Food. Food is so important here. And so is eating. In my host family, it’s like a crime if I miss a meal. Not that I can’t go out and eat with friends- that’s not what I mean. As long as I’m eating, there’s no issue. But if my host mom were to ever find out that I didn’t eat anything at all for a meal…she would panic, and jump up to make me something. It’s so different from the U.S. and especially college life, where sometimes I’m lucky if I even get lunch or dinner. Part of the reason my host mom is so concerned with my eating habits definitely has to do with the fact that she loves to cook, and even owned a restaurant in which she was the head chef for about 5 years. Food is a big part of her life. She ended up choosing to leave her job though, years ago, because the kids were home alone a lot since she and her husband were always working late hours at their respective jobs, and it was painful for her to see them so upset.
The amount you eat is important too. The more, the better, the more polite you are (at least in my family here). So different from the U.S., where eating less is more respectable. I can’t even count how many times I’ve heard my mom mention to her husband or other relatives how little I eat. “She eats like a bird,” she says most often. But the things is, I feel like I’m eating more food here each day than I ever have in my life! Three large meals a day plus snacks and things when I’m with my friends and between classes. One thing that has struck me pretty hard in regards to Peruvian culture is that being fat seems to be considered just another way to be, whereas in the states it’s a condition that can and needs to be fixed. It’s not nearly as frowned upon as it is in the U.S., and from what I’ve seen it doesn’t seem to reflect socially or culturally at all on your worth as a person. In fact, most of the endearments I’ve heard in my time here have a lot to do with weight- my host mom calls her husband “gordi” or “gordito” (the English equivalent is something like, ‘my little chubby man’) all the time (which can be funny because my Dad’s name is Gordy and it catches me off guard to hear my host mom say his name sometimes) and she calls her son “gordito” a lot and even refers to herself in that way too. It’s just used as such an insult in the U.S.- it’s bizarre to be in a place where one’s physical size and shape has so much less to do with people’s opinion of you. I don’t think I’ve ever been so comfortable with how I look, or so unconcerned with my appearance.
But I digress, back to the food – it’s wonderful! I don’t think I’ve eaten anything here so far that I haven’t at least liked, and certainly nothing that I wouldn’t eat again, except for moraya. Moraya is potatoes that have gone through a long and complicated process of dehydration and when they are cooked you have to re-soak them first. Usually people cut them up and put them in a cheese sauce called Hauncaína (which is really good- just not with moraya) or they make a small slice into the center of them and put cheese inside and eat them that way. My host family loves moraya, but I cannot stand the taste or texture. But it’s okay- my host mom told me that not a lot of non-peruvians like moraya. None of the other people in my volunteer group really like it either.
One dish that I really love is lomo saltado. It’s basically just sautéed onions, peppers, a few other veggies that I can’t remember, French fries and small slices of beef. It’s SO good- my host mom makes is for me and puts it on a sandwich so I can take it with me on the weekends to our volunteer project. I’m not bragging or anything, but the rest of my group is always jealous of the lunches she packs me.
Now, this entry wouldn’t be complete if I didn’t mention the most famous Peruvian cuisine, cuy, or guinea pig in English. I haven’t tried it yet. It’s not that I haven’t wanted to (though I’m not bursting to), I just haven’t had the opportunity because buying it is actually pretty expensive. Hopefully I will get the chance to before I go…I just hope I can handle the little paws and teeth that come with it.
Caitlin Petersen is studying abroad in Cusco, Peru, with ProWorld.