Day 11. We survived Cusco. That story needs to be explained in person for effect! Back in Lima we had planned to go with Tia Rosa to the Incan Markets in Miraflores which have a lot of crafts and souvenirs, but first lunch. On my hit list was ‘eat at a Cevicheria’ or house of Ceviche and since we have previously had such great experiences at Gaston’s restaurants Panchita, Tanta and La Barra, why not add another to the list, so off to La Mar we went. Taxi’s in Peru are another interesting and new experience for me. They firstly do not have a GPS or even a street directory, nor do they actually need to know where to go BUT the benefit is that you negotiate the price before you go, so regardless of the traffic the price is what was agreed. This is actually good for Lima since the traffic is horrendous. So on this particular day the driver said yes yes yes, but then took a wrong turn. A half an hour journey turned into an hour and with four people stuffed in the back seat, my comfort levels were not very high. We arrived and all I wanted was to sit down at the table, no chance, a table was a 40 minute wait, so wait we did. At least we scored two bar seats after 15 minutes and chowed down on canchita (air dried corn seasoned with salt) and had a few drinks.
The wait was well worth it! I ordered a plain ceviche with mixed seafood, Chris had ceviche with chicharron, Chris’ sister actually hates all seafood except tuna so she ordered causa, a potato and tuna stack with egg, and then Chris’ mum and Tia Rosa shared a mixed plate of goodies which we all tried to finish without success, it was huge!
Although we were sufficiently stuffed there would always be room for dessert and it would not be right if we did not order Picarones. I was already disheartened after the last Gaston effort but had to give it the benefit of the doubt that this would be better. It was, they tasted as good and as crunchy as they look.
So after the diverted taxi ride and long wait I can say that this cevicheria experience was just as flavoursome, colourful and enjoyable as I had hoped, well I finished with a coffee, that may have helped too.
Absolutely full we hit up the markets buying handicrafts, more blankets, Chris even got some ‘alpaca’ slippers, lets see if they are as good as Aussie UGG once we get back.
A well overdue siesta was necessary before Brisas that evening, a dance performance that showcased many of the traditional dances and costumes from Peru. As most of you know I am an early bird and struggle to stay awake, well God help me, the show started at 10pm and we did not get home until 3:30am! Good effort I think, although the table was looking like a nice bed from about midnight. The dances were incredible as were the costumes. So much colour, detail and varieties for the different regions and styles of dance, most of which I have already forgotten the names.
Once all the performances were finished it was our turn to get up and dance. I was being taught the Huayno dance which is a stamping dance from the country, looks easy but is so NOT easy. One leg stamps once then the other stamps twice alternatively. After realising that you should not lift your legs too far off the ground I was able to get a bit of rhythm and by the end of the night I got it for about 20 seconds until my legs got tired! Its incredible to see people doing it for countless numbers of songs. Their legs would be getting the best workout, no Gym needed here.
Sleep that night was not to be as I was cooking Sunday lunch for the family. I thought to myself “What is a good Greek dish that is different souvlaki or pita?”. Then it hit me, I could make a Pastitsiou, which is a typical Greek Lasagne, and who best to ask for the recipe than the Queen Pastitsiou maker, my Thea Betty. I have only ever made it once before as I have never needed to, Thea Betty always does. After receiving her recipe I went to the markets in the morning to buy ingredients and start cooking as lunch needed to be ready by 12pm sharp! Papa Raul expects lunch at 12 and I would not want to leave a bad impression.
Unable to find good rigatoni or tubular pasta, I settled on a fat round pasta that will have to do. The meat was easy although I did not cook with onions as I was going to use some of the meat for a mini gluten free, onion free version for myself. The hard part is definitely the béchamel sauce. Basically you cannot leave the stove until it is done, that is how much you need to stir, stir, stir. Funnily enough I am not a patient person at all, but I am patient with food. I am happy to cook pasta from scratch for 2hrs or prepare bread over 4hrs as I know how good it will be and how happy it makes people. This patience comes from enjoying the process rather than just wanting the finished product. The béchamel needs to be done slowly with only small amounts of milk and egg added each time to allow for a smooth texture and to ensure that all lumps are whisked out of sight. My béchamel might have taken at least 30 minutes to prepare but it tasted heavenly. It’s lucky I am lactose intolerant otherwise I would have eaten far too much from the pot. I assembled the pastitsiou and was ready to bake it in the gas oven.
I was told earlier that morning when I went to heat the oven that they do not know if it works, Papa Raul and Mama Celes have not used it as long as they can remember, if ever. Eeeek. Well worth the try in my eyes, I still remember the taste that a gas oven gave my Yiayia Eleni’s baked potatoes, there is nothing that ever compared or even reached the level of flavour they had. If this is the effect the gas gave my grandmother, then maybe I would be lucky and my Pastitsiou for Chris’ family would turn out perfect.
An hour later the top was certainly browned and the edges nice and crispy, and with 15 minutes to spare as the clock ticked 11:45am. I set the table, called the troups and plated up. Sorry, I forgot to get the Inka Kola for the table.
As I sat there with my gluten free pasta and onion free meat I envied the family who were about to eat the creamy and delectable pastitsiou recipe I prepared, thanks to Thea Betty (although I can say that as I did taste test a small piece and OMG crispy edged , creamy top and rich meaty sauce were heavinly). The response from the family? Well I think Papa Raul summed it up well, he asked me to give him the recipe so Mama Celes could make it for him. We all laughed, I was immensely satisfied and grateful it turned out so well. What better for a Sunday lunch than family, traditional dishes and laughter.
Day 13 and the cooking classes did not stop as I was lucky enough to learn a dish called Papa Rellena from someone Chris holds dear to his heart, Della. Della used to help out the Alzamora family when they lived in a suburb only around the corner from where they live now called Matute. Christopher lived in Matute when he was 9 years old on his 4 month visit to Peru. He showed me around the ‘residential village’ that was his playground for those months, where he roamed free until the early hours of the morning when he would return and Della would make sure he was washed off before he went to bed. Now Della has a family of her own and lives in that same flat that the Alzamora family used to live in, so my cooking class would take place where Mama Celes used to cook for the family which was a nice feeling.
I felt so terrible that Della was up since 4am preparing for this dish, which is understandable when we saw how many she was preparing as there were at least 40 large Papa Rellenas (enough for 20 people), some prepared and some waiting for me to practice on.
Basically a Papa Rellena is soft potato stuffed with a meat mixture, almost like an empanada but instead of pastry there is potato. Suits me just fine and for all those out there who are gluten intolerant. So the base is the same as for gnocchi, you boil the potatoes then mash, although Della has mashed each potato into individual balls so they are evenly portioned out. The meat mixture has the standard Peruvian base of garlic, cumin and aji (and for everyone else onion too). Then the side dishes are prepared – sliced boiled egg, olives and raisins, if you like them inside. Once ready to make you flatten a ball of potato in the hand, put two tablespoons of mince inside then add on top some egg, olive and raisin before closing the potato around the filling to form an egg shape.
Before you fry you lightly cover the outside of the potato with flour then add an egg wash. Fry away until browned evenly and enjoy.
MMMM so so so good. I cannot wait to make these at home and try new combinations. I am already thinking waygu bolognaise with mozzarella would be one of the first things I would do. YUM. I had to finish both balls but unlike most Peruvians who eat double carbs at every meal, I was fine without rice to accompany my papa rellena, I wanted to enjoy every mouthful without interruptions in my mouth. Plus I needed to leave room for dinner at La Rosa Nautica. Thanking Della we waked home, out of Matute and farewelling many new memories.
Siesta complete we all got dolled up to go out for dinner. We were lucky that Tio Pedro who works at La Rosa Nautica was to join us for dinner as he is able to get a 50% discount. The prices once converted into Australian dollars is still very cheap but who wouldn’t pass up that offer.
We arrived just at sunset and took photos of the surfers enjoying some ‘colour’ in the sky.
Once we sat down, the city lit up. Oh no wait, that is just the constantly bad traffic jams.
Once we started to relax a large BANG that sit the building, a wave, and a common occurrence and the reason Tio Pedro’s wife, Herlinda, did not want to join us as she is too scared of the waves. Chris’ sister and I ordered main dishes – Lomo Saltado and Salmon with aji potatoes respectively – and Chris’ Mum, Tio Pedro and Chris shared a mixed platter of seafood, however that was only entrée for them. For main Tio Pedro had organised a hot seafood plate which included fillets of snapper, squid, prawns scallops and potato.
I ordered a Malbec from Argentina which we all loved, but too bad, it was the last bottle. Then we moved over to Rioja in Spain and had a Temprinillo which in fact was even better! Chris’ Mum ordered a Chicha cocktail just to be different, and as we can see she enjoyed it very very much!
How could we pass up dessert? I certainly could not, especially after polishing off every morsel on my plate. Us young gals ordered the chocolate fondant, although one each was probably an oversight, sharing would have been smarter. Chris’ Mum ordered the Lucuma dish expecting ice cream but a tart came out. Tio Pedro had to help her finish it, and also finish Chris’ Apple tart
I must say that I was sooo impressed with the food and will make the huge statement that it was the best meal I had in Peru, better than all of the Gaston restaurants and better than the food in Cusco. The dishes were simple, not fancy and overdone, but had flavours that jumped out with every bite. I have not finished entire plates of a main and dessert in a very long time, lucky I was wearing black and my top was loose!
Our last full day in Peru we spent visiting the city centre, something I am told we cannot leave Lima without doing. To be honest the temperature had dropped this day and the sky was still gloomy so I was not thrilled about leaving the nice, cozy, warm house of Mama Celes, but I did not want to regret staying home. The centre reminded me of the Rocks in Sydney, touristy, old and once you have seen a bit, you have seen it all. We decided to take a tourist bus to do a loop of the city so that we can see everything the centre has to offer.
The only problem was we decided to go on the bus at 5pm when the roads were in grid lock, more than normal due to peak hour, and the temperature had dropped due to the sunset, so our outdoor seats were not looking so good. The one hour tour took an hour and a half. We could not get away from the bus quick enough and into a taxi to go and get dinner. What better send off meal than BBQ chicken with the family in a warm restaurant only a short Micro bus ride away from home. Perfect!
Here we said a final goodbye to Tia Rosa. I will miss her smiley face and I know she will miss me trying to translate words into Spanish. For example, she kept joking around one lunch and I tried to say she was ‘cheeky’ which is a harmless playful English word. My dictionary told me to tell her she was ‘descarado’, or even better I wanted to say that she was ‘rude’, but again in a playful way as English would allow. Nope, my dictionary told me to say ‘indecente’. The laughter amongst the family was so loud, I wanted to crawl into a hole for trying, but it was all in good humour. The final miscommunication was when I asked Tia Rosa before dinner whether “Tienes hombre?” Do you have a man? but what I meant to say was “Tienes hambre” Are you hungry. She replies “No tengo homre o hambre” I don’t have a man and I am not hungry. I know these phrases are going to be joked about with the family for a loooong time to come. At least I got one right as we were saying goodbye “Eres decente” You are a proper and lovely person, a big hug and we were off on the Micro back to Mama Celes’ house.
The day of our flight we packed, had a simple lunch and said our goodbyes. It was so sad as I know that Mama Celes and Papa Raul cherished the visit, cherished the blessing we had at their church and appreciated us coming to celebrate the 88th birthday of Mama Celes. Chris’ Mum was also crying as we would not see her and the rest of the family until Christmas, so it was a sad time for all.
To say I was disappointed to leave is not correct. I was very much looking forward to our travels through Europe, coffee being available at every corner, carrying my camera around my neck to take endless photos and also have alone time with Chris, as we have been busy with family from the time we stepped off the flight at 2am to the time we were to board at 5pm. What I will miss are the people, the generosity, the love and the hospitality. Experiences like this cannot be bought as I was lucky enough to see many different sides of Peru and was able to put on my ‘tourist’ hat in addition to my ‘I’m part of the family’ hat, even ‘hablo terrible espanol’ hat, but I tried. I opened my eyes and saw a part of the world I had never seen before and for that I appreciate my life and how lucky I am so much more.
Now off to spain!