I had always heard a lot of stories of the exotic Americas and when I got a chance to visit one, it was almost like a dream come true. This exotic location that I travelled to was Peru or the land of the Incas, a beautiful country with so much natural beauty and tradition. Their cuisine and people really fascinated me… I think it was the colours, deeds, display and simplicity.
Despite the influence of European colonialism, much of the native South American cuisine remains a mystery. Moreover, I can define it as a marriage between European and South American gastronomies. Peru demonstrates the interrelation brilliantly where the native ingredients are mixed with the Spanish, Arabic, African and Oriental influences. The typical ingredients of the Incas are potatoes, tomatoes, corn, peppers and aji (pronounced like arhi) a typical hot chilli, corn, rice and beans.
Our journey started after we landed in Lima, the beautiful capital city of Peru along with Pacific Ocean. The city had its touch of modern influence on it and hence did not see the crudeness and life of the actual Peru. I saw a lot of its striking colours and display of the gastronomy in the smaller towns of Nazca, Aguas Calientes or for that matter in Iquitos in the Amazon. On our way to the impressive ruins of the Machu Picchu, we stopped at a small town of Aguas Calientes. It was a small town in the middle of the gigantic Andean mountains with the most fascinating colours and displays in foodstuff. Being an artist who is influenced by colours this place was a paradise or me. Before starting our journey to the grand Machu Picchu, we decided to buy some fruit for our long day. While strolling through the markets, we saw several fruit stalls loaded with variety of fruits flaunting their freshness and colours. The fruits were arranged so creatively with all their colours matching against one another that I wanted to have them all. We often see this in India too in different fashion, maybe on carts or in juice bars, etc, but this was more fascinating since all vendors had them displayed in their own style and pattern and unique in their own way.
Chicken is not the most staple diet in Peru but what caught my eye in Nazca was something strange. I am not sure what the local had in her mind but whatever it was, it was surely funny and memorable. We were sitting in a small roadside shack and sipping the Chicha Morada, a drink extracted from purple corn, when I spotted this lady. She was carrying a beautiful, healthy rooster in a shawl tied around her shoulders. They both seemed happy and comfortable in their own place. The rooster sat comfortably in the pouch of her shawl while she walked elegantly, feeding him the corn and cheese she munched on. It was such a hilarious sight to see them both so much at ease with the arrangement.
As we travelled across from the coast to the Andes and then to the jungles of the Amazon, we had some other experiences which seemed fun, daring and nostalgic. As soon as we landed in Iquitos, a city on the borders of the Amazon, we saw some amazing similarities between India and this part of the country. All over the place people kept staring at us. We had no idea why, until we walked down the markets of Iquitos. We were so surprised to see Bollywood posters and cds all over the place. Perhaps not too many Indians travel to this side of the world because people asked us questions about our country and its culture, cuisine, clothing, etc. Not only that, we also saw bikes and autorickshaws just like we see here, in our country. It was so amazing to see a part of us half a globe away! This was one side of the Amazon; the other one was more adventurous. On the streets of Iquitos, we saw a guy skewing one of their delicacies, orange and black fuzzy caterpillars. They were alive and kept in basket. People seemed to savour its taste and texture. Bipin also decided to try one and thought it was crunchy on the outside and gooey in the inside. Right next to the caterpiller shack was a guy selling coconut water, just the way we see it in India! I have travelled to so many places but Peru was the only place where the coconut water was sold in its traditional way instead of bottles. It was the nostalgia that made us drink the fresh water of the coconuts, two each. That whole day was spent talking in our brief Spanish to people, understanding their way of life, tasting different dishes like the Yuca potatoes, alligators, caterpillars, etc. So much like India and such a distance away, it’s remarkable how similar and dissimilar we are!