Friday, July 30, 2010

Book Fair finds

Yesterday, after lunch I made time to head to the 15th Lima International Book Fair which is being held at a park near San Felipe, Parque de los Proceres -which everyone still calls Matamula, even though it's name was officially changed in the early 1970s.

Aside from a book on early photography in Ayacucho and one on the events in Bagua last June, I was rather pleased to find some older books which can be rather hard to find in Spanish, including a translation of Capital that was previously unknown to me.

Particularly pleasing was the opportunity to pick up a copy of the bookbound edition of Rafo León's Caín y Abel.

Caín y Abel  originally appeared as a series of vignettes in the monthly No! supplement to Lima's magazine in 1987.  The storyline was told from the viewpoints of two twin brothers, Caín and Abel. 

Caín was a rebel, part of Lima's "underground" (subterraneo or subte) music scene, and something of a black sheep. His contributions were punctuated with swear words and lyrics.   Abel, on the other hand, was a sweet, studious boy, who wanted nothing more than to please his mother, and who's sanctimoniousness drove Caín crazy and made his father worry for his sexual orientation.   The humor lay in the disparate ways that each described the very same events and the way that León was able to so fully convey each of his character's idyosincratic world-views.

Embarcadero 41

Yesterday was a holiday so we took advantage of that to have a lunch gathering of the cousins.  At my cousin Mariana's suggestion we met at Embarcadero 41, a seafood restaurant in Surco.   We had a nice time  chatting and joking, which we hadn't all had a chance to do at the wedding last weekend nor on the 28th when we had met for drinks at Mama Batata's, a club in Miraflores.

It was kind of funny when Erin, a guest of Sara's, commented that "it seems that if we aren't shopping, we're eating".    She concluded that that was fine however as the food in Lima is "great".    We all agreed that if one likes seafood,  Peru is the place to come, and that the variety and  freshness of the seafood here sure beats the "clams and salmon, and maybe a halibut," combo that is the staple of US seafood cuisine.

The food at Embarcadero 41 was no exception, although it did seem that in their ambition to provide variety the cooks hadn't really mastered all their dishes.  The cebiches and tiraditos were right on the ball, as were the rice-based dishes and causas.   The soups and stews seemed like an afterthought, relegated to the back of the menu.   This was confirmed by the shrimp stew, chupe de camarones, which Liz ordered and which all declared good but a bit plain, and no standout.

Another dish that received mixed reviews was the grilled octopus that Liz, Carla, and I ordered to share.   Many of our party liked it, but the three of us thought that it delivered rather less than it promised; that it was well marinated, in terms of tenderness, but it lacked somewhat in flavor. That simply slapping some anticucho sauce on it at grilling time was uninspired.  Maybe our standards have been raised a bit higher.

The whole fried fish, on the other hand, -in this case, cabrilla, prepared "Nikkei" style- was a hit.  The vegetables were crisp and fresh, and the sauce sweet without being cloying. 

 Nor did the dessert cart leave much to be desired ...

Of course, the true show stealers were the kids!

Embarcadero 41
Calle Fleming 141
Santiago de Surco - Lima

Thursday, July 29, 2010


We went to the movies last night in San Isidro.   While waiting for the showing we noticed that in the audience a few rows ahead of us and to the side was sitting Francisco Morales Bermudez Cerutti.

Mr. Morales Bermudez is a former Peruvian Army general.  He is also a former president of the country by virtue of having presided over the military dictatorship that ran the country from 1975 to 1980.   Morales Bermudez and his cronies overthrew the Revolutionary Government of the Armed Forces headed by Gen. Juan Velasco Alvarado.

Velasco and a group of reformist military officers had overthrown the democratically-elected government of Fernando Belaunde Terry in October of 1968 and quickly set about restructuring the Peruvian economy to break the power of the old aristocracy and to break the stranglehold of foreign capitalism over key resources.  They nationalized oil resources and refineries and then the mines.  When the oligarchs objected, the military nationalized their newspapers and handed over to labor unions.   And, in the biggest move of all, they expropriated large landholdings in the mountains and on the coast -including some of my family's- and redistributed the land amongst peasant communities and agricultural cooperatives.

Inevitably, there arose even within the military itself, sectors who felt that the reforms were going too far.  Enter: Morales Bermudez, Velasco's head of the Ministerial Council and Minister of War.

On 29 August 1975, Morales Bermudez moved against Velasco, removing him from office and forcing his sympathizers to resign their offices or move into retirement.

The Velasquizta reforms were quickly halted and Peru brought back into the fold of the IMF, with the accompanying economic "shock therapy".  The inflation, constant monetary devaluations, and shortages of consumer goods and basic foodstuffs, and plain old corruption, got old really fast.

As restiveness with Morales Bermudez's counter-reformist policies grew, the old bugger kept us under increasingly-frequent states of emergency and  nighttime curfews.   People were killed, opposition figures -specially from the left, including Velasquistas- were jailed or exiled, until it all got to be too much and the military organized elections for an assembly to draft a new Constitution, and later to elect a civilian president.

Today, there are more than a fewPeruvians who hold Morales Bermudez in high regard, viewing him as an elder statesman, who credit him with returning Peru to democracy and saving Peru from the "excesses"of the Velasco period.  I am not among them.

Nonetheless, I couldn't help but feel for the old general, sensing how irritating it must have been to him, as an old military man, to have people moving about during the national anthem -played before the movie, as yesterday was Independence Day.  Whatever he must have been feeling, he stood at attention, singing, throughout, and as the last note faded, his voice rang out in the theater: "¡Viva el Perú!"

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Wedding and Pachamanca

(Photo by Daniel)

On Saturday afternoon, the entire family and guests were driven about 78 kms north of Lima along the PanAmerican Highway in two buses and several personal cars, to Chacra y Mar, near the town of Chancay.  The purpose for the trip was to celebrate Sara and Ted's marriage.

The site selected for the festivities was the Casa Darenas, some family's rambling country home, surrounded by mandarine orchards, which is now sometimes rented out for events. The house sits on a bluff within sight and sound of the sea, and has room for thirty guests to sleep in beds, and several more on the numerous couches and armchairs.  The place itself was beautiful, and an inspired choice for the event, despite the added difficulties due to the distance from Lima.   

I was so focused on greeting relatives whom I had not seen in years that I didn't take many pictures on the first day there, other than of the wedding itself - which I won't post here (I'll let Sara take care of that via her Facebook or elsewhere).

Nonetheless, here are some details:

The chapel

Sara selected an Andean theme for the wedding

Detail of the house's decor

The party afterward was a lot of fun.   Lots of good food, open bar, music, and dancing.  It was great to catch up with relatives I hadn't seen in forever -some since I left Peru when I was but a kid, and some I only knew via internet.

Sometime after midnight Ted's groomsmen stripped down to their shorts and jumped into the pool.  It was cold so they didn't stay in long!    

For the second day of celebrations, Sunday, Sara had organized a pachamanca for the immediate family and selected guests -still close to 100 people.   Pachamanca is ancient cooking method from Peru's central Andes -including Ayacucho, where our family is from- in which meat and tubers are cooked in a stone and earth "oven" in the ground.  The word pacha is Quechua for the "earth", and manca is "pot" or "cooking vessel".  Thus pachamanca literally means "earth pot".

Pachamancas come in several "flavors" -e.g. "three-flavored"or "five-flavored"- according to the number of meats being cooked.  The particular combination of meats, and adjuncts, can vary according to regional tastes and customs, as do the seasonings and herbs used in the cooking.  For this event a friend from Ayacucho was hired to do the pachamanca.

(I paid close attention to the process as Liz and I hope to some day host one of these in our backyard.)

To create the proper festive mood, a band had been hired, and fireworks purchased, including a vaca loca or "crazy cow".

The "crazy cow"

First, the crew dug shallow pits in the ground and stacked bricks around them.  Fires were built inside the towers and stoked for several hours. 

Normally stones are used, but those must be carefully selected to not contain any sulphur or other compounds which could impart off-flavors, and must be such that they will retain heat adequately and not burst in the fire.   Such are not always easy to find in a given location, so these days -specially in the cities- bricks are often used instead.

As cooking time approached, the bricks were "cleaned" by whisking them sprigs of herbs.

When it was time to start cooking, the upper brick were removed, leaving a shallow ring inside the hole.  The embers were removed, and the floor of the oven lined with cool bricks.   The meats were placed in the hole, with layers of fresh alfalfa in between each layer-first, lamb, then pork, and lastly, chicken.   The alfalfa used in this instance was there because it helps keep up the humidity inside the oven, but does not contribute any flavor.

As the layers built up, heated bricks were added to build up the oven.  "Gato", the pachamanquero, explained that because bricks were being used the meats were wrapped in banana leaves.  When the proper stones are used, the meats can be deposited directly on a bottom layer of heated rocks with herb sprigs.

After the meats, a layer of potatoes was added.

Next, a net bag of fava beans, and on top of that a layer of sweet tamal-like humitas, followed by a final thick layer of alfalfa.

After the foodstuffs had been all added, the whole thing was covered with wet cloths and the dirt removed in digging the hole.  Finally, as custom requires, each of the two mounds was topped with a flower-decorated cross.

When the time comes for the pachamanca to be opened -after 1.5 to 2 hours- there is a specific ritual to be followed, if the thing is to be done right according to Ayacuchano custom.

First, the padrinos each take hold of the cross and lift it out of the ground.   Padrino is generally translated as "godparent" (literally it is "godfather"; the female form is madrina), but in festivities it is taken to mean something closer to "sponsor" and is sometimes given to honored guests, even though they may not literally be the sponsors of the feast.   Ted's parents acted as padrinos for one of the pachamancas, and my dad and my mom's friend, Margaret, did so for the second.

Next, the padrinos offer chicha or beer to the Pachamama, mother earth.  Then, together, they remove the first shovelfuls of dirt from the pachamanca.

The oven is then dismantled and the foods, now cooked, are removed and readied for serving to the guests, who greet the occasion with dancing...

... and more fireworks...

... including the "crazy cow"...

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Quick and dirty update

It's been a busy few days.    Between last Thursday night and Friday dawn Susana, Danny, Carla, and accompanying parties arrived and as part of the activities planned we went to Rustica on the Cost Verde beach for the lunch buffet.

From there we went downtown to show our guests the city center and the catacombs under the monastery of San Francisco de Asis.  That was followed, late in the evening, by taking in the floor show at Brisas del Titicaca.  Brisas is a Lima institution.  For decades it has offered a polished show of regional Peruvian music and dances, and a good dance band as well.   Peruvians of all ages go to the show and love to take their foreign guests there.

Unfortunately,  something from that damned buffet got to a couple of us.  In my case it manifested itself at Brisas in the form of nausea, followed by projectile vomiting  - fortunately in the restroom.   I went home and spent the rest of the night puking my guts out, which left me terribly sore all over my body.

Luckily, I have the sort of constitution which allows me to expel the bad and be OK the next day, which -even though still delicate- allowed me to enjoy the festivities around Sara's wedding this weekend.

More on that later.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Birthday lunch: Malabar

Monday was my birthday, and fortunately I was feeling human enough to start going out and doing stuff.   So, Liz, Nico, Diego, Sara and I went out to lunch.   It being my choice, I opted for Malabar, a restaurant I had been curious about for a while.

Malabar's cuisine is a bit hard to pigeonhole.   It is definitely in the vein of Novo Andina cuisine in fusing culinary academy -basically French, I guess- techniques and aesthetics with native ingredients and flavor.  In contrast to Novo Andina, which focuses on Andean and criollo ingredients and dishes, Malabar's chef has turned to Peru's Amazon hinterland for inspiration.   Consequently, the menu abounds with jungle fishes and fruits.

Part of what puts Malabar consistently at the top of Lima's restaurant lists is the quality of the experience.   The chef, Pedro Miguel Schiaffino, remains present and in charge of his restaurant.  In fact, he greeted us as we walked in.  The place itself is discreetly set into the ground floor of an office tower in San Isidro.  The windows are opaque and plain.   Inside, however, is a white-tablecloth restaurant decorated in a mix of jungle-like elements (stuffed impala heads over the bar), a collection of antique glass in a corner cabinet, and a large painting of a pair of swimmers clad only in swim caps. 

The food was very good indeed (although most Peruvians might complain that the servings are a too small).  Diego ordered a "dry soup" of shrimp, which was essentially a rissotto with an intense flavor of a classic Peruvian shrimp stew, chupe de camarones.   Nico had a rice and bean dish (tacu tacu) topped with a sautee of vegetables and seafood, which he declared excellent.  In fact he barely talked as he ate it!

Liz, on the recommendation of the waiter, selected a beef medallion with glazed vegetables. It was good, and tender as described, but she said she found a bit ordinary.

My selection, an inchi capi of paiche was perhaps the most interesting and surprising dish at our table.   Inchi capi is an Amazonian soup, usually made with chicken and thickened with corn meal and featuring yuca.  In Schiaffino's reinvention, the soup is a thin but intensely-flavored broth.   The corn shows up as crust on the serving of paiche, a large jungle fish, and the yuca as a tapioca topping on the fish and which adds texture to the broth as it is mixed in.

 Other notable dishes were some river snails and mushrooms atop a palmito puree and topped with shredded chonta palm, and a tiradito colored with ayrampo, a small cactus fruit long used as a colorant in the Andes.

Malabar is a very good restaurant and deserving of its reputation.  However, it is expensive and thus not a casually-made selection.   I don't know that I'd return, just on that account, but I enjoyed myself a lot and am glad to have tried it.


One evening this past weekend, between sleeping like 16 hours a day due to my cold, I managed to join the gang for some sushi at Edo, down the street on Av. Salaverry.

It was a nice time, and the sushi was well done. It was different from US maki-sushi styles, but we found nothing out of the ordinary for Lima makis. Liz, Nico and I concluded that part of the issue was likely due to to having been in a group and letting my cousins order for the group, which eliminated part of what makes sushi fun - choosing tempting rolls and interesting ingredients for oneself.

Unfortunately, it was then back home and back to bed for me.

We may go back on our own later to give it a better try.

Edo Sushi Bar
Ave. Salaverry 3230
San Isidro - Lima

Friday, July 16, 2010

Nico and Sara arrived today, Sara nice and early at 4:40 am.

I've been a bit under the weather. Got a slight cold, that had me kind of worn out. Took a nap yesterday and today and Liz gave me some Mydol and Sudafed, and that helped.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010


Well, the remaining people have started to arrive. First, my dad, and yesterday, Liz came in.

She was tired and sore from the trip, but quite hungry so we went out to dinner in Miraflores.

Everyone's getting excited at the prospect of seeing each other again.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Southern Cone

Visitors to Lima might at times be perplexed to hear residents refer to the city's "cones".    A glance at a Lima map reveals that, as it has grown, the city has formed a rough triangle, with vertices extending along the Panamerican Highway to the north and south, and east up the Rimac Valley and along the Central Highway.  Those points of the triangle are referred to as the "Cones."

Fourty, thirty, even just twenty years ago, many of those neighborhoods -if they existed at all- were  haciendas or small isolated settlements surrounded by agricultural fields.  Many, if not most, of the rest were no more than open desert.  Just dirt, sand, and rock.

Over time those areas were taken over by migrants, fleeing poverty, and later, war, in the interior of the country, desperate for a place to establish a home.  (At one point, in 1988, it was estimated that Lima was receiving 1,000 internal migrants per day.)   To that was added the growth in Lima's own population, particularly among the poor, who -unable to buy into the rising apartment buildings- have no option but to expand the city horizontally into the desert and up steep, rocky hillsides.   There, they built their homes and businesses, bit by bit, as means allowed.

 From Casuarinas, looking south toward Villa Maria del Triunfo and San Juan de Miraflores in the distance.

Distance -and not only geographically- means that much of the time the Cones and their inhabitants are absent from the thoughts and lives of middle class Limenos who live in the central part of the city.   There is, on the one hand, the not unfounded impression of those areas as dirty, unpleasant, and crime-ridden.   On the other hand, the simple fact of the distance and the availability of so much throughout this huge city, means that it's poor suburbs -as much as it's wealthy ones, of which there are a few- are areas that by and large a resident of Jesus Maria, Lince, Miraflores, San Miguel, etc., would not have reason to go to save in rare circumstances and for specific reasons - usually business.   

San Juan de Miraflores.

This morning, Willy, Diego, my dad, and I, ventured out to the Southern Cone in search of the home of one my grandmother's maids, Lucha.    My grandmother had grown very fond of Lucha and her son, and they of her, and the family has kept in touch with her since my grandmother passed away and  helped her buy construction materials.  However, because the area where she and her family managed to settle is so remote and steep, services have yet to be established there, nor does it even have an official name.  There is no sewage, nor  electricity or phone service, which means that the only way to actually get ahold of Lucha is to navigate the unpaved, unrmarked streets of the shantytown and find her home amid the shingle of the hillsides.

We tried.  Made a number of wrong turns through Villa El Salvador, and finally having located what we thought might be the right hill, realised that we had not the time to visit with her and make our lunch appointment at my aunt's home.  So, frustrated in our designs, we gave up and headed back toward the paved and electrified parts of town.

 Villa El Salvador.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Barranco food festival

After a sleeping in after a boys-only night out with the cousins and uncles at an Argentine-style BBQ restaurant, followed by a late night of conversation and Scotch, Diego and I spent the morning cleaning house, followed by watching the World Cup soccer match and then lazing away the afternoon.

Come evening, however, I was itching to get out and play a bit, so we headed to the seaside bohemian neighborhood of Barranco, which is home to poets, artists, musicians, good restaurants, and fine examples of Republican architecture.

Tonight, however, we found that it was also home to a craft and gastronomic fair.   Diego and I settled ourselves on stools at one of the booths and whiled away the minutes with pisco sours while we waited for cousin Juancho to join us.

We were there so long, and had so many rounds, that the young woman tending the bar got kind of familiar with us and that led to some amusement.  A while later, after she had traded out with another bar tender, she came back to the booth to get something and when she saw us, she chuckled and exclaimed "You guys are still here?!"   Diego responded with some flirty comment and she mentioned that she had actually just switched booths to one around the corner.   As we didn't like the new bar tender's touch, we decided to relocate to her booth for another round as Juancho joined us.   The young woman brightened up when we approached, and Juancho remarqued that she seemed to know us, to which she replied that of course, as we were "loyal customers."   We finished the round, then walked around and found ourselves in need of a bathroom, what with six pisco sours apiece in our systems.  We found a restaurant that let us use theirs, and when the door to the bathroom opened up, who should emerge?   Our bartender, of course!  over which we all got a laugh, with Diego swearing -truthfully- that we had not, in fact, followed her there.

We then walked around  the plaza, checking out the fair, while we again waited , this time for Jose and his girlfriend, Carla, meet us.  

There were booths selling handicrafts from various places around the country, though nothing that one doesn't find nearly anywhere else here.    The regional food booths were more interesting and we sampled some manjar blanco, and Andean cheeses, of which I ended up buying a wheel.

When Jose and Carla arrived, we adjourned to the prepared foods section for a late dinner.

We ended up ordering a bunch of dishes from which we all sampled freely until we'd had  all we wanted -save Carla, who managed dessert- and there was naught left to do but take ourselves home.   Below is some of what we sampled:

Anticuchos, rachi, and choncholines:  grilled beef heart, tripe, and chitlins.

Tacu tacu montado:  Bean and rice patty with steak and egg.
(We got a double-yolked egg!)

Rocoto relleno:  Rocoto hot pepper stuffed with spiced beef and cheese.

Parrillada de cinco sabores:  five-flavored grill, meaning it includes five kinds of meat
- chicken, beef, pork,
pork sausage, and cabanossi.

Tallarin verde con milanesa de carne:  Pesto noodles with a breaded beef fillet.

Aji de gallina:  Shredded chicken in a spicy cheese and pepper sauce.
(This is one was a bit too salty.)