My son got married in Lima a few weeks ago, and we were lucky enough to have a few warm and sunny days, something not very common in July. As soon as I landed in the city that was my home for many years, I decided to make the most of this unexpected weather and head out to my neighborhood market. Even though I had been there innumerable times, I was surprised by the immense quantity of fresh produce that you can find in these places. They are almost like mini versions of Persian markets where shoppers can find it all, people selling and buying food for the day or the week, listening to loud music (mostly Chicha, Huayno and Salsa) on their radios, and talking and laughing from stall to stall.
Everywhere you look is filled with enormous varieties of fruits and veggies from every part of the country: the mountains, the jungle, the small valleys in the coast. Cheese, meat, fish, and shellfish, groceries, juices, flowers, spices, cinnamon sticks more than three feet long, and the list goes on.
The fishmongers offer extremely fresh fish and seafood. They are so skilled that they can fillet the fish in a snap, and even give you suggestions on how to cook it, depending on the size and the variety of the fish. You can take the fillets, and the bones and heads as well, which the sellers recommend for soups and broths, or just to add another layer of flavor to the stew. They will tell you what kind of fish is great for Cebiche, while others are for deep-frying, or perfect to bake with Chicha de Jora, wine or beer. In the meantime, some of them are preparing our beloved Cebiche in front of the customers that are eagerly waiting for their toothsome portion.
The merchants or Caseros as we call them, (literally homies), always seem to have a great time getting to know their customers and selecting for them the best of everything. They even give you a Yapa (extra) for free (usually a little bit more of what you´re already taking home or a small bunch of herbs). I found some interesting stuff this time, like Champus, an oval fruit with pale and hairy green skin, that is used like shampoo in the Andes -hence the name-. My Casera swears that your hair will be as clean and shiny as if washed with the best shampoo in the whole world. Another natural shampoo used here is fresh aloe vera gel. I haven´t tried these 2 beauty methods yet, but will let you know what happens when I do. If they work, that would be an amazing discovery!
I bought a huge Chirimoya, more than 3 pounds of custardy sweetness; some Lucumas, with their opaque orange and floury interior, unique in flavor and aroma. They are used primarily for desserts but I love them also for milkshakes: just mix whole milk, condensed milk, Lucuma and a little vanilla essence in a blender. My daughter eats it raw too, but for me the texture is too floury. If eaten raw, they should be pretty ripe so they’re creamier. In the States it´s easier to find it in powder, which you can easily add to many preparations. (Stay tuned for our Lucuma Tres Leches recipe this week. It is to die for).
Finally, I could not help myself and grabbed a Pacae. It is like a giant green bean, with several black seeds in the interior covered by a white and sweet velvety layer. They resemble cotton balls, but are so delicate in texture and in flavor, that I´m having a hard time trying to describe it for you. They´re different from anything I´ve seen elsewhere. If you ever happen to find yourself in the presence of this unusual fruit, don´t bite it, just let the lush pulp dissolve in your mouth to really enjoy its texture. When you do it you´ll see what I mean. In El Salvador, the big black seeds are cooked and eaten, and this is called “Paterna”, but I don´t like it at all. (I´m sorry, Salvadoreans).
For all of you that have been in Lima, these pictures will be a visual encounter with the markets, and if you have never been there, I wish they help you make up your mind to start planning a visit! It´s an exciting and unique place for it’s blessed biodiversity and many reasons more. This will continue…