Tag: food

Sweet Fifteen

When I look at my schedule and think of all the occasions I attend, I feel a serious lack of special, formal, and large-scale events in Canada other than weddings. (Speaking of which, does that mean people who decide not to marry are just not special enough?) Here in Peru, above and beyond the seven sacraments of the Catholic Church, many young ladies commemorate their coming-of-age when they turn 15 years old at a quinceañera. It’s a major affair almost at par with her wedding day in terms of unreserved attention to the celebrant, recognition from family and friends, and nostalgic moments.

Saturday’s quinceañera was as grand as I imagined them to be. The hall was decorated like a dream – the flowery adornments, entranceway, tables, and chairs were all decked out in the night’s theme colours of cream and purple. We arrive at the location at 10pm. The invitation says to arrive at 9:30pm, but nothing starts until midnight. (Have I ever mentioned that Peruvians are notorious for arriving late? The two-and-a-half hour timeframe is to make sure that everyone arrives on time). So, what do we do for two hours? Eat and drink. Waiters continuously pass by each table with different hors d’oeuvres. As for drinks, each guest has four different sizes of glasses for different types of liquor – pisco sour to start off the night, champagne for the toast, wine for the dinner, and then beer for the dancing. There is no water glass.

During this time, the special lady is spending special moments with her special chosen partner for the night – typically a boyfriend if she has one or at least someone she has a crush on. There’s also a photo session that almost always includes photos on a decorated swing to commemorate her childhood. At midnight, they finally make their way over to the hall.

Traditionally, the star of the show is in a white gown and tiara and at midnight, slowly walks down spiral stairs for all to see. This star is too cool for that. She arrives on the back of a motorbike in a deep purple dress and the night begins. She takes her father’s arm and he walks her down the aisle where 15 of her friends, including the crush, line the way armed with a candle and a rose each. The father leads her to each friend, where she blows out the candle signifying each year of her life that has passed and receives a rose. Afterwards, the father and godfather of the night give teary speeches about how much she has grown and matured, and then the mother gives a toast for her daughter’s future. We reminisce with the family as we watch a slideshow presentation of her life, are treated to a waltz-like choreography by the friends, and enjoy a presentation from the star herself with two masked dancers to accompany her. Then, the rest of the night is all about dancing – a private area is darkened and set up like a club for the young people while the rest of the hall is taken up by the older people, and everyone dances away until dawn.

I spent this past weekend on a getaway trip to the big city – Lima. It takes around eight hours to get there by bus and can cost anywhere between 10 and 50 soles (~$4-20). Buses seem to be able to charge whatever they feel like whenever they feel like it, kind of like gas stations. I understand hiking up the prices during the holidays or special occasions, but we paid 30 soles last week for no apparent reason when we only paid 10 soles when I arrived in September. You arrive at the “landport” (terrapuerto as opposed to aeropuerto) in Huancayo and representatives from all the different bus companies try to sell you tickets to their bus for similar prices. They are mostly double-decker buses with the most expensive seats on the first level that completely recline into beds, and the cheaper seats on the second level.

Real Plaza en Jirón de la Unión
We have a version of Real Plaza in Huancayo too.
I’ve gotten so used to buildings no higher than five stories, walking everywhere, and regularly recognizing faces that the big city struck me as a little intimidating. There were museums, libraries, open-concept malls (because it rarely rains), massive parks and plazas, embassies, fine dining, familiar fast food, and even babolti (bubbletea)! It felt like a mini vacation, but this time we were set on integrating more than we had during other visits we’ve made – that is, we didn’t use a single taxi to get around town. Instead, we bought a map and spent more time walking and using public transit.

Babolti de Fresa en Lima
Being able to drink strawberry bubble tea again was one of the highlights of my trip to Lima!
The transit system can be really complicated. Thankfully, they just launched the new metropolitano – a rapid bus transit system that runs vertically through the city connecting northern and southern Lima. There’s a dedicated route for these accordion-style buses and you swipe rechargeable cards to board one. Pretty soon, they’re going to launch a new electric train that will run horizontally through the city connecting Lima and Callao (where the airport is). This is a huge relief to me because we’ve had problems getting to the airport the past couple of times – this year, they implemented a new procedure whereby taxi drivers are obligated to have special identification cards in order to enter the airport boundaries. Most taxi drivers didn’t bother with the bureaucracy so the closest they could leave us was just outside the airport, but it can be dangerous around that area especially in the late night hours (when flights to America usually fly out).

Outside the metropolitano path (i.e., getting to the rest of Lima), transit is based almost entirely on combis – minivan/buses that can seat around 20 people but fit at least 50 when everyone’s packed in like sardines. Destinations are painted on the sides of the vehicles and there is always a cobrador (collecter) – his/her job is to yell out destinations and routes, and collect money. Even though they’re often willing to give us more information, considering how we don’t know the streets of Lima very well, we never fully understand which combi to choose or where we’ll end up. Needless to say, we got to know a lot of Lima in a short amount of time hopping on and off combis and finally started seeing patterns and familiar places. A couple more trips and we’ll be Lima experts!

I arrived in Peru a couple weeks ago in the midst of all the hullaballoo for the elections that are happening today. Every available wall was painted or posted with names of candidates and depictions of the political party’s “symbol” – on the ballot, Peruvians mark an “X” on the symbol of the party (e.g., the shovel, the tree, the pencil, the Incan flag, the gourd, the map of Peru, the Incan cross, the happy face, etc.) “Who are you voting for?” people ask each other (yes, they actually ask each other this) and they respond with the symbols: “I’m voting for the tree for mayor and the happy face for regional president”.

This past week, there have been events every single day for each party’s “campaign closing fiesta” – central streets were closed in the middle of downtown and stages were set up for their rallies with concerts, presentations, giveaways and a lot of flag waving. Then, they get serious – sort of. No liquor is sold starting 48 hours before voting day. It’s a bit of a reunion because people travel all over Peru to vote in their respective towns (depending on whatever address is on their identification card, which usually hasn’t been updated since their last move).

There’s a festive vibe around each school where voting posts have been set up – temporary vendors set up their tarps and sell typical Peruvian meals. In and around the tarps are the queues to get into the school and the voting area. Every so often, someone staring off into space doesn’t move ahead on time and people run to keep their place in line or worse yet, it turns into a scramble. Only one guy’s around to keep order. The elderly, the disabled, and parents with babies can skip the line-up – when there are rules like these, there’s always someone who tries to take advantage. Apparently, someone was able to skip the line by painting fake wounds on his face.

Here, voting is mandatory. There is a fine if you don’t vote – ~CAD$56. Each voter dips their middle finger in dark purple paint that doesn’t come off for days – that way, they let you to exit the voting grounds, police don’t fine you and it also allows you to start buying liquor again. After all, why not have election day be another reason to celebrate?

Errands in New York

I have always said that I prefer living in another country rather than travelling through it. So, when I really am just travelling through, how do I get a taste of the “living” experience in such a short amount of time? What can I say if a friend asks: “Well, what do you want to do in New York?”

Please, let me run errands with you!

I spent a beautiful Saturday afternoon running errands with a friend on her lunch break. We walked through her neighbourhood (St. Mark’s – where there are a lot of Japanese restaurants and izakayas) to pick up her compost from her blue-themed apartment and slurped up really yummy frozen yogurt on our way. At Union Square, we stopped to chat with different friends of hers selling at the Green Market that takes up two sides of the large city block. One shared raspberries with us. The other was getting a lot of attention for recently supplying meat to Chelsea Clinton’s wedding. We dropped off the compost with the spiky-haired farmer lady with a thick Austrian accent (I imagine Austrian, but I may be making that up), then found that we still weren’t that hungry so we opted for fresh fruit popsicles (they call them “People’s Popsicles”) to hit the spot.

To top off our “lunch” experience, we dropped by Trader Joe’s (a popular supermarket) where I was amazed to see a line-up around the entire store. I cannot imagine how one shops when there is always a line-up of people in between you and the shelves of groceries. Instead of picking up the frozen strawberries my friend needed, we snatched free samples of sausage casserole to complete our “meal” and called it a lunch.

THE perfect New York experience. =)


I spent my Christmas and New Year’s Huancaino-style with my Peruvian family and the rest of my vacation days travelling across the country from the beaches on the coast to jungle of the rainforest.

First stop before Christmas – Lima. As winter and the rainy season began in Huancayo (and the rest of the sierra), it was nice to escape to the summer that was starting in Lima and the coast of Peru. I managed to fit in all things tourist-y in Peru’s capital in a week:

  1. We suntanned, climbed rock formations, hunted lizards, and jumped into the waves at a serene beach a few hours away from the big city – “The Sleeping Lion” they call it because of the shape of the rock castle that borders the sand.
  2. We shopped in downtown Lima, walking up and down the famous street “Jirón de La Unión” that reaches from the main plaza to the government’s palace, drinking cremoladas (slushies you can’t find in Huancayo) and purchasing all the manta bags in sight – I think I have a collection of over 7 purses now, haha! On the last day we were in Lima, we even caught the beginning of Peru’s yearly telethon at the government’s palace with all the country’s famous celebrities performing to raise money for needy children at Christmastime.
  3. I was denied at some hostels because I forgot my passport and they wouldn’t accept my BC driver’s license. =P
  4. I finally had some really good snacks and meals – soft cinnamon buns with extra melting cream, real chunky cookies, Tony Roma’s ribs, and sushi (all also non-existent in Huancayo – been feeling deprived =P).
  5. We visited Parque de Las Leyendas (Park of Legends), which was like a themed zoo. There were native animals from all corners of Peru and some not from here (my favourites were the sea lions =D).
  6. We also visited La Casa de Papá Noel (Santa Claus’ house) at the Parque de La Reserva where there are light and water shows in the evenings. Actually, it was more like we saw Santa Claus’ house from the outside because the line-up was 3 hours long.

Christmastime was very family-oriented and although the holidays make me sentimental and a little homesick, my Peruvian family made me feel so at home here in Huancayo. My Peruvian mommy cooked a special dinner of pork chop and chorizo then we opened presents at midnight of Christmas Eve – all the presents were set up in a circle and we rolled the dice to choose which present would be opened next.

On Christmas day, we were off to the rainforest to the towns of La Merced and Pichanaki. Most days we visited different swimming pools, chicken-fighting, trying to teach myself how to dive headfirst (a failure), and playing water polo. There was one afternoon we visited a pair of famous waterfalls – Bayoz and Velo de Novia (bride’s veil) – swimming underneath the falls themselves. On the way back to Huancayo, we visited some other tourist sites in the sierra including Huagapo (apparently, one of the deepest caves in the world). We didn’t walk in very far because I had sandals on, but what we did walk into was in complete darkness. Our guide used his flashlight so we could find our way, all of us holding hands, and so that we could see the bats and all the stalagmites and stalactites that have naturally formed themselves into interesting shapes (like a seated horse and a roaring lion).

New Year’s Eve was a fiasco. A whole bunch of relatives came over for a huge dinner and nonstop dancing (mostly huayno – music native to the sierra). The theme is all yellow, which is supposed to bring good luck – yellow “2009” glasses, yellow “Feliz Año” hats, yellow clothes, yellow underwear. Come midnight, there are a series of rituals that I wouldn’t have remembered if they weren’t all telling me what to do – yellow confetti is thrown, we greet each person at the party with a hug and “Feliz Año,” we put lentils in our wallets for prosperity, we eat 12 grapes and make a wish on each one of them, then of course – more dancing. I went to bed at the late hour of 1:30am and when I woke up at 9:30am that morning, the music was still pounding downstairs and people were still dancing!

Note re: living fungal parasite. So they were mites that caused the little bug bites all over my body every evening – I just had to use an anti-scabies cream then wash my sheets and all was well. As for the rash – I had a biopsy and from the lab results it was diagnosed as chronic discoid lupus (which, to me, actually sounds sorta cool). I’m waiting for the pictures of the lab results so that I can bring them to Canada and get a second opinion. The cream he prescribed for lupus didn’t make the rash any better and he’s suggesting a corticoid injection, which I would rather have done in Canada. =P

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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