Over 50, Still Kickin'
A slightly skewed perspective on life in The Middle Ages
Lee Ann Rubsam
Stories from Paul's career as a letter carrier:
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When in Peru, Eat as the Tourists Do
Now for what y'all really wanted to know about the Peru trip -- did we, or didn't we, eat monkey? Why would you even think of such a thing? But I know you are wondering, so here's the answer -- not that I know of. One hotel we stayed at had three monkeys in cages, though. But I took a head count -- three monkeys when we came, three monkeys when we left. There now. You can breathe a sigh of relief.
The food stayed pretty much the same at the hotels from day to day. It was the roadside eateries that made lunch interesting. More on that in a bit. Breakfast, day in and day out, was predictable -- scrambled eggs, bread rolls, and papaya juice. Did I mention that I dislike papaya juice? I did not know before the trip that I did not like papaya juice, but I can definitely tell you now -- I don't like papaya juice. It's a pretty color -- pinkish orange, but it smells bad. And it needs a dash of salt. If you ever go anywhere in the world where they want to serve you papaya juice, here's the tip on how to down it: don't breathe while you chug it. There were days I dutifully chugged (good fiber source, you know), and there were days I could not touch a drop, whether I held my breath or not. The eggs were typically not fully cooked, but they probably don't have salmonella problems like U.S. chickens do, so no sweat. It's merely mind over matter, and how hungry are we?
At one hotel, they tried to serve us one small plate of eggs for all four of us at the table. We did not speak the language well, but the dirty looks on the waiters' faces when we asked for more eggs spoke loud and clear, and they were pretty reluctant about complying. Sometimes they brought an extra plate, but only the men got it. It was a one-person serving of eggs, and we didn't have any other plates on the table, so it was difficult to guess that we were all supposed to eat off the same plate. I think the chickens out back must have had to work too hard to feed us all, and the owners were worried about wearing the chickens out.
Lunch or supper (whichever we ate that day) was typically chicken, rice, potatoes, and salad. The chicken was sometimes chopped in bite-size pieces, in a sauce (but come to think of it, maybe that wasn't the chicken -- maybe that was the guinea pig. Oh, well.) Sometimes it was chicken breast (I think) that had been pounded flat. Usually it had a tasty sauce or gravy with it. Once the gravy was thickened with pureed potatoes instead of flour. If you go to Peru, the chicken is good -- unless it still has skin on it. Beware of chicken with skin on it. The two times we had that, it was so raw, it could have cackled.
They have a special scoop with which they plunk the rice on your plate. It's a round mold, sometimes with a hole in the middle. Think small jello mold, and you've got it. Humongous rice mound. I liked my rice plain or with a little gravy. Quite a few of our folks ate their rice with aji, a very hot sauce. A little dab'll do ya. But some of them dumped the whole bowl on their rice. They were hoping the hot sauce would kill any lurking bacteria, and that they would avoid getting traveler's diarrhea. Wrong. They suffered with the rest of us. And now they are minus their taste buds, too.
The potatoes came in various forms -- french fries, boiled or fried and then sliced, sometimes with a tangy yellow sauce on top. The potatoes were always cold when the sauce appeared on top. One of our Peruvian translators told me they have about twenty varieties of potatoes. Potatoes originated in Peru, you know. She was a potato connoisseur, I believe, and was sure I would notice the difference between the various types. They all tasted the same to me! She gave me the eye-roll.
When you go to a foreign land, the travel nurse will tell you not to eat the salad or raw fruits and veggies that are not peeled. This is because they are washed in the local water, which is filled with disgusting little microscopic thingies that wiggle and make you sick. When you get to the foreign land, they will serve you the salad that you are not supposed to eat. Your travel guide will tell you that if the veggies in the salad are blanched, you can go ahead and eat them -- just don't eat the lettuce. It did occur to me that the veggies were resting right on top of the lettuce, which had been washed in the water with the microscopic wigglies that make one sick. But I am a trusting soul, and what do I know, anyway? Do yourself a favor -- just don't eat any of the veggies resting on the lettuce. Trust me. I know now. My pastor is hard core. He figured out halfway through our stay that those microscopic wigglies were going to jump from the lettuce onto the other veggies. He'd been eating the veggies up to this point without mishap. So, he decided the lettuce wouldn't hurt him either. It didn't. He's fine. So, what happened to the rest of us?
We didn't always have chicken, just 80% of the time. A couple of times we had really good fish. And once we had beef (at least they said it was). I think they make super balls out of that beef. It was tough beyond description. And we had lamb chop, which wasn't. (It was goat -- and it was good.) And then there was the guinea pig. More on that later.
If you go to Peru, do NOT eat at the roadside places, ESPECIALLY if they call themselves tourist restaurants. It is better to starve than eat there. We did roadside restaurants twice. When we got off the bus at the first place, my husband commented, "This does not look like a good idea." The two Peruvian women who were with us (both classy ladies) said, "What are they doing to us??!! We aren't really going to EAT here!!!" One of them advised to choose chicken, not beef, as it wasn't guaranteed what the beef would actually come from. I've never seen chicken served up on a plate in that condition -- because I've never before seen dead chicken that laid in the sun for days and then was served nearly raw. It had been cooked a little, just enough to get it hot and turn the skin a little brown. But maybe getting the skin brown had been achieved by rubbing a little Coppertone tan stuff on it, come to think of it. Or maybe it was brown from really tanning in the sun for hours after it was killed. A dog wandered through the restaurant. I knew he was going to get a pretty good meal when we left, because most of us weren't feeling all that enthused about eating. I would imagine there were some varmints out back that ate pretty well, too.
The restroom in that place was a fatal experience waiting to happen. I took a look in the door. I did not venture further. One of our ladies was less discerning -- until she got inside. There was slop of some sort all over the floor. She got her pants legs wet. Someone comforted her by telling her it really wasn't what she thought it was. Hmmm.
Roadside eatery #2 -- No slop on the restroom floor, but one of our ladies obsessed that there was no soap in there, and the cooks probably did not wash their hands after using el baño. Tsk! Some people think too much. I assured her they used Dawn dishwashing soap to wash their hands in the kitchen.
I had stir-fried beef that day (made with super ball material again). Up until this time, I had never experienced stir-fry where the only veggies were onions and french fries. French fries in stir-fry ....
My friend who was obsessing about whether the workers washed their hands or not had some sort of spaghetti with little bits of veggies and chicken mixed in. Only it wasn't chicken. She didn't think it tasted quite like chicken. I ate some of her food. I didn't think about whether it was chicken or not. My taste buds aren't acutely observant. Someone told her it was guinea pig. (Peruvians like guinea pig. It is considered a delicacy -- at least, that's what we were told.) My friend had a somewhat stricken look on her face, after finding out what her "chicken" might have been.
I am not normally mean, but about then, I had a mischievous thought, and it sort of popped out from between my lips. "Oh, it's rodent all right, but not guinea pig. How do you think they keep the rat population down to controllable levels around this place?" I gave her a knowing look. I guess she was a good sport. She still talked to me after that.
So now you know how tourists eat in Peru.
© Copyright 2007 by Lee Ann Rubsam. All rights reserved.