Sauce from the rocoto relleno dripped off my plate, which was overloaded with cebiche, arroz con pollo, saucy Asian noodles and arroz con leche.
Food is a centerpiece of any culture, and Lima has a lot of culture. Every meal is an opportunity to try something new and experience a different part, except, of course, when lunch is recycled for supper.
I’ve been adjusting to eating leftovers every day — some dishes like tacu tacu rely on recycled rice and beans — rice with every meal, ham and cheese for breakfast and excessively sweet deserts.
I’ve been cooking all my own meals since I was 15 years old, including stints with sugar-limited diets and vegetarianism. After three years of living on my own, I’m back to living with a family that cooks every one of my meals, rushes out to serve me every time I walk into the kitchen, and overreacts when I mention a stomachache.
I’m actually really enjoying the pampering — enough that I have a new culture shock to look forward to once I return to my crappy apartment in the U.S.
Peruvian food is flavorful but simple, and the variety has constantly surprised me during my first month. Most of my meals have been filled with rice, potatoes and chicken, but there also are simple seafood dishes of fish, lime juice and onions.
The U.S. is known for its variety of food because so many cultures have merged to create unique styles. Peru has a similar gastronomic atmosphere with Asian and European influences as well as native Andes foods, like unique aji peppers, yucca and huge corn kernels.
Some of it is fresh and healthy, but many other kinds match America’s need for fatty, greasy foods. There’s chifa — Chinese-Peruvian food that is comparable to a bad Chinese buffet — pollo a la brasa, papa rellena and empanadas, which are enough to set your heart on fire.
I don’t enjoy the local spin on Chinese food (though Peruvians obviously do, since there are chifas on every corner), but most of this fried, fatty and starch-filled food is delicious despite its junk food nature, especially deep-fat-fried churros filled with dulce de leche, and the thick-cut French fries.
Peruvians also seem to put anything in an empanada including lomo saltado stir-fried onions and beef, but my favorite is the pastry-covered chicken and herbs. The deep-fried, carne-filled potatoes are equally brilliant.
On the opposite side of the spectrum, there is cebiche, which is so fresh it’s not even fully cooked and equally filled with variety. There is sea bass, octopus, shrimp and shellfish, and many different ways to prepare it using fresh onions and peppers.
The tangy, acidic dish is delicious and so full of flavor that a few bites are enough. I especially like calamari, because it’s such a great departure from breaded calamari at Italian restaurants in the U.S.
Peruvians let the main ingredients shine without over-seasoning or trying to change the natural flavors. My favorite meal so far has been shrimp and rice topped with fresh herbs. I also love my host family’s lettuce salad topped with tomatoes, fresh creamy avocados, lime juice and garlic paste.
Everything here is refreshing, from the seafood, vegetables and fruits. Even fruit-topping for cake tastes freshly picked.
Its sweet deserts match the fresh food. There are buttery, flaky cookie sandwiches filled with more dulce de leche, and sweet and creamy arroz con leche. If the deserts aren’t testament enough to the love for sugar, Inca Cola is another example. The lemon verbena soda really does taste like bubble gum.
Eating in Peru has given me great insight into the culture here, and every meal, in my new home or one of Lima’s many excellent restaurants, has helped me increase my food vocabulary and learn a different style of cooking.
Kay Kemmet is an international student at Pontifica Universidad Catolica del Peru studying Spanish, Latin American history and journalism. She’s from Bismarck, North Dakota and studies at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.