Sunday, March 11, 2012

Como Come :: How A Peruvian Eats

There is no picture for this post because I want you to use your imagination. This is the product of my extensive ethnographic studies where I carefully observe how those around me eat. Generally this is because I can`t understand their slang or dialect, and sometimes because I am too tired to take part in the conversation and have to find some other way to pass the time.

Place yourself now at a table with a Peruvian woman. It is lunch time, the largest meal of the day. As she talks, she casually navigates her plate with the ease of an expert. Your eyes wander downward from her face, resting on her plate as she talks:

She approaches her plate, taking the lay of the land, the color, texture and quality. A small rise of shaped rice lies to the southwest, topped with a cinco-centimo-sized, dimpled crater. To the southeast sliced potatoes are stacked like a row of thick, bright yellow shale. To the north is a chicken leg, a rounded monument of gold and brown, flecked with the red and black of peppers. It weeps succulence, forming a gleaming lake beneath that flows sluggishly into the roots of the rice hillock.

Taking in the landscape with a practiced eye, she extends her left hand to reach a palm-sized bowl of aji. A small wooden spoon extracts one, two, three loads of the orange cream and fills the crater at the apex of the rice mountain with a spicy lagoon. Now the delicate dance begins.

As an artist with palate specially prepared, she creates an avalanche in the side of the rice mound, allowing the orange sauce to soak freely into the rice, unevenly spreading it´s flavor. She cuts a few pieces of chicken from the large head of the drumstick. First fashioning the rice into a more appealing pile, she gathers a bit mid-way up her fork, followed in quick succession by a piece of chicken and a sheared bit of potato stabbed neatly on the tines. As she eats. the three mediums (rice, potatoes, and chicken) mingle freely toward the center, leaving dual flavor zones at each of the medium`s  boarders that radiate out from the center. Even the respite of a single flavor is preserved at the center of  each medium. When the plate is nearly exhausted there still remains just enough of each for one last bite, finishing the whole masterpiece in harmony.

It is important to note that in Peruvian cuisine that a ¨dish,¨ though referred to by principle meat content, always includes a certain type of rice and a certain type of potato or other side dish to go with it. Even the term side dish is deceiving because truthfully the side is as integral to the dish as the beef, chicken, fish, etc. itself. You would never eat lomo saltado (stirfried beef tips) without rice and french fries because they are just as much a part of lomo saltado as the¨lomo¨ (beef tips).  Each meal is relished, both designed and consumed, with the eye of an artist. It is no wonder that Peruvian gastronomy is considered by some to be the best in the world.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for this...and for making me covet some of that amazing Peruvian cuisine!!!! Love reading about your experiences there. They ring so close to my heart.

    ReplyDelete