Papi’s international cooking guide

Tomorrow is Mother’s Day in much of the world, that special day when we honor mothers everywhere by uploading the cutest picture of ourselves and our beloved at the most expensive restaurant in town. LOVE YOU MOM!!! XOXOXO :):)

If you’re old fashioned like me maybe you’d like to invite the family over to the house and cook. I’m no chef but I won’t go hungry either. On the other hand some of these modern mamacitas here in Peru can’t cook a hard boiled egg to save their lives! My problem is I’m set in my ways, there’s a few things I really like to cook and I’m pretty good at, a bunch more I’m OK at but I don’t venture too far outside of my comfort zone.

Then I thought, I’ve been around a bit, even if I’m no chef I can cook my favorite food and turn it into international cuisine using nothing but my travel experiences and a few extra ingredients:

1) Mexican food. An easy one for starters: cook your favorite food, add cheese and wrap in flour tortillas.

2) Oriental food: Cook your favorite food, add snow peas and soy sauce.

3) French haute cuisine: Cook your favorite food, reduce portions by 70%. Serve on a big fancy plate with a side of duck liver pâté. Also, charge 170€ per plate and feign indignation when the customer goes to McDonalds afterwards to fill their tummy.

4) Middle Eastern food: Cook your favorite food and serve in 20 similar but different sized stone pots. Add couscous. If you don’t have any mysterious Middle Eastern music to accompany your feast just play psychedelic tunes from the Stones or Led Zep, when your friends are sufficiently inebriated they won’t know the difference.

5) German food: Cook your favorite food, add beer and bratwurst.

6) Chilean food: Cook German food.

7) Peruvian food: Cook your favorite food, have a Pisco Sour for appetizer and serve with Inca Kola (the drink, not the blog) or chicha morada.

8) Colombian food: Cook anything not very yummie. Invite 50 of your best friends and/or total strangers to drink beer and aguardiente on the sidewalk in front of your house. Hire Afro-Colombian dance/music entertainment. Everybody will have the time of their lives and nobody will remember the not-so-great food. Am I right Colin?

9) Belgian food: Try cooking French “haute cuisine” but fail. Eat French Fries instead. Serve chocolates and pastries for desert and everything is forgiven.

10) Kenyan food: What little I remember, everything was good and even better with a Tusker or two.

11) Canadian Arctic: Whatever you do, don’t tell the bartender in Kuujjuaq that you’ve never eaten moose steak!

12) Greenland: I’ve never stayed long enough to eat anything other than airport food but that place is beautiful. I wish I had time and money to really go see it.

In all seriousness I’m very fortunate and grateful for the many places I’ve seen. I try to see the positives everywhere I go. The hospitality I’ve received everywhere has always been wonderful, even in places that you might think aren’t very nice if all you watch is English language news.

* * *

I wish in our modern world we would still respect and honor a mother just for being a mother. Dedicated to both my grandmothers, Mama Vicky, Brenda Rosenberry and all the other great mothers who aren’t here with us any more.

Souvenirs are overrated

I travel quite a bit and of course I have to bring home gifts from every trip I go on. Mamacita linda has even trained our 2-year old daughter to say “bring gifts” when she knows papi is ready to go on a trip. Most of the gifts I bring for our daughter get some use but the ones I get for mami usually end up collecting dust and taking up space:

  • The T-shirt I brought mami from Iceland 2 years ago? Worn once I think.
  • Necklace and earrings I bought in Cartagena? Never used.
  • The Big Ben souvenir mamacita asked me to bring from London? Stuffed in a file cabinet.
  • The cute pillow from Poland? Never used and haven’t seen it in forever.
  • The cute polar-bear hairclip I picked out at the souvenir store in Kuujjuaq, Nunavik? Mami looked at it once and said: “Cute, but you go to Canada and bring me back something made in the Philippenes??” Never been used.

I could go on. Clothes are always a bad idea. I buy something stylish and sexy and mamacita says “I can’t wear that here. It’s too cold in Cuzco to wear that.” I buy something comfy and mamacita says “Why do you buy me old lady clothes like that? Buy me something cute next time would you.”

Anyway, I’m writing this sitting in departure gate 19 of the Lima airport, waiting on a flight to Miami. I’m on my way to Kansas to pick up another new airplane from Cessna. The real reason I’m fussing and ranting about souvenirs right now is that souvenirs take up space in the airport where something useful could be, say something like FOOD!!! Airport food is never a great idea but in Lima the choices are really slim. For all the great food you can find in Peru the Lima airport is not a good place to go when you’re in a rush and haven’t eaten.

At the Lima airport there’s a food court with a McDonalds, Papa Johns and a few others. You can get a pretty good “pollo la brasa” at Manos Morenos but they give you like 6 french fries. There’s a Dunkin Donuts at the food court in the Lima airport and you can always tell the Cusquenos traveling home to Cuzco because you’ll see them carrying a dozen donuts through the Lima airport (there’s no Dunkin Donuts in Cuzco). I always feel like such a fool when other gringos in the airport stare at me walking through the airport with my Dunkin Donuts bag. They’re probably thinking something like “why would this fool come all the way down to Lima to buy a dozen donuts?”

At any rate, other than the food court there are few restaurants in the Lima airport. There are 2 restaurants in the international gate area, both ridiculously overpriced. Cheap Dutchman that I am I’ve never eaten at either of them. I just ponied up S/.26 (~$10) for a soda and sandwich at the 365 Deli by gate 19. Ten bucks for a sandwich that had like 2 slices of roast beef on it!

Peruvian food is great but forget Lima airport. The first thing I plan to do when I get to Wichita tomorrow is stuff my tummy with a big juicy steak 😉

Cooking in Peru

Much has been written about the many great foods of Peru, but let me give you some insight in the process of cooking, how that great yummie food ends up on our table.

Now my experiences are not representative of all of Peru. There is a world of difference between the elite in Miraflores who have beautiful grocery stores, cooks and maids, and the rural population who live of the land and cook on a fogon. I can only speak from my own experiences living in a middle-class area of Cusco.

What you need to know in order to grasp the concept of cooking in our neighborhood, is that there are many small stores and very few larger stores in Cusco. In our complex, there must be 6 or 8 of these 1-man or 1-woman stores, like the one in the picture below. Each store is about the size of a big pantry and serves maybe 2 or 3 apartment blocks.

One of the little stores in our neighborhood

One of the little stores in our neighborhood

Just for contrast, a little bit of background about the process of cooking in the other cultures I’ve lived in:

Cooking in Belgium:

Belgian people are super-efficient, in an old-fashioned, hard-working, German kind of way. In addition, for many in the graying population, the Depression and World War 2 are only a generation away, so their comfort level is to stock up a ton of food in their pantries, freezers, etc.

In my house, this is how we used to cook:

(1) Dad peels potatos — God knows Belgians eat a lot of potatos.
(2) Mom gets meat and vegetables out of pantry / fridge / freezer.
(3) 20 minutes later everyone’s at the table eating and another 20 minutes later the dishes are done.

Cooking in the US:

In the US people do everything big, not just in Texas. Twice a week I used to stop at the grocery store on the way back from work and spend $100 or more on groceries. I’d eat as much red meat in a week as I do now in 2 months. Seriously.

(1) Drive home, fire up the grill.
(2) Open bag of salad and put baking potato in Microwave.
(3) 15 minutes later dinner is ready.

Cooking in Peru:

Let’s take a typical weekday, lunch is the big meal. The cooking is usually done by mamacita or my suegra.

12:15 – Hey, it’s time to start cooking.

12:17 – I’m going to Señora Maria’s store. (see above).

12:22 – At the store, there are three or four other ladies from the neighborhood. Everyone talks, and talks for a while.

12:47 – I’m back from the store. Time to cut the vegetables.

12:57 – Holy guacamole, you realize you forgot to buy onions.

12:59 – You go back to Señora Maria’s store only to find out it is now closed, Señora Maria is also cooking. No problem, you go to another “store” 200 yards away.

13:05 – The lady at the other store has the new Avon / Esika / L’Ebel / Leonisa or whatever catalogue, so you check it out.

13:24 – Walking back to the house with your 2 cebollas, you run into your friend from “collegio” and talk for awhile.

13:48 – Back at the house you chop up the vegetables and potatos and throw them into the trusty pressure cooker along with some noodles. Soup will be ready soon.

13:50 – Don’t forget the rice. I think Peruvians eat more rice than Belgians eat potatos.

14:02 – Time to set the table.

14:04 – Yell at your ayudante (in our case, my sister in law). Helen, Heeeleen, Heeeeleeen.

14:12 – Tell Helen to go to “the store” and buy something to drink. Helen and my suegra then argue about what kind of soda to buy and how much money to spend.

14:15 – Food for the wawa (baby) is ready. Papi feeds the wawa.

14:26 – Table is set, Helen came back with soda, soup is served.

14:35 – “Segundo” or the main course is served.

15:50 – Table is cleaned and dishes are done.

Until tomorrow, then we do it all over again 🙂

Never tell a Peruvian 15 minutes

Peruvians are famous for their rather peculiar sense of timing. Peruvians are habitually late, they call it “la hora Peruana” or “the Peruvian hour”. Even for business meetings everyone is typically at least 20 minutes late.

That isn’t news in itself, I’ve written about this before. However, the other day I jinxed myself, I know better by now…

Since mamacita now works in the afternoons, I’ll try to cook dinner most days right around the time when she arrives home, around 8:30 or sometimes later. Now meals in any Latin culture are typically much later than in Western Europe or the US. We normally eat lunch between 2:30 and 3:30 in the afternoon, dinner is sometimes as late as 9:00 pm.

As I said, the other day I jinxed myself. I was cooking my famous lemon-pepper baked chicken with tortellini and alfredo sauce… Mira, que rico 😉

chicken with tortellini

Papi's famoso lemon-pepper chicken with tortellini and alfredo sauce

Just as I was getting the water for the tortellini to a boil, mamacita called to say she’d be a little late. I’m not the best cook and I usually wing it a bit when I’m cooking, but one thing I’m picky about is the time to cook the noodles. So as I was talking on the phone I just happened to have the box of noodles in my hand and looked at the “recommended cooking time” and said to mamacita:

… okay, hurry home, the food will be ready in 15 minutes exactly.
… okay, love you, bye.
… okay, love you, bye.

Just as soon as I hung up the phone it hit me. Because the “recommended cooking time” said 15 minutes I told Patricia 15 minutes.

You never tell a Peruvian 15 minutes

You can be assured 15 minutes will be at least 45 minutes on a real clock, and probably closer to an hour. If you want a Peruvian to do something in 15 minutes, you better use words like “hurry up”, “right now” or “2 minutes”. That’s not to be fussy or anything, that’s simply the Peruvian sense of timing.

So I turned down all the food as best as I could, but after about half an hour the little goose and I ate our dinner anyway, since it was after 9:00 already. About 45 minutes to an hour after the original 15-minute call, mommy did make it home and gobbled away the remaining noodles and chicken, which was sort of lukewarm but still yummie 😉

The man knows his food

I just have to chuckle every time I see this…

Picture of Alan Garcia

Posing with the president and a pig...

That would be Alan Garcia, current (and former) President of Peru, next to a huge pig – click on the pictures to see full size.

These pictures hang on the wall at a chicharonneria we go to in Saylla, a town just outside of Cusco known for “chicharron” or fried pig. I positively know there’s no pun intended. I’ve asked the owner (the lady in the picture with Alan Garcia), and there’s no special relation or political affiliation, they’re just proud that Mr. President frequents their restaurant.

Here’s a couple of closeups:

Alan Garcia and a huge pig

Picture of Alan Garcia

Regardless of how you feel about Peruvian President Alan Garcia and APRA politics, one thing is for sure: the man knows his food 🙂

Parrilla para 2

Occasionally we order a “parrilla para 2”, or “grill for 2” from the Tablon restaurant chain. There’s a ton of yummie food and in our case, it’s more like a “grill for 2-and-a-half”, plus leftovers. Goes great with a Cerveza Cusqueña or a glass of wine.

Parilla para 2 ... y medio

Parilla para 2 ... y medio

Now Cusco isn’t exactly Texas when it comes to steak. Instead of a 32oz T-bone, this “parilla” has a small steak, a pork chop, various types of sausage plus a bunch of food you wouldn’t typically see in the US: tongue, heart and some other pieces that I don’t quite recognize 😉

I don't know what most of it is either :)

I don't know what most of it is either 🙂

Peru is a poor country with only a small percentage of arable land due to the mountains, desert (coast) and jungle, so it is only natural that many types of food are standard fare. Here in the mountains we eat mostly chicken and pork, but I’ve also had goat, alpaca and of course “cuy” or guinea pig, a local specialty.

Weekend lunch

Nothing better than enjoying lunch outside under the Andean sun. One of our favorite trips is going out to Saylla for some chicharron (fried pork), as we did this past Saturday.

Enjoying lunch outdoors

Enjoying lunch outdoors

How cute is that?

How cute is that?

Playing on papi's favorite traditional blanket!

Playing on papi's favorite traditional blanket!

Relaxing after eating a big lunch

Relaxing after eating a big lunch

There must be 20 or more restaurants in Saylla, and practically all of them are “chicharronerias”, it’s what the little town is known for. If you drive further down the “Valley of the South” you can have cuy in Tipon or pata (duck) in Lucre. From Cusco you can take the local busses like we do, and there are also many tour operators who offer day-trips to the “Valley of the South”.

Plato Sol de Mayo

Patricia got hungry today, you know, nursing the baby and all…

Plato Sol de Mayo

Plato Sol de Mayo

We went to our favorite restaurant in Urubamba, “Sol de Mayo” and Patricia ordered their perennial house special, “Plato Sol de Mayo”. In case you can’t make out the details in the old cellphone picture, the plate consists of a salad with yummie white Andean cheese, a potato – which Peru claims to have invented – noodles, corn, chicken, beef, chicharron and cuy.

There are a lot of places where you can enjoy typical Andean food, but if you’re in Urubamba I highly recommend “Sol de Mayo”. It’s located only 3 blocks right behind the main bus terminal in Urubamba, it’s not overpriced or touristy, and you definitely won’t leave hungry!

Prevent brain loss – move to Cusco

A new study claims obese people have severe brain degeneration.

“A new study finds obese people have 8 percent less brain tissue than normal-weight individuals. Their brains look 16 years older than the brains of lean individuals, researchers said today. “

So why would living in Cusco make a difference? The report continues that…

“The main cause, experts say: bad diet, including an increased reliance on highly processed foods…”

In other words, if everything you eat has “high fructose corn syrup” in it, you might want to consider spending a few months in Cusco. Food here is fresh and delicious. Gringos in Cusco lose weight, lots of it.

Typical Andean food

Typical Andean food

Papa rellena

We are by no means experts when it comes to cooking typical Peruvian food, or comida criolla, but yesterday our papa rellenas actually came out looking good.

Homemade papa rellena

Homemade papa rellena

Papa rellenas are typical Peruvian food, served often at the local restaurants that offer daily specials known as “Menu”.

So how do you make papa rellena? Again, I’m no expert, but basically you make mashed potatos and roll them around some ground beef and vegetables like peas, carrots, peppers – all cooked and cut into small pieces, of course. Then you fry the rolled potato in a pan to make it crispy brown on the outside, yummie!!

Don’t try frying them in a deep fryer, just take my word for it 🙂