Tag: cooking

My professor from Canada came to visit for a whirlwind week and packed in…

  • A 2-day conference on infant stimulation that we’ve been planning for months,
  • A full day of hardcore bulk shopping in the Sunday fair that spans more than 30 city blocks of the main street through Huancayo (mostly jewellery for her and millions of other trinkets that her son can sell back home),
  • And the rest of the week was spent conducting full days of research with babies and toddlers in San Pedro de Saño (a little town just outside of the big city).

Part of her assignment here was to conduct mid-internship Coady interviews individually with Maria and me. The question that had me thinking went something like this: “What skills have you learned from your internship that will benefit you in your future work?” Skills, skills, skills. The first skills that came to mind when I thought of what I’ve learned here in Huancayo had nothing to do with my internship. I thought of how I could now fill the kettle without it spilling in pitch darkness, notice the slight difference in sound when the water had started boiling, and how my internal clock knew when the 10 minutes of boiling time was up (to be sure the water was purified) because I do this every morning to make my coca tea. I thought of how I skilled I was at doing laundry by hand (well, sorta). I thought of how I learned to keep an apartment clean (because Maria made me, just kidding – sorta; she was the positive influence, that’s what I meant). And I’d like to say that I can now cook, but just the other day, I suggested we add mango pieces to our pasta dish and Maria said that it would never work. =P It is a skill that will take a much longer time for me to learn, I’m afraid.

In any case, I had to think twice to respond to the actual question. What skills had I learned? Not just any skill, but something that will benefit me in my future field? I’ve learned a heck of a lot about international development – which I didn’t even know existed prior to arriving in Nova Scotia for training – but to be honest, I’m not so sure I’ll be involved in this field in the future. It had to be something more abstract.

Then, it came to me. “Flexibility and patience,” I answered. It is a skill to be able to get along with people from other cultures, whether it’s the Dutch (there is the couple who started the NGO and the other two volunteers from the Netherlands) or the wide variety of Peruvians here (of different ages, ethnic backgrounds, and lifestyles). It’s about learning to accept differences, personal boundaries, and idiosyncrasies, taking everything in with an open attitude instead of succumbing to the natural temptation to judge. For me personally, it was also what I needed in order to learn the language – flexibility in the choice of words (because not every phrase can be translated literally) and patience with myself as I made a million mistakes.

As I thought of that, I realized that another skill I had developed (that I had wanted to develop) was the ability to laugh at myself. Recently, we (the interns in all the different corners of the world) were sent the letters we had written to ourselves at the beginning of everything, in July when we were still in Nova Scotia. I had written, “I hope you learn to laugh at yourself.” I think I had to lose the fear of embarrassing myself especially when you’re learning to speak a foreign language because it’s bound to happen that you’ll be telling someone, “Can I feel myself here?” (sentirme) instead of “Can I sit here?” (sentarme).

It seems to me that a fundamental issue many have once they start working full-time is that they stress out, take things personally, take things too seriously, and start thinking only about themselves and their dissatisfaction. This is when these skills will come into play in my future work: flexibility (letting things be as they are instead of always fitting things into a certain schedule or plan), patience (with myself as I know that I will inevitably make mistakes and I will be the most conscious of this if I ever find myself in a more senior position, with higher expectations of myself and more susceptible to being intolerant of my blunders), and the ability to laugh at myself (to keep relaxed in this way, living life light-heartedly so that I have a balanced relationship with myself, my co-workers, my family, and my friends).

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. =)


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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