Food, Cau Cau and Asia
The food here is delicious and dirt cheap. Now that I am settled in and know how to look for restaurants, I very rarely pay more than $4-$5 for a good meal served over rice with an appetizer, a beverage, and sometimes even a dessert. You can find this kind of food at so-called ‘menú places’.
If these three things are true, you have probably found a menú place:
1. There is no front door, or front wall, on the restaurant.
2. Ironically, there are no menus within site. Usually there will be a chalkboard.
3. The name of the restaurant is not immediately obvious.
Usually I get soup or potato salad for an appetizer and fish for the main course – it tastes fresh and is cooked well, but is otherwise fairly simple – and smother it with Ají sauce, made from a local pepper that is like ketchup here, only spicier and way, way better.
It’s almost as though all of the menú places operate as a chain. They all cost between 12-15 soles ($4-$5), they are all reliably quite good and have very similar food and atmosphere.
Delicious, almost raw fish that tastes like freshness with lime sprinkled over it. A lot of the same appeal as sushi with a completely different taste. Far and away my favorite food I’ve tried in Peru (and possibly ever). It’s usually a little too expensive for menú places to serve (although they do occasionally have it).
Chinese restaurants here are called Chifas. Peruvians are very excited to show off their Asian heritage by claiming Chinese food as their own; we even went to a Chifa for our second meal here with orientation. I haven’t had the heart to tell the Peruvians that we have them in the States too. In reality though, Chifas are quite common, and there is a lot of Asian influence on Peruvian food – from the presence of rice at nearly every meal to the names of some fruits (the Chinese Orange).
Cultural Aside: Presence of Asians within Peruvian Society
I’ll admit that, before I came to Peru, the idea of an Asian person speaking fluent Spanish was kind of an oxymoron in my mind, and mostly reminded me of this:
But I am told around 12% of Peruvians are of Asian decent, and Asians are a very visible part of the population.
Cultural Aside-Aside: Korean
On the bus from the University to the main bus stop today, the TV screen was, for the first time, not playing the clip of a lady (that reminds me of my aunt) talking about law school, but instead was playing a clip teaching people Korean, in Spanish. The clip was called KPUC, presumably an unsolicited pun on KPOP (PUCP is the abbreviation for Pontifícia Universidad Católica del Perú), and it had a nice over-the-top animation to go with it.
The ‘Basic Plate’ at the University consists of rice, some sort of meat, a vegetable, a piece of bread and a beverage, and costs 3.6 soles, or about $1.50. Sometimes they run out of that, and you can get something nicer for about 11 soles, or the ‘Economical Plate’, which is something along the lines of rice, beans, bread and a beverage for about 60 cents.
Cau Cau (Cow Cow?) Cau Cau.
The Basic Plate is not always that basic. Today it was a dish called Cau Cau served over rice. Cau Cau looks like yellow thai curry mixed with the skin of an octopus. Half way through eating it, someone realized that it was cow heart (a fairly common food in Peru). It was not cow heart, I later determined, but cow stomach. It was not good. And it wasn’t the fact that it was cow stomach that prevented me from liking it, but the actual qualities of the cow stomach. It actually tasted okay; it just isn’t a pleasant experience to digest. I would imagine it is quite difficult for a stomach to digest another stomach. As I am writing this, I still feel as if every piece of cow stomach is in the exact same shape it was in when I swallowed it, despite the fact that it was several hours and two meals ago. And the slimy texture of the stomach made me regrettably hesitant to chew on it for as long as I should have.