Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Peru's Corn and Potatoes

It is amazing that in Peru there are so many varieties of corn and potatoes. When you walk through the outdoor market you will see many shapes, sizes and colors of corn. The more amazing thing is that they use them all. The use corn in side dishes, main dishes, in drinks and in desserts and they are all delicious.

Some of my favorite corn items are chicha, a dark purple soft drink, toasted corn called "cancha" or "canchita" which isn't popped corn nor is it corn nuts but something about half way between the two and last of all I like "mazamorra" which is a gelatinous dark purple dessert with raisins added. It's very mild and not too sweet, but very delectable.

They say there are hundreds of varieties of Potatoes but that you can really only find about 50 or so in the country and in any particular market you will see anywhere from 10 to 17 varieties of potatoes. They have the ones that we have in North America and many others. They have small yellow potatoes and ones that look like long thin roots with speckled colors of red and orange on the skin. Then there are just big ones of all textures and sizes and the ladies at the market will tell you that this one is good for frying and this one is good in soup and the other one is good for making mashed potatoes.

Peru will always stand out as one of the best culinary destinations.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Tourist visas and a great meal.

The title might seem strange, but by chance I happened upon one of my most favorite dishes in Peru and I had a lot of them. I don't know if you heard, but one of the things that you are going to love when you get to Peru is it's culinary talents. The food there is just great and so varied and interesting.

If you want to live in Peru for an extended period of time you will need to renew your tourist visa every 90 days and don't let it go to the last day. You'll be sorry. There are some bad things in Peru too. One of which is there is a great deal of lying. They lie about things that are just plain dumb too. I think many times people will lie to you just to not hurt your feelings or to out of fear of looking ignorant.

For example, if you ask someone for directions and they actually don't know where it is that you are asking about, you will never hear the words "I don't know". Those words simply are not in their vocabulary. They will always tell you to "go up there a little bit" or "go down that way a little bit". Even though they don't know at all and could be sending you off in the wrong direction. Now the problem is that sometimes they do know where it is and you have to learn to read their facial expressions and their confidence level when they are explaining how to get there.

For years my friends and I were dumbfounded by this. We couldn't understand why they just couldn't say "Hey, you know what, I really don't know where that is, maybe you could ask someone else". I mean that's what I would say if I didn't know where something was. So finally after about four years of living in Peru, one day I was telling my housekeeper that I was out going for a walk and someone pulled up to the sidewalk where I was walking and asked me for directions. I told her that I told them that I didn't know where the place was that they asked me about. And she said "oh Marcos, you shouldn't have said that" I said "Why not, I didn't know where it was" and she said "well they could have kidnapped you or done something bad to you, you should always just tell them to go a little farther and act as if you know where it is". So I said to her, "oh so that's why people have been lying to us all these past four years".

They just don't want to seem weak or unknowledgeable about something. That was just one of the many cultural differences that we learned. There were and are many others, which if you don't have either a good sense of humor, a flexible outlook or an open mind, you could get offended. But try not to.

They see our culture in a strange light too. Their general impression of Americans is that we are very cold emotionless people. They see themselves as very friendly and loving. I never thought of myself as cold and emotionless, but to them we are. They also believe everything they see on TV about America. They think we are all fat, adulterous, hamburger and hotdog-eating wealthy loudmouthed people. I hope that doesn't describe you.

What is your image of a Peruvian? Does it come from TV? Then it's probably not 100%accurate. All stereotypes have a little basis in truth. After all, many Americans are overweight and we are a little bit louder than some other cultures. I never thought that we were a particularly proud or arrogant nation until I moved out of the U.S. Sorry to break the news, but we kind of are quite proud and not necessarily in a good way.

Any way if you have a tourist visa it will run out in 90 days and again don't let it run out or even get to the 90th day because they will fine you at the border crossing and they guards will take you into see the head of visas and he will take a look at you and see that your passport is from the U.S. and he will just make up an amount that you have to pay as a fine and you will be at his mercy. So make sure you cross the border one or two days before the 90 days are up.

If you are living or touring in the south like I was in Arequipa then the two logical borders to cross are south to Chile and the border cities are Tacna on the Peru side and Arica on the Chile side. It's a 5 hour bus trip down to Tacna where you have to get out of the bus and take either another small bus or taxi across the border which is about twenty minutes away to go to Arica. In tacna when you leave the bus station or even inside of the bus station the taxi drivers surround you and will start talking to you and they will be trying to convince you to go with them. They are all competing to get you. Well you can go and look at their car which are usually these big old American gas guzzlers. They will squeeze 5 or 6 people in the car. So they won't only take you. They will fill the car. You can also take a bus and that will be a little cheaper but slower, but not by much.

It doesn't cost anything to cross the border. You just have to show your passport and tell them you want to go to Arica for the day or over night or for a few days. It's up to you. Some people just go into Arica and then go right back to Peru. Remember Arica is on the Chile side of the border and the actual city is about 10 minutes from the border.

Now let's talk about a delicious meal. A great dish, one of my favorites. It's called "Picante a la Tacne├▒a" It's not too spicy though, that's just the name but it's just right. It's a bowl of thick stew. Now try to have an open mind here. You've got to believe me. It's really good. The main ingredients are tripe(cow's stomach lining)I know it sounds gross but oooh, yum and lamb and potatoes in a thick brownish stew that you dip bread into. A few years ago back in 2005 it cost about 6 soles ($2) for a small bowl which was big enough for me and the large, which is really a lot of food for 8 soles (less than $3).

Just try it, it's delicious. My Italian grandmother used to make a tripe dish that was actually kind of similar but more tomatoey and a little spicy too.

I hope you enjoy that dish in Tacna, but there isn't really much else to see there. You just wait for your bus to go back to Tacna. I'll talk about the other southern border crossing in another post. It will deal with Bolivia and Lake Titicaca. An adventure of a lifetime. Remember if you have any questions or specific topics you would like to hear about let me know in the comments section below.

Here's a wikipedia translated page talking about that dish:

How to read and use this blog

This is just a short note to let you know that you should feel free to jump around among the articles in this blog. Use the search function because the articles won't be in any logical order. I'm just going to add them as they pop into my head and as I feel inspired to. If there is a particular aspect of Peru that would like me to hit on please mention it in the comments to any of the articles and when I see that I'll either write about it or make a quick video talking about it. Please be specific if you can. Enjoy.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Welcome to the in's and out's of visiting or living in Peru from a foreigners perspective.

I'm an American and I lived in the U.S. most of my life. I also had the unique experience of living in Peru for over eight years. It is an amazing country and there is so much to see, do and taste. You really need to go there and I plan on giving you as much advice, encouragement and warnings as I can possible think of.

It really is a magical place. The people are ancient and modern. The architecture is simple and ornate. It's the kind of place that once you've been there for a few weeks, you just might not want to leave. And even if you do leave, you'll most likely be back before long.

I'll endeavor to supply you with the best information that I can put together so that you can enjoy your time however long or short in the land of the Incas--Peru.

Life in Peru: Great Cuisine but watch your step on those sidewalks!

Incredible Percussion in Arica Chile when you leave Tacna Peru to get your visa stamped.

Lake Titicaca Peru South America The Andes Mountains

Thanks for your support