Sublime. “Hola mamita!” I always call out to her like a true peruana and she always replies, “Hola chinitaaa!

Speaking of being chinita (the little Chinese girl)… for those of you that were wondering, the visa-renewal-trip to Santiago, Chile was duber successful. Upon re-entry, I’m walking up to the Peruvian customs officer with my passport, forms, and officially signed documents stating that I’m a volunteer here so that I can get stamped for more than the 90 days they originally gave me, all shaking and nervous – and the first thing the officer says to me is the familiar, “Hola chinitaaa!” Of course you can stay in Peru for however long you want, he tells me in Spanish. So he stamps me for 183 days – 3 days more than what I hear they usually give Canadians. All for being small-eyed. =)

First Taste

You will not believe where I am and what I am currently doing. I am sitting in what I like to call my dream suite. I am on the sixth floor of what used to be a glamorous hotel, now converted into a less glamorous hostel yet still classic and filled with character. I am in the middle of downtown Santiago, Chile. But it seems like Europe and now I have a real taste of the way Europe has been described to me. The city as I’ve experienced it so far is incessantly busy, filled with pedestrians, lights, and action.

El Departamento de Ensueño
Santiago was a beautiful city and it all started in this suite.
I stand at my balcony, looking down into the grand Plaza de Armas and I see the sidewalk cafés where I can relax and watch the people traffic go by. I see an assembly of goths in their self-designated section of downtown, men playing chess in the gazebo, a crowd gathering around a street entertainer, and everyone else milling about. I still hear the random “chinita”, but also loud music, the deep and hollow bongs of the grandfather clock, and the chileño accent that i have such a difficult time understanding because they drop a lot of their S’s!

Oh, the chilenos… I have never seen so many different kinds of unique faces and of those, so many that have so much character, that spike the curiosity, that can tell a story with a single expression. If i had to base it on the people I’ve been observing – on these first impressions – I wouldn’t be able to describe to you a typical chileno. I can’t even begin to.

But really, I could and would prefer to stay here in my hostel for the rest of the long weekend and beyond. It’s like a honeymoon deluxe, beautifully decorated, lots of glass = lots of light, plants/greens for freshness, high ceilings, antique furniture, classic books on the shelf, a fully-functioning yet quaint kitchen. A lady comes in to lay out a buffet on the dining table every morning for breakfast just for the three of us (Mike, Maria, and I). When we arrived, there was toast, a variety of marmelades, various flavours of tea for every mood imaginable, eggs, fruits, milk.

Then there’s the private balcony that has the most amazing view of downtown Santiago – far enough up on the sixth floor to get the big picture, but close enough to the earth to be able to distinguish inidviduals chatting, kissing, hugging, waving, being. I could stand there on the balcony all day and just daydream. In fact, I could just be here in this hostel all day, curled up by one of the electric heaters and reading a classic. Or dragging an electric heater over to the computer and writing blog entries. Or taking a long, relaxing, and more importantly hot shower (the first time in months), staring up at the sky through the glass opening above.

I am so glad that I decided to travel.

Here, in Huancayo, I am La China (pronounced chee-na), the Chinese Girl. There is yet to be a day that I haven’t overheard others talking about me as China or Chinita. It is my new Peruvian identity. I later learn that this new recognition isn’t necessarily special treatment – any Peruvian with small eyes is called “chino” and for a relatively small city, they seem to have a lot of Chifas (Peruvian-style Chinese restaurants)! I’m kind of glad I’m not a novelty.

Desfile de Fiestas Patrias en el Mercado
The children from the daycare line up to parade through the market.
Maria and I have an apartment on the top floor of an office building in the middle of downtown – I like to think of it as a penthouse though it’s a little rough around the edges. It’s entirely furnished though the furniture is aging and mismatched, green carpet in one room, almost all of kitchen chairs have lost a spring, greasy gas stove. Every three showers (jumping in and out of scalding hot water) the fuse blows and it’s the old school kind of fuse that we have to screw in each time. My favourite part of the place is the huge terrace where we can soak up the sun, hang our laundry, and where I would do yoga if there weren’t school kids popping their heads out the windows in the building across the street. The place has character.

Huancayo is up in the Central Andes, over 3000m above sea level. I was expecting some altitude sickness, but had little difficulty adjusting – I feel winded every time I climb up the four flights of stairs to our penthouse, but that may be more a measure of my poor fitness. The air is polluted and the atmosphere is dry here – they don’t expect any rain until September at the earliest. It’s usually sunny and hot during the day and cold at night, but not much worse than fall in Vancouver. I can go out in shorts and a jacket, but people find that weird because they consider this their “winter.” There is real poverty everywhere I turn. Huancayo opened its first supermarket (e.g. a Walmart-like everything store) just last week; otherwise, the streets are mostly filled with little family-owned shops or street vendors on the sidewalks. I’ve been practicing my skill of dodging cars, people, and dogs as the sidewalks are small or non-existent and there is no such thing as a pedestrian crossing.

It’s day 3 in Huancayo and we already have practically a weeklong vacation. It’s Fiestas Patrias on Monday and the city basically shuts down for at least a week to celebrate Peru’s largest national holiday, its independence day. Viva el Peru!

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