Peruvian Fiestas – and Breaking the Myths about Peruvian Cuisine  

Most Western countries would believe Latin America in general to be a place of constant fiestas and siestas, a place of powerful sunshine, lots of passion and affection, lots of drama (yes you know, like in the soap operas) and dancing in the streets. Many people would come to South America to experience the above mentioned (yes, including the dramas), not realizing some of it is just a myth (like the dancing in the streets) and in search for easily available drugs and plant medicines of various kinds. Because yes, Peru namely, is a place of rituals…

My previous article, HERE, was all about the Amazonian rituals and shamanic legacy. This one is more about the civil fiestas and celebrations.

Birthdays

This is either going take place in a rented venue with expensive decorations, catering and lots of people (resembling thus a smaller wedding), or in someone’s house. If it is in a rented venue, you seriously need to dress up – which means suits for gents and really nice and decent clothes for ladies. If it is a celebration in someone’s house, you may dress up but it won´t be a big disaster if you don’t.

The celebration in someone’s house will probably include a barbeque (parilla) and if the house does not have a terrace or a good (understand safe) street in the front (houses here don’t really have a garden), it will take place in the living room where there will be plastic chairs arranged in a big oval/circle with an empty space in the middle – for the dancing, which only happens late at night when everybody actually comes in (if the party started at 6 pm, most guests will probably arrive around 9:30 pm) and gets at least a little drunk. Till that moment, people will be drinking and awkwardly looking at one another in the circle. If they want to eat something, they will need to stand up, go to the kitchen, eat there, and then come back to the chair – ideally with no food in hands – because what if the dance actually starts happening?

Be it a celebration in a house or in a rented venue, you might expect the culturally necessary drinking beer from one glass. There is no NO to this even if you are ill e.g. with cold and don´t want the other people to get infected. You simply are expected to drink from the same glass with several other people who are sharing. In certain countries, e.g. Thailand, of South-East Asia people at parties thought it to be the best hint of a friendship offered if someone passed you their glass to drink from. Again, I must say, Peru reminds me of South-East Asia so greatly…

Speaking of beers: it is absolutely normal to come to a dance club and see people bringing in crates of beers which they place into the middle of the dance floor! They are standing around drinking, sometimes moving a little – but those motions hardly resemble dance.

St Valentine’s

I already mentioned in my text HERE what the Christmas decoration is like and what you can expect on the New Year Eve’s celebrations. As for St Valentine’s, the decoration is based on heart-shaped balloons and fluffy teddy bears. In the streets, people are selling trifles that are meant to remind you of love and if your date is taking you for a stroll you spend most of the time trying to avoid looking at all those kitsch objects because your enamorado could mistakenly interpret your look as an interest and could want to buy you those things as gents here – when courting – are generally very affectionate and generous.

The main plaza as well as restaurants and bars are decorated with heart-shaped objects and the influx of red colour makes you think you might be getting colour blind.

The town becomes livelier than ever, with music bands performing (but nobody dancing until people get really drunk late at night) by the malecón and with street food stalls multiplying enormously. Random photographers (with no education background in photography, but with a reasonably good polaroid cameras around their neck) will be trying to offer you a photograph for a sole or two with some Valentino background decoration…

If you have a date you keep on praying: “Please, god, may I get just some nice flowers…”, because you are an artist and you know that getting one of those fluffy toys or plastic decorations would make you feel very uneasy – and your artistic heart bleed…

The town hall arranges weddings for free on the special day, so you get a lot of ideas of what is considered cool in the wedding fashion here…

Indeed, the St Valentine´s here is a form of visual violence to any real artist; but then, if you are in love and your enamorado gets you beautiful flowers and some lovely piece of jewellery, you don´t mind. You pretend not to see the kitschy balloons above your head when you are dining together, and not to be bothered by the loud kumbia music everywhere – which is by the way a must for any fiesta here…

Food

An important part of every celebration anywhere in the world is obviously food. Now, the Peruvians are truly proud of their food. When they ask you if you like their country and you say yes, they immediately react by saying that it is thanks to the food…

Well, no need to emphasize vegans and vegetarians, unless in Lima or in Cuzco, will find it extremely hard here. Many of the dishes are meat-based, most soups too. BBQ’s, parillas, know nothing of grilled veggies, potatoes or cheese. You will be lucky if you get grilled fish – as usually fish is fried, like most foodstuffs here, including the typical chicharrón (fried seafood).

People here don’t mind eating ceviche – raw fish with lime – every day, but I don’t think anyone born elsewhere than Chimbote would have it that way. I mean, come on, the Chimbotanos are proud of the smell from the fish factories here! Yes, the terrible smell that reminds you of urine and cat pee… or actually often mixes with these other two…

A salad here means lots of fresh onions with coriander or – if you are lucky – several shreds of lettuce, two slices of tomato, and if you have really good karma, then maybe a slice of avocado. If your smile equals to that of Julia Roberts, you might get vinegar. And if your eyes emit the right sparkle, you might be given the vinegar in a bottle, so you can actually use the amount you like. Forget about olive or sesame oil or grinded pepper…

If you like veggies, you will probably end up getting most of your lunches and dinners in the Chinese Chifa bistros or in the Nikkei restaurants which offer a variety of Japanese and Peruvian food fusion.

My favourite dish here is the fried stuffed potato called papa rellena. Sadly, they only make it in like three restaurants in town and often it is gone before I get my time to dine after work.

A Peruvian delicatesy – so they say – is the guinea pig, lizards and all kinds of guts, intestines and tongues. I am personally not too keen on those, but each to their own… I generally like soups and my favourite here would be caldo de gallina (hen soup) but if you do not like herbs,  you might not enjoy it… also, in the soups here potatoes are melted in the broth, thus making the texture different from the European broths in which the clean transparency of the fluid is the most important sing of a proper, high-quality broth.

One more thing when we speak of gastronomy: forget about terraces and gardens. Yes, the climate here (with basically no rains and hot weather) would be so favourable of these, but they simply DO NOT EXIST here… if by chance you find a terrace somewhere, you will most probably be charged extra money (like 8 soles per person) to be seated there, like we did in Coco Torete in Trujillo.

I am often thinking of the amazing food variety I can get in Prague (Indian food, Thai food, Mediterranean cuisine) and the beautiful gardens and terraces where we gladly sit even in the cold days, covered in blankets…

I honestly have to say that to me, the best places to dine here (or have a breaky at when I travel) are those owned by internationals who bring a nice refreshing touch to the Peruvian cuisine…

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