On May 4, 2013, after a near-scuffle with the Spirit Airlines rep who told me to “lose” 15 lbs worth of luggage, I boarded a plane to Lima, Peru. Roughly 6 hours later (with at least a half hour of that occupied by pen-hunting, since Spirit airlines also feels justified in not offering pens yet demanding you complete immigration forms prior to landing), my passport was being stamped.
Of all the possible things that I could share first, from photos of the stunning cliff overlook five minutes from our apartment to tales of just how hilariously bad my Spanish is, the winner—oddly enough—has got to be our first grocery shopping trip.
“But grocery shopping is a mundane and boring chore,” you say. NO! Everything about food, good food, real food, is amazing, from cooking it (or in my case, watching Ivo cook it) to eating it, and buying the food is where it all starts. I love grocery shopping, and dios mío, suddenly, for the first time since I accidentally wandered into a Hot Pot party being held by my Chinese flatmates, I was in a market where I recognized maybe a third of the produce alone. Poor Ivo turned into a show-and-tell guide the whole trip: “What’s this?? What’s that???” The combination of jungle, mountain, and ocean in Peru has given it the ideal resources to produce a stunning array of fruits, vegetables, meats, and fish.
Based on what I’ve tasted so far, especially in terms of the rainbow of new fruits now entering my vocabulary, I’ve painfully compiled a limited list of my new favorites. If you are in Peru, you need to try the following:
Chirimoya: Think soft, incredibly sweet apple. Ivo brought a chirimoya to me the other day, just cut in half and chilled—we ate it with a spoon. The natural sweetness is almost tooth-splitting. While in Florida, Ivo had me try this in the form of a custard at a Peruvian restaurant; I can now finally believe his assertion that they hadn’t added any sugar to the dessert. For me, this one is still better in a prepared dessert. However, since they are sold on just about every street corner, I’m guessing eating them plain will grow on me quickly.
Tuna (not the fish… clearly): Think watermelon, but slightly less sweet. The seeds are edible, small and only slightly distracting from the fruit itself. Mostly the tuna (which also comes in a vibrant pink color) is just water; this makes sense because these little guys are cactus fruits! When I went to pick one up the first time, Ivo snatched my hand back, worried they might still be covered in spikes. Chilled and cut in half, they make a great kiwi-sized snack.
Maracuya: If I had the ability to write an opera that would conclude with a parade of elephants outfitted in golden tuxedos against a background of live fireworks, it would center around the taste of the maracuya. This might be the best fruit I’ve ever had in my life. As is appropriate, Peru uses it in EVERYTHING: drinks (alcoholic and otherwise), pies, cakes, ice creams. It is sweet, but not so bitingly sweet as a strawberry—it almost has a twist of mango to it. The taste is summery and refreshing, but rich and satisfying at the same time. Hats off to the brave soul who ignored the revolting appearance of its goopy innards and tried a spoonful anyway.
Cocona: The first time I tried this one, before Ivo brought me a glass of iced cocona “tea”, I saw him boiling the fruits. He only told me after that the “tea” had been made only out of the water they had been boiled in; later, when he made a juice by blending the fruit of the cocona with banana, I was equally blown away. Unlike the light, sweet, dessert apple taste of the chirimoya, the cocona has a richer hint of apple, more like the baked oven taste of apple pie. Matched with banana, the juice is almost filling.
Manzanilla: After a list of fruits, I’ll end with an herb that I don’t believe I’ve seen before in the States (though I’m not a tea section regular). The tea smells sunny but relaxing, essentially just like the little white flowers that it’s made of; unlike other more herbal teas though, the taste doesn’t have any grassy, earthy undertones. Mostly I like the concept of drinking these adorable little flowers (which the store just sells in bundles), but it’s also a nice break from my regular berry-flavored teas.