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Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Vamos a mambear!

The song-and-dance of the everyday life, now with kids; in the US it is a line dance. In Peru it's a mambo, and I need to teach my feet the steps.
Maybe cuter shoes as well.  Rolling my r's would also be a good start.
We had dashing across the street like a South American game of Frogger down pat, and figured out the little niggly things about shopping; for freshness you must go to the Mercado Surquillo. For a supermarket experience, Wong. For convenience and human contact, our little Bodega across the street. The bodega I've already described to you. They're terribly nice to me, and I am learning how to carry the bags of eggs without breaking them.
Mercado Surquillo is my favorite, of course; open air markets always will be.
I love all of the surprising fruits and vegetables, things I never even imagined; camu camu, lucuma, cocona and pepino dulce. Right now the avocados are in season, creamy and flavorful, a perfect breakfast with a little bit of salt and balsamic vinegar.
teeny tiny watermelon. Not for consumption, the vendor warned me.
I bought it anyway, for its cuteness factor of about 9.

It is at Surquillo Mercado that I bought my first cacao pod and we found Picarones. Embracing street food is a surprisingly good idea when you travel; Anthony Bourdain once said something along the lines that if you're going to get food poisoning abroad it will be at the lousy breakfast buffet at your Western-style hotel and not to fear the greatness that is street food.

If it works for Anthony Bourdain, it works for me.

Except maybe for the drugs and tattoos. He's grown up and left those days behind anyway. Thankfully he's still fabulously snarky.

Anyway, I digress as I am wont to do; Picarones. Deep fried goodness, sort of a doughnut, but made with flour and pumpkin or squash in the dough, which makes them not only crunchy but also somehow creamy. The dough sits and fluffs up to many times its original size, which accounts for their toothsome lightness.

One-handed, the vendor shapes the dough into circles and slips them into the boiling oil, handles them with pointy sticks specifically for this purpose, lifting out the light and tender results, drains them for just a moment so they are not the least bit greasy, then douses them with Chancaca syrup.

Then you eat them as fast as you possibly can.

I bought a bottle of Chancaca syrup to try and figure out what gives it that wonderful unusual taste, cinnamon and cloves and something sweet, like honey or oranges. The ingredients are listed as follows: Jarabe invertido (inverted syrup), chancaca (molasses), sal (salt), canela (cinnamon) y clavo de olor (and cloves). The kids love it on Picarones, won't touch it on pancakes. Whatever it is, the syrup goes perfectly with the almost-too-hot-to-eat-but-not-quite Picarones. We all agree; a little burn on the fingers or mouth, bit of stickiness, all worth it. In spades.

The last time I freaked out like this was over begnets in New Orleans. My friends, these are better.

And in the Mercado they cost 2 soles for 4 of them. $0.72.

Sadly, Picarones are never, apparently, available in the morning. Which is irksome, because Picarones and a cup of Peruvian coffee is my idea of a little slice of heaven to begin the day.

Thomas introducing his tiger to the kitten Bethy is cuddling. It lives in the egg cartons of one of the market stalls and the seller there completely hates us, no matter how much I buy from her. *sigh*

I bought a package of Picarone mix. Wish me luck with that one. As it was, at least a box of mix and some boiling oil is a small investment; when I'd initially read about these delights I'd made it a Saturday quest to find them. We'd asked about a hundred strangers where to find Picarones, and each and every one helpfully gave directions, which the kids and I tried and with unimpeachable consistency failed to follow through the labyrinthine market.

At one point I had expanded out search to the neighborhood behind the market. A man walking by half snarled at me, "Gringa, ¿por qué estás aquí?" Unmistakably, Gringa, why are you here? I whipped around and stared at him, blurting Que? Que?! (what, what?)

How rude! I'd thought.

You shouldn't have been back there, spouse and friends all told me later. He was trying to help you. That's not a place to be.

Oh. Mental note.

perhaps the grafitti was a clue

Finally, back in the market (we'd stayed within a one-block radius; I may be crazy but I'm not insane) I asked and two little girls took us to another little girl who took my hand and led us straight to her mother, the Picarone seller. Ah.

Wong market is more predictable,  a supermarket not terribly unlike those anywhere else, but with a few twists; for instance depending on your checker, you will be asked to show your driver's license, a copy of your passport, or the passport itself to use a credit card.

This, to me, is really silly. I won't carry my passport. This having been said, a friend of mine had to leave once without her groceries for not having her passport with her.

Then again, she's Mexican, stunningly tall and quite beautiful. The cashier may simply have been taking some sort of petty revenge. We ladies know; it happens.

Those are papayas. Apparently that's the size they are here.

Another twist is that the bag boys, who work so fast and hard that it would put the Les Schwab guys to shame, will quite willingly follow you home, pushing your cart of groceries in front of them quite cheerfully for blocks and blocks and blocks. This service is included, though the nice young men I have tipped have seemed grateful.

The ramp to the second floor of Wong is magnetized, which the kids love. The new phrase, however, is "Milk in bags and water in boxes? What kind of country is this?"

Milk is also sold by the boxful, but UHT, not fresh. The bags taste most like the milk we know back home, so bag it is.

The cows would probably approve.

Cheddar cheese is once again ridiculously expensive, but the beautiful Chinean wines aren't too bad. If only queso fresco melted nicely for macaroni and cheese.

It doesn't.

I can buy the freshest, most beautiful breads you can imagine just about anywhere, from the market to a street cart passing by, and have "borrowed" a friend's maid to teach me to cook Peruvian. This is an excellent deal.

Perhaps best of all, though:

I have photographed this flower seller, theoretically without her knowledge, several times. She strikes me as such a natural, beautiful person that I can't resist. Our family was invited  to a dinner which was a perfect excuse to buy flowers from her to gift the hostess.

The flower seller was delighted to pose for a photograph, and this arrangement, including a heavy vase, cost 30 soles. $10.78. As sweet in person as she had seemed though the lens, we have a lovely nodding acquaintance now. I told her my amiga loved the flowers, she kissed my cheek.

It's moving to the music, feeling the rhythm of being.

Will I fall flat on my face? Step on my partner's feet? Undoubtedly.

But at least we'll be well fed.


  1. Oh, I see that you are back writing about your adventures! So glad you stop by my blog so that I remembered to catch up here :D

    1. Aw, thanks Nathalie! Always a pleasure to enjoy your art.

  2. I'm still drooling. Avocados are one of my favorite foods - I can imagine they taste amazing there. And the papayas - wow! If I ever go to Peru I think I would need to go with you!

    1. Yep, the avocados there put ours to shame. My goal is to come out to Boston and see you---I've always wanted to see Boston and somehow haven't made it yet. You're a sweetheart, Paula.

  3. Dear Natalie, I'm trying to contact you to request permission to use on of your images from your other blog, Sand in My Latte for an educational book. I've emailed your Hotmail address. Please could you get back to me and let me know your thoughts, Many thanks, Daniel