Eating and Getting Lost in Lima

Meri Diamond
July 3, 2010

A recent e-mail from my Colombian friend, Adriana, mentioned something about the fact that our Blog had not included a lot of stories about Peruvian Culinary. She was surprised because of the growing popularity of Peruvian food Internationally. I though: “She is right”…besides the Cuy related entry months ago, we have not said much about the subject.

What makes Peruvian food so unique is its Diversity and Fusion qualities. Someone told me once that you could eat a different dish every day of the year while in Peru and never eat the same dish twice. Labor migrations from China in the 1800s and from Japan in the early 1900s, influenced Peruvian cuisine a great deal . That is why when people talk about about Fusion, they are referring to the Peruvianized versions of primarily Chinese and Japanese dishes. Furthermore, every region of Peru (Selva, Costa and Sierra, which means Jungle, Coast and Andean Mountains) has their own traditional dishes, cooking styles, ingredients from their areas and the 3,500 different types of potatoes that are grown in Peru.

In my “Peruvian Reality” course that I completed recently, I learned that Gastronomy has unified this country like nothing else has in the past. Their common goal is to share with the world the richness of their natural food products and the multicultural ways of cooking them. Some chefs dream that some day Peruvian food will have a strong presence around the world, just like Mexican or Chinese food have.

On Tuesday, I had lunch at the Columban Central House. It was delicious and maybe because I don’t live there, I literary have not had the same dish twice. On my way home I took a familiar bus after confirming with the assistant if the route would go to Vipol (where we live). He said: “Yes”. When it was time to pay him, I asked again: “Is this bus going to Vipol for sure?” Once again he said: “Yes Senorita”, as he was taking my payment (1 Sol or 33 cents). A few miles down, we were stopped by the police because another bus from the same company wasn’t working and they moved all the passengers to our bus. About 20 minutes later I realized that I wasn’t recognizing my surroundings. I asked the passenger next to me if we had passed Vipol already. My thought was that maybe they were taking a different route to accommodate the passengers from the defective bus. The guy next to me yelled to the assistant about the fact that he should have specified that we were not going through Vipol. The assistant in question, proceeded to explain that he had told me that I needed to get off at the Panamericana Avenue and transferred to go to Vipol. I reminded him of the two times he had told me the route was going to Vipol. He would not even make eye contact with me as a group of passengers started to protest on my behalf. I have heard that this type of scam happens often but I never thought it would happen to me…for 33cents?. I yelled at the driver: “Baja inmediatamente” (which means, “I am getting off right now!!!). Even though there wasn’t a bus-stop, the driver stopped right away, probably fearing a dramatic scene with the passengers that were defending me. I was furious at the assistant and felt like I could slap him for lying to me. Then I though: “That’s not very Jesus-like, is it?” So I got off the bus and as it drove away the assistant looked at me to find an angered look in my eyes. That is definitely more Jesus-like =)

Two police officers were at the corner. I told them what happened and they apologized while indicating that there was a white bus going my way on the other side of the street. The white bus didn’t go my way. At this point, I found myself in the middle of nowhere, not recognizing any of the names on the routes going back to somewhere familiar, and finally crying out of frustration. I didn’t even called Dan because he was at least 4 hours away by bus and I just could not tell him where I was.

It was time for Plan B…I had to take a cab. My first attempt was a guy charging me 18 soles (6 dollars, which it is actually a lot of money for a ride). I did not know my location but I knew that I wasn’t 18 Soles away. I asked him for routes to take to Vipol and his answer sounded like Chinese to me because I didn’t know the names of the areas he was talking about.

I let that cab go and soon after a nicely kept taxi-cab pulled near me. He didn’t solicit a ride by honking like most taxis do in Lima. I approached him and he must have seen my anguish because he offered me a ride for 8 Soles. Can you believe that? The other cab was giving me what us foreigners call “Gringo Pricing”. It happens constantly and we need to be aware of it. I can pass as a Peruvian if I don’t open my mouth. Dan on the other hand, sticks out like a sore thumb=).

I got in the taxi, the one for 8 Soles (for the rest of the story I will call the driver “God’s Angel”). I proceeded to cry “silently” for the next five minutes. Then God’s Angel asked me: “Are you Colombian?”, to what I responded: “Is my crying accent so obvious?”. He laughed and said “No Senorita, when we negotiated the price of the ride, I picked up your accent because I have a friend from Colombia that lives in Lima”. From that point on, I felt at easy. I confirmed the destination of the ride since he was charging me so much less than the other cab. He said “I saw your sadness and gave you a good price”. He was going to have to pay a toll, but he said he would take care of it. Can you believe this guy? Wait… A toll? Had I left the city? I did not dare to ask. I told him how I had ended up so far. He tried to help me forget for a second what went on by telling me that he had tried Arepas (Colombian typical corn patties) and by asking me to teach him slang words and expressions from Bogota that he could use to joke with his friend. I laughed as I look out the window and realized how far I ended up on that micro. Lima is a vast city. Some people FROM Lima have never been to some areas…during their entire lives!

God’s Angel shared with me a little bit of his story. He was starting his life over in Peru, after loosing his Chilean girlfriend of eight years to a brain aneurysm. At that very moment, God helped me put things into prospective. I stopped feeling sorry for myself and listened to a guy who was recovering from a REAL life nightmare. We all have our crosses to bear and even if they are big or small, they are all significant in the eyes of God; but loosing the love of his life was a heavier cross than me getting lost in Lima.

That night at home, after Internet-chatting with Dan because cell-phone conversation are insanely expensive, I had mixed feelings about everything that went on that day. Around 8 PM, someone knocked at my door. It was the girl that works with my landlord Nelly. Since Nelly knows that I have a sweet tooth, she wanted to share a piece of Peruvian apple pie with me. No strings attached…zero expectations…She did not even know what had happened a few hours before.

So…yes my dear friend Adriana, Peruvian food is quite great, the Ceviche is something else as well as the other 365+ dishes you could have without repeating for a year. But it was that piece of apple pie from my landlord what helped me conclude that the majority of people in Lima are not out to get foreigners. They are hard-working honest people that have opened their homes, chapels and Parishes to us with unconditional friendliness. If I am going to survive in this city I will have to take the bad and the good. The bad as experiences and the good as blessings.