Berries and Spice in Peru - Part 1

Berries and Spice in Peru - Part 1
by Ioana Negulescu
Reading time - 3 min

(originally published in PopChop Magazine)

As I sat at Canta Rana, following Anthony Bourdain’s food-steps (a better excuse than saying it was also the closest restaurant to my hostel), tears kept flowing down my jet-lagged face. I couldn’t believe I was there in flesh and bones, eating my first ceviche in its motherland. It was bright and acidic, but kind to my teeth. The white corn kernels that were spread around the bowl tasted like marzipan.

My first night in Peru was not going to be the only time during my travels in Peru that I would cry tears of joy while tasting various foods. I didn’t use my tears as seasoning, but I did need to ask for a double serving of salsa picante for every meal. They would look at me with scepticism, as I tried my best to convince them that I do eat very spicy and that no, their salsa picante was not going to put me down. I didn’t have proof of my resilience towards Blub’s pure carolina reaper ‘Aua’ sauce.

I flew 10,000km to Peru as an excuse to be by myself for a few weeks. During that time, I erased the existence of the word “no”. I was hungry to learn and discover, and the fearlessness of travelling alone led to some pretty unique experiences, from eating butterflied and deep fried cuy (guinea pig), taking part in a shamanic San Pedro ceremony, to horse riding around a 6,000m sacred glacier, tackling my fear of heights and paragliding for the first time in my life, eating a huge Amazonian mealworm and swimming with sea lions on an island near Lima. The latter did not convince me: it turns out that Eau de Sea Lion is definitely not my kind of fragrance.

I left my waiting-list spot for Central in the hands of fate. For the first time in my life, I was more excited to eat at the market than sit through multiple courses in a restaurant that the average Peruvian local would not afford in a lifetime.

My approach got me an express ticket to food poisoning. Within less than 30h, my European gut bacteria failed me.

Dear reader, worry not, no food poisoning was going to allow this ambitious and stubborn woman not to experience Peruvian flavours.

I kept going. I just had to add a cocktail of pills to my double order of salsa picante. A week later, I finally popped the antibiotics my grandma had gifted me for Christmas as a last resort (if this is going to be my Romanian stereotype, I will stand proud). Within two days, I was healed (and stopped the antibiotic inferno). Food poisoning is pretty common when coming from different parts of the world: the immune system is not yet adapted to the local microbiome.

Whether it was the ceviche where locals queued in a gigantic line, the choclo con queso (corn with cheese), the papa rellena (potato croquette), the dim sum in Chinatown (there is a huge Chinese influence in Peru), the huacatay (Peruvian black mint) or the mix of delicious fruits that came before a wave of pisco sour, natural wine and a night cap of local craft beer, it doesn’t really matter. My taste buds were happy. And that was just the first day…

I most certainly left a big piece of my heart in Peru. Reflecting on what I did each day before going to sleep led to one conclusion: every day was magical, in its own way. I’m excited to tell you more about this journey, so stick around, more stories to follow.

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