What could be better than traveling around Peru sampling amazing food? The first installment of our special series
A Shameless Foodie On A Mission: A Special 4 Part Series from Peru
Part one: Marin encounters Fresh Food & Fast Food
When I get off the beaten path, out of metropolitan centers or on the edge of rural landscapes, suddenly all the food becomes sublime. (Unlike back home in the USA where fancy overpriced farmers market pop up on Wednesdays and Saturdays, and only in the “progressive” part of town)
In Peru nearly at every turn, I encounter fresh produce.
These largely unregulated markets come in every shape and size. Wandering around Cusco, Peru, I saw a lady selling strawberries from a wheel barrow, another woman selling a variety of fruits from a cart on wheels across the street from my hostel, and little old lady selling quinoa atop a cloth on the sidewalk. The alleyway around the corner from the city square consistently has vendors selling every vegetable and fruit your stomach could possibly desire.
The quality of the food is precious. This morning when I bought a mango from the lady selling fruit off a mobile cart. I felt like I struck gold (and it only cost 25 cents!). Indeed, it was the juiciest and least fibrous mango I had ever tasted, with the perfect balance between sweet and sour.
I ask myself, have I gone back in time to some utopian era where food is both cheap and delectable? A time I have only heard tales of from my elders?
I am jolted from my wishful thinking when I walk five blocks back into the city square and my senses are suddenly inundated by the smell of fried chicken and the squeals of children as they delight in their catch of the day: cotton candy. My stomach lurches, and I wish it were all a bad dream. Reality hits hard as I turn around to see a KFC and a Starbucks behind me.
I realize that all the divine flavors I was lucky enough to find earlier in the day are nothing more than endangered species, a relic that is biding its time against the food forecast of industrialization and monotonization. The same storm that has already devastated food landscapes in the US and other developed countries is not stopping there, its next victims are places like Peru, China, and India.
I like to refer to it as:
The Abominable Industrial Food Monster
I remind myself that while it is scary, it can still be overcome.
The Globalized Food Court
Today I arrived in Cusco, the town everyone comes through on their way to Machu Picchu. The airport is quaint, many of the women still wear traditional indigenous dress, and some of the architecture is reminiscent of a picturesque pueblo.
We ask the friendly family accommodating us at their Airbnb where we can find something for dinner and they tell us that because it’s Sunday most things are closed. Fortunately, there is one place that is always open, The Plaza Real, and we should have plenty of options for food there.
Unfortunately the Plaza Real does not quite live up to its’ name. I have a vision of an outdoor market where locales are selling fresh produce and homemade tamales, a notion that keeps me hopeful and hungry even during the cab ride that would make most people lose their appetite. Instead, the cab pulls into a giant shopping center. My stomach, which for me is an equally important organ as the heart when it comes to love, sinks.
We stumble into the main entrance of the Plaza Real mall and are horrified to see that the most readily displayed food options are Dunkin Dohnuts, Chili’s, and Pinkberry. We make it to the food court and find a Burger King, a Peruvian chain that is quite like Burger King, a KFC, a Peruvian chain eerily similar to a KFC, and a Chinese fast food place that is set up almost identically to Panda Express, but called Chifa (China in Peruvian) Wok.
I think to myself, this can’t be happening, but there is no denying that it is real, at least in terms of physical matter. As far as the food being real, I may beg to differ.
Nothing Like Homecookin’
Finally, after some searching, we find a Peruvian chain that serves Peruvian style rotisserie chicken and some side dishes with actual vegetables in them. It is not bad, but it can’t hold a candle to the fare I have been finding in the markets, on the streets and at family-owned restaurants up until now.
My wife and I eat our chicken while American Top-40 hits play in the background. My stomach is getting full, but not in the same way that it has been. I feel more filled than satisfied. There is something in the flavor. As if often the case with chain restaurants, I feel a distinct lack of that home-cooked, personal touch that goes into food from family-run restaurants.
After dinner, we venture out into the rest of the mall, trying to walk off the over-salted chicken in our stomachs. We don’t bother going into any of the familiar stores like North Face or Journey’s because we frankly didn’t come to Peru to do that. Before we know it, we have strolled to the other end of the mall. But it is not a dead end. Instead, it is a huge vortex into yet another manifestation of the Abominable Industrial Food Monster, who has clearly taken a few business trips to Peru. The Supermarket!
Climate Stew Crew member, Marin Toscano is a food culture ambassador seeking to bridge people from around the world through the joy of eating good food. She identifies as “a shameless foodie on a mission” and believes EVERYONE deserves access to real, healthy food. Marin teaches nutrition classes to youth and marginalized communities about Fooition (Food Intuition) that aim to demystify eating healthy and elevate consciousness about how food affects our mind, body and spirit. Her main focus is on international food culture and cuisine and the knowledge each holds about what to eat, how to eat, and how to use food for healing.
Normally she lives in Denver with her wife, Adrienne who is an amazing artist, but right now they are travelling through South America for 3 months on a belated honeymoon. Along the way Marin is blogging about food culture and Fooition anecdotes she encounters in Peru, Chile, Argentina and Uruguay. Marin works as a Mandarin interpreter to pay the bills, and in her free time likes to practice yoga, garden, cook, write and enjoy the great outdoors.