One of the best things about living on the north coast of Peru, as well as one of the most challenging, is the food. We don’t have supermarkets in town. There are a couple of very small stores that sell dry goods, condiments, cheeses, deli meats, bread, and cleaning supplies; analogous to your mini-marts in the states.
What we do have is a large open market with various vendors; similar to a farmer’s market. There are the fish mongers, the butchers, fresh vegetable and fruit vendors, spice counter, and dry goods stalls. There are also vendors who set up on the sidewalk outside of the market. Over the years, we’ve come to shop with the “chicken ladies,” (Carmen and Lucy), the “choclo lady,” (Juanita), the “brothers,” (Kelvin, Mom and brothers), the “Good Morning guy,” and “The Queen.” We can count on these vendors to have good produce and quality products. We also know they will treat us fairly and not ask a higher price because we are gringos. On occasion we buy from others; it all depends on what they offer and how fresh it is. The variety is amazing and we’ve been introduced to many new foods. I’ve learned to be adventurous when it comes to cooking.
As an aside… The Good Morning guy always says, “Hello, good morning” (in English) when we walk by his stall. His pronunciation is excellent and his delivery can be heard across the market. That is the extent of his English though, and he has difficulty learning new words. The Queen received her name since she always calls her female customers “mi reina.” (my queen.)
FYI…that is cinnamon in the bag! Some of the pieces are a foot long and 3/4″ in diameter.
The challenging part is that many foods we were accustomed to having in the states just aren’t available here. Things might be different if we were in Lima, but we are 18 hours north in a rural coastal town. Peanuts abound, but almonds and cashews are rare. There are three types of rice sold and all are white rice; they differ in quality and price. We can find whole grain brown rice when we travel to the larger cities, but wild rice isn’t sold here. Strawberries are available in season. The only other berries available at times are moras, which resemble a raspberry but are darker and quite tart. Potatoes rule and you can find several of the 4000 different kinds found in Peru any day of the week.
I’ve learned to create plans B and C when the meal I plan on calls for ingredients which cannot be found. Making substitutions is part of meal preparation. Some days you will find what you are looking for, others not. Tuesdays and Fridays are “market” days; when trucks, cars and vans arrive with fresh produce and goods.
For another example, I found a recipe this morning I wanted to try. It called for full-fat plain Greek yogurt as the base for a marinade. The yogurt we find here is a flavored liquid drink which contains a fair amount of sugar. Once in a great while you can find the same yogurt drink without flavoring. The only way I was going to come close to the Greek yogurt would be to make it myself. I began looking for a substitute… it needed to be something creamy that had a bit of tang and a tenderizing quality. I decided to use an eggless mayonaise I make myself using ground brown rice, lemon juice, and honey. Obviously the flavors would differ, but I thought the ingredients in the mayonaise would accomplish something similar to the yogurt in the cooking. The meal turned out to be quite delicious.
Very few canned goods available here. Things like stewed tomatoes, tomato paste, apple sauce and beans all need to be cooked from scratch. This wasn’t entirely new territory for me, but I generally bought them ready made in the grocery store. In the long run, I don’t know that I would revert to canned goods. Making these ingredients isn’t difficult; it just takes a bit of time. Also this way, I know what ingredients go into my recipes and I can control the amount of sugar and salt.
Add to all of this our dietary restrictions. Doug has diabetes which is controlled by his diet which avoids refined pasta and noodles, rice, sweets, potatoes and fats. My nutritionist told me to avoid all grains as I am insulin resistant. In June, I passed a kidney stone and was placed on a low oxalate diet. Oxalates are found in grains, root vegetables, nuts, beans, some fruits (avocados, grapefruit, oranges, tomato sauce), chocolate and spinach (with an amazingly high oxalate content). Dairy products are recommended but I have a mild allergy to dairy.
The last five months have been challenging to say the least. I found lots of recipes using cauliflower. Cauliflower chowder, mashed cauliflower which mimicked pureed potatoes, cauliflower hashbrowns…… I have been using so much of it, the vendors in the market now call out to me when they have cauliflower!