Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Comida Fresca

All of the food in Peru is much fresher than what I ever eat in the United States. The juices are made from pure fruit, including mango, papaya, pineapple, and passionfruit. The vegetables too are very fresh and make the most incredible soups. During one of our final group meals, we went to a gourmet burger place called Papacho’s. I had already been there twice. The first time I ordered a seemingly simple fried chicken salad and was surprised when it came with mango slices, apples, tomatoes, cucumbers, and other ingredients along with a generous portion of chicken strips. The second time, I ordered the Cusco burger which came with onions and avocados and some sauces that I can’t pronounce. The last time, I was kinda craving some American junk food, so I decided to go for some hot wings – “covered with the Amazon’s most sinful flavors”. Imagine my surprise when the waiter brought out a bowl of wings covered with onions, tomatoes, and mango salsa among other things. The wings were good, slightly spicy, but I was just really surprised by the incorporation of fresh fruit and vegetables. To me, hot wings are the antithesis of anything that could be considered healthy (except for the celery sticks, which I don’t eat). Even the junk food here has to have a taste of freshness. The incorporation of fresh fruit and vegetables also is surprising to me just because of Cusco’s location in the mountain. Even the Mercado de San Pedro has an enormous selection of fruits and vegetables. I guess we have the Incans and their terraces to thank for that. 

Whose Space?

One thing tourists are sure to note upon arriving in Peru is the lack of personal space. The streets are noisy, filled with honking and no apparent driving laws. (We had more than a few close calls on our bus rides). Even when walking, there is no such thing as personal space, as I learned when I nearly got ran over by a passionate cyclist. I had to look back and ask my group if I was in the way, or if he just didn’t care. (I wasn’t; he didn’t.) It’s almost as if it‘s more polite to just make it a really close call than to ask for some space, and words like “permiso” o “perdon” are rarely heard in the streets.

Even in our various shopping and dining locations, I noticed, at La Quinta for example, that people would rather slide their way around you than ask you to take two steps out of their way. After a few days, I got used to it, and it became more convenient for me, too, to just snake my way around people and cars than to expect some type of discourse. However, as we settled in at Casa Elena, it struck me that our American sense of possession of space still very much lingered with us. We are a large group of 15, easily the largest group in all of the places where we have dined. However, one day, a group from Appalachian State University also checked into the hotel and decided to have lunch at the same time as us. The dining room was crowded, and as Alejandra walked in (later than the rest of us), I shared the sense of surprise and dread clearly painted on her face. After a few minutes of eating and whispering about the new group, I thought again about how little importance personal space is to Peruvians. How could we possibly feel any sort of way about another group eating at the same time as us? It was as if we felt they were invading, when in reality, they were just here for a meal and a bed like the rest of us. Who are we to lay claim to this dining area as “our” space? What is personal space? You can’t own space, or air, especially when you’re just another tourist. Being in Peru has made me appreciate the casual ways of jaywalking and made me more open to sharing “my” space with the people around me.

Serenity in Simplicity

One of the most striking things the modern tourist would note during a trip to Maras is how simple the lifestyles seem. There is the impression that people don’t worry about much. During our stay, we stayed with a few peasant families. They only have running water at certain times of day, and we weren’t expecting them to have any electricity (which they did, surprisingly). The toilets don’t flush, so you have to use a pitcher of water to force a gravitational flush. Yet they seemed so happy. Happy to have us in their homes, and happy with themselves.

We saw a girl sitting with her brother on the sidewalk outside one of the homes. They were dirty and eating a popsicle. At first the boy was walking, just minding his business, and then he started crying. {I think our “Holas” and weird accents scared him). His sister picked him up and hugged him until he stopped crying, but in order to do so, she had to put her cookies on the ground. (Cue Jiayi having a heart attack about the germs). Then when he decided he didn’t want any more of the popsicle, he just got up and walked away. The sister didn’t try to stop him or follow him or anything, and it occurred to me that she didn’t have to. This town was far away from the big city problems of hustle bustle and danger that we call progress.

The simplicity of life here also struck me with the housework we did. When Alanna and I didn’t want to hike back to Maras, Profe called one of the men to give us a ride back, and in exchange, he asked that we helped his mother with some things around the kitchen. We sweetened some chicha morada and placed silverware and tablecloths. They also asked us to do other simple tasks, like peeling peas and lima beans for the girls, and fetching firewood for the boys. It was such an old-fashioned thing to be doing, but it was also oddly relaxing to focus on a simple task that had tangible results of sustenance. This is their life, simply doing the day’s work.

Give the Andes a Chance

During our weekend excursion to Maras, we hiked to the nearby town of Moray. It was about an hour and a half long hike (according to our guide, I wasn’t keeping track). During the walk, we all broke out our headphones and started listening to our various playlists, occasionally talking to each other or pausing to take photos. I was listening to Chance the Rapper, for the 378th time since he released Coloring Book on May 12th. I’m obsessed with it. Ob. Sessed. (I listened to it on the flight from Lima to Cusco, and I cried. That’s how good it is.)
Unlike literally everyone else in our group, I am not even close to being in shape. At all. (I don’t know why I chose this trip, tbh). Just to give you an idea, our Peru crew is comprised of the mountaineer Shapiro, the adventurous sorority girls, and everyone else who either played sports in high school or is just really outdoorsy.

So anyway, here’s fat little me, about to go on this hour and half long hike. It’s cool; everything is good. I’m just blasting Chance in my headphones looking at these incredible views. His album has several gospel-themed songs, so looking at the views with his music in the background really made me marvel at God’s handiwork.  This was Profe’s first year doing this hike, so none of us knew what to expect. Thankfully, it was pretty easy and straightforward – not too rocky or uneven. Then there was this hill. It seemed like it just kept going and going, but I just kept listening to Chance and climbed up it anyway. (I did make a few unhappy snapchats: “Climb the mountain, they said. It’ll be fun, they said” with some pretty lively emojis.) I was at the back, with Profe and Alejandra, and the rest of the group was so far ahead, I couldn’t even see them. Our guide had decided to wait for us, I guess, because after we climbed the hill, he was standing alone with his dog.

He comes up to me, pink-faced and out of breath, and asks if I’m okay. Then he asks me what I’m listening to. I was kinda confused as to why he would care and what he would know about our music anyway, but I answered “Hip hop”. He smiled and nodded enthusiastically and asked if he could listen too. I hand him one of the headphones, and we walk to meet the rest of the group, just jamming to Chance. That’s the cool thing about music; you don’t have to understand it. You just have to feel it. In those moments walking with Amilca and imagining myself in his shoes, I understood the purpose of this trip and cross-cultural education. It’s the willingness to listen, understand, and take part in something you know nothing about that makes this Maymester and these people different from other university classes. 

Immersed in Quechua

During one of our excursions, we stayed overnight in the town of Maras with some local peasant families. They were very nice and welcoming and eager to have us participate in local customs. Our festivities started with an explanation of how to make chicha morada and a few people petting guinea pigs. Afterwards, the women dressed most of the group in traditional wear: hats, shirts, skirts and all. Other members of the group got instruments to play while the costumed group danced with one another. I was more than hesitant to participate, and went to hide and observe from the balcony with Alejandra. Amilca found me and convinced me to come downstairs where I, too, grabbed an instrument. Soon we were all laughing and dancing and chasing each other around with bull horns.
After a few preparations and some group bonfire bonding, the women decided to perform a play for us. To our surprise, it was all in Quechua. Ever. Single. Word. The play was very heavily dialogue-based, so much of it went right over my head. The women did, however, put a lot of effort into their gestures. When she was carrying a piece of corn, they were so dramatic that I actually started to wonder if it really was just corn. We could tell that the play was some story about San Francisco, but that was about it. Those moments, trying to figure out what was going on and why she was slapping the donkey, were easily the most immersive of our trip. The entire visit was unlike anything I have ever witnessed. Our weekend visits like this were easily filled with much more learning than any of our classroom settings, and the type of hands-on, immersive learning we’ve experienced on this trip can’t be replicated in a typical Spanish class.

Incredible First Impressions

Within the first week of our trip, we did several fun activities travelling around different Peruvian cities. One thing we did was visit the desert to go sandboarding and ride the dunes. While there, we saw an oasis. The oasis completely fascinated and confounded me. Looking at the lake in the middle of the desert was like having a lucid dream. I couldn’t believe it was real. I had never seen a desert before, and when we first entered the dunes, I noticed a few trees growing in the sand. I was already surprised by that, nut seeing so much water in the middle of a real desert was out of this world for me. I had to go up to the water and let it run through my fingers, and even then it was incredible. The guide told us a legend about a woman who was bathing and looking at herself in the mirror. Suddenly in the reflection, she saw a thief who was about to rob her, so she transformed into the water, and her robe/towel, blown by the wind transformed into the dunes. It was a cool story, even though I’m not putting it quite as eloquently, and if I had been among the ancient people who lived there, I definitely would have believed it. Even now, with a pretty solid understanding of modern science, this oasis was inexplicable.

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Update on my Empanada Search

After a couple days of craving empanadas and having nowhere to buy them, I decided to make them myself. I figured it couldn’t be too hard and I could freeze the rest. I went for a classic meat empanada, and the entire process took a couple of hours. After taste testing, of course they weren’t quite as spectacular as Valeriana’s but they were very tasty, and family approved.

Here is the recipe I (kind of) followed, courtesy of foodnetwork.com (I doubled this to make leftovers to freeze)

Empanada Dough
3 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for the work surface
1 tablespoon baking powder
2 teaspoons sugar
Pinch salt
1/2 cup lard or shortening
1 egg
3/4 cup chicken stock

Empanada Filling:
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 pound ground beef
1 tablespoon garlic salt
2 tablespoons tomato paste
2 tablespoons vinegar
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon chili powder
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon seasoned salt
5 cloves garlic, minced
1 green bell pepper, chopped
1 red bell pepper, chopped
1 medium onion, chopped
Oil or shortening, for frying

For the empanada dough: Combine the flour, baking powder, sugar and salt in a large bowl. Cut in the lard with a pastry blender or 2 knives until the mixture resembles coarse cornmeal.
In a separate bowl, beat the egg and then whisk in the stock. Add the egg mixture to the flour mixture and knead until a dough forms. Cover and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, for the empanada filling: In a large nonstick skillet, heat 1 tablespoon olive oil over medium heat. Add the ground beef and garlic salt and cook until the beef is cooked completely. Drain the grease and set the beef aside.
In the same pan, heat the remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil. Add the tomato paste, vinegar, cumin, chili powder, oregano, seasoned salt, garlic, bell peppers and onions. Cook until softened, 8 to 10 minutes. Add the beef and let them love each other with fire over low heat for about 5 more minutes. The mixture should be moist but not dripping wet. Now you are ready to fill the empanadas.
Lightly flour a work surface and roll out the dough to 1/4 inch thick. Cut out 4-, 5- or 6-inch rounds, depending on how large you prefer. Add some meat filling to each empanada and fold the dough over in half to enclose the filling. Use a fork to press and seal the edges closed. You can refrigerate the uncooked empanadas for up to 3 hours.

Heat the oil in a deep fryer to 350 degrees F. Fry the empanadas until golden brown, 6 to 7 minutes.

Transitioning back to the US

It’s hard to believe that this maymester has come to an end. Peru has been an incredible experience. I have learned so much and made memories that will last a lifetime. After a month of living in a foreign country, there are a few things I will have to get used to back in the US. First is having to drive. I admit that I am not a great driver, so it was nice not to have to worry about getting myself places while in Peru. Everywhere we wanted to go to around town we could walk to, and everywhere else we were taken in a bus, train, or airplane. Now, I can’t just walk down the street to buy some oreos – I have to get in my car and drive 7 minutes to the grocery store. What an inconvenience. Another big one is the water. It was weird to wake up this morning and be able to use the sink water to brush my teeth without thinking twice. Whenever I am thirsty, I can just walk over to my sink and grab a cup of water. I no longer have to worry about only drinking out of bottles. Also – restaurants. I can order water FOR FREE! It is also weird getting back into the habit of putting toilet paper in the toilet instead of in a trashcan. And not having to bring my own toilet paper and/or hand sanitizer to the bathroom. It’s nice to not have to think about. Another thing is the money! In Peru, I look at a menu and see 15 and think, oh that’s a nice cheap price. Here, I see 15 and I have to realize that it’s more expensive that I think it is. I can’t eat out every night like in Perú, so I have to get back into the habit of cooking myself meals. Overall, there is a lot I will miss about Peru but also a lot I am excited to have back in the US.

Farewell My Kushka…fe

I didn’t have the habit of studying in a Café but in order to avoid the slow and unstable Internet connection in Casa Elena, our whole room migrated across the street and found a new base area for our daily activities, which was the small but sweet Kushka…fe. Although the time we spent in Kushkafe was short, we managed to make friends with the waiters and waitresses who were interesting and nice people.

Alexandra was the first to make friends with them. After talking to the waiters and waitresses, she soon got to know them by name. When Jiayi, Sydney and I ran into Alexandra in Kushkafe for the first time, she immediately introduced us to her new friends and told them that we all spoke Spanish. From then on, we came here more and more often, sometimes on a daily basis, and started to make friends with the staff there ourselves. I had listened to the Argentinian waiter talking about their his first day of work; I had witnessed one waitress introducing star fruit to Alexandra and offered to make a juice for her that was not on the menu; I had joked with the waitresses about how a sundae was better than a milkshake when they were out of ice cream for the former. Gradually, we became so familiar with each other that I could just walk in the café, pick up a menu (or not) and go to the counter to order instead of waiting for the service.

The night we came back from Machu Picchu after a long morning and strenuous hiking, we were both exhausted and starving so we decided to go to Kushkafe for a quick meal. The moment we walked in Kushkafe after disappearing for 3 days, I saw the faces of the two waitresses light up. “¡Hola!” I greeted them. “¡Hola Jean! ¿Como está Machu Picchu?” they replied. I was surprised. Not only could they remember my name but also they knew that we went to Machu Picchu for the weekend. I was so moved by their genuineness and continued our conversation.

The last afternoon in Cuzco, Jiayi and I stayed in Kushkafe as well. When the two waitresses came in for their shift, they were so excited to see us. I gave them each a piece of heart-shaped chocolate that I made the day before in our chocolate-making class and told them that we were about to leave. I could see the sadness in their eyes. I felt sad to go too. It was not easy to find a stranger that was willing to be genuine to you. We just found two but we had to say farewell so soon.

Hecho con amor :)

Experimental Peruvian Food Report

Tasting local food is always my greatest joy while traveling. Food is also something I am interested in learning about in a particular culture. Fortunately, Peru never fails to showcase its richness in food culture. Being nominated as the honorable superlative of “most likely to be experimental with her food”, I feel obliged to file an honest report in regards to the most authentic (or most scary-looking that no one else is willing to try) Peruvian food that I have tried.

1. Maracuya / Passion Fruit
Maracuya, or passion fruite, is a very popular local fruit in Peru. I first heard of “maracuya” when Profe ordered his all-time favorite juice combination at La Gran Fruta in Lima and when I took a sip of his drink, I was amazed. Maracuya, whose juice is orange-yellow, has a perfectly balanced taste between sweet and sour and also a unique, strong fruity taste. In Peru, a lot of bars in the restaurants like to mix maracuya juice with another local liquor, pisco, the combination of which is always fantastic.
Recommendation: ❤❤❤❤❤
Locations: La Gran Fruta, Papachos

2. Granadilla
Granadilla is a close relative of maracuya and it is another popular local fruit. I didn’t get a chance to eat the fruit of maracuya but I did try the fruit of granadilla several times. Before being opened, granadilla looks like an orange with hard thin shell and a stem. To eat it, you need to crack open its orange shell and break the white peel. Then you will see the pulp which consists of translucent flesh and black seeds. Everything in the pulp is edible including the crunch seeds. You can either suck the pulp or use a spoon. The taste is mostly sweet and softer than that of maracuya. For this reason, granadilla juicy juice is best combined with maracuya juice because it softens the strong and sour taste in maracuya but still maintain the sweetness.
Recommendation: ❤❤❤❤❤
Locations: La Gran Fruta, Kushkafe, Chichero, Maras

3. Lúcuma
Lúcuma is yet another local fruit that I can’t even find a definition of in a dictionary. To me, lúcuma is very mysterious because I have only eaten things that contain this flavor but have never seen the fruit itself. Nevertheless, I can still feel its unique taste. Unlike maracuya or granadilla, which are fresh and fruity, lúcuma flavor tastes buttery. I would like to imagine it as avocado with sweet taste. For this reason, it is often blended in ice cream or in cupcake topping. The first several sips may appear surprisingly good but after you eat more, it kind of gets creamy, but is still worth a try!
Recommendation: ❤❤❤❤
Locations: Kushkafe (milkshake), Capucchino Café (capucchino con helado de lúcuma)

4. Alpaca
If you have been in Cuzco for more than one day, you probably have heard of the word “alpaca” for more than once as the street venders are trying to sell you products of alpaca wool. As the No.1 local domestic animals, alpacas not only provide their wools for clothing but also provide their meat for cooking. If properly cooked, alpaca meat is a delicacy (sorry Jiayi). It is more tender than beef but chewier than chicken. It does not have specific smell like that in lamb and therefore is very flexible as to how to cook it. You can have it in Lomo de Alpaca Saltado, in brocheta (kebab) or alpaca filet. As long as it is properly cooked, it tastes good!
Recommendation: ❤❤❤❤❤
Location: Pachopapa, Kushkafe

5. Chiriuchu
I have introduced above mostly ingredients but Chiriuchu is a hodgepodge. In fact, it is the typical food that is only served during the two-day religious celebration of Corpus Christi. It is a cold dish that consists of roasted guinea pig (cuy), hen (gallina), sausages, fish eggs, seaweed from lake Titicaca, cheese, rocoto and a piece of fried pancake. I tried it with our other experimental eater Alexandra on the pre-celebration. At first, we ate each ingredient separately. Cute as it was (when it was alive), the guinea pig did not have much meat and was tasteless. The hen and fish eggs also didn’t have spice on them at all and were tasteless as well. On the contrary, the sausages, the seaweed and the pancake were very salty. As Alexandra was trying to eat the guinea pig with rocoto, it turned out that the rocoto was extremely spicy as well. Just as we were about to be disappointed by our food, the family next to us told us that we were eating in a wrong way. “Se come con un poco de todos,” they said. So we tried to pick a little bit of everything and eat them altogether at once. It turned out amazing. The tasteless meat balanced the saltiness in the pancake and the spiciness in the rocoto. The taste became perfect. I wanted to eat more but I was already full at that time. According to tradition, we were also supposed to drink chicha. Failing to find chicha, we decided to go for some cusqueñas, which are just as a local. Chiriuchu is probably the most traditional food I have tried on this trip. Although I can’t vouch for its taste, I do think it is worth a try for the purpose of cultural studies!
Recommendation: ❤❤❤
Location: Plaza de San Fransico en Cuzco

I am glad that despite of my experimental taste, I liked most of the food that I tried and was amazed by the great taste of Peruvian food.

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Starbucks in Peru: A Cultural Comparison

When it comes to food, there is almost any direction you can go in in both Lima and Cusco. From Peruvian soups, ceviche and lomo saltado, to Peruvian drinks like Pisco and other cocktails, there is almost too much to touch on. So instead, I’m going to pick perhaps the one direction that seems the least Peruvian but actually has highlighted some striking cultural differences: Starbucks.
After my senior year in high school, I worked as a barista at Starbucks in California for a summer. I know the ins and outs of the company, what goes into every drink and the overriding business ideals that govern their success. There is a Starbucks just off the Plaza de Armas in Cuzco that I have visited a few times now (mostly due to the usually amazing wi-fi) and it’s time to touch on some major differences between the store here and stores back in that states.
For one, the Cusco Starbucks location does not brew coffee. No, that’s not a joke. Coffee is not a popular drink in Peru—most locals drink tea. So when a store like Starbucks pops up it is catering almost entirely to tourists from the U.S., Europe, or one of the thousands of other Starbucks locations around the world. Despite this, they do not brew their own coffee. Instead, if a coffee or iced coffee is ordered, they will instead make an Americano—a drink similar to coffee in strength but made with espresso shots and boiling water. Even still, when a friend of mine tried to order a coffee this morning, they not only turned her away saying they do not brew coffee but explained they could also not make an Americano despite having a working espresso machine and hot water.
Despite the cultural difference in the lack of coffee, there is also a difference in the service. I’ve noticed that instead of listening to your order and writing it down as it is, many baristas here try to assume your order for you. For example, I usually order a café mocha with non-fat milk and no whipped cream. The baristas interpret this as I want a “skinny mocha” which is an entirely different drink with different chocolate syrup in it. I constantly have to correct them and say I want the regular drink but with the adjustments that I prefer. They also sometimes assume if I want an iced mocha I want a frapuccino, a milk-shake type drink that is nothing like a mocha. These sort of assumptions are not made with this kind of frequency in the United States.

            Lastly, the correction for bad service is lacking here as well. Even when a friend of mine had her drink made incorrectly three times, she was given no discount next time, apology or other sort of compensation for their error. That is Starbucks 101 that I was asked in my job interview: “what do you do if you mess up someone’s order?” You apologize, make another for free and give them a coupon for a free drink next time. Hopefully, even though this blog post seems more like a Yelp review above anything else, it sheds some light on some differences I’ve seen with chain restaurants like Starbucks in the U.S. and in South America.