This post is one of a six-part series on our recent family trip to Perú. The dentist will be visited. Jorge el Curioso will be watched. Paracas will be braved. Bread will be eaten. Spanish will be spoken. Mmm, Spanish will be spoken badly. And more bread will be eaten.
It was around four-thirty p.m. when our dentist on Avenida Venezuela stopped drilling out my cavities and fashioning teeth tops from spackle-like stuff. Roberto asked with solemnity,
“Doctor, when can she eat again?”
The dentist, Dr. Paulino Merino, a man who loves to play Andre Rieu while he drills and spackles, regarded this question with a seriousness any Peruvian knew it deserved.
“Well, it’s lonche soon, is it not?” he asked.
Ah, yes, lonche.
“Well, you can’t miss it!” he said.
Lonche, often referred to as the diminutive lonchecito, would look like tea time to a British person. It occurs daily for many Peruvians from about five to six p.m. This span of time at most other points in my life—horrifyingly to Roberto—was dinner or suppertime. I remember many dinners as a child when we’d sit down, and it’d still be light outside. Heaven forfend! Sunlight touching the tater tots! For Roberto, the acceptable time for even the thought of dinner to creep in is around nine p.m. (This has gotten earlier though since we’ve had kids, and it makes great sense to him to feed them earlier and get them to bed earlier.)
Food, preparation of food, buying food, and talking about upcoming meals while eating is very, very important to a Peruvian. It can be an all day event. A Peruvian’s day looks a little like a hobbit’s.
Below is only a mere impression of how awesome a day of eating with a Peruvian is:
el desayuno: Roberto likes to eat what he calls a “strong breakfast.” At Roberto’s mom’s house this consisted of freshly baked rolls, either pan frances (round, hand-sized French bread) from La Liguria or ciabatta from Litz. Tea cups with serving plates and tiny spoons were laid out daily. Some Nescafé Clasico Instant Coffee would be poured into a cup, followed by boiling water, sugar, and, then, Gloria brand evaporated milk. All of the spreads for the bread were placed in the center of the table. There were freshly made jams, manjar blanco (otherwise known as dulce de leche), pâté, butter, avocado smashed and sprinkled with salt. One day we had rolls and a sausage called salchicha de huacho, or as Roberto calls it, “The best possible thing you could put on bread.” On Sundays, we ate tamales in addition to the rest of the normal spread. When Roberto’s sister threw a birthday for Kid Number One, the breakfast she presented was , the classic breakfast pork sandwich, pan con chicharrón, which should be layered accordingly: sweet potato slice, onions, then, smoked pork covered with a sprinkle of salt. You can add aji, a spicy sauce, to this.
las onces: Often around eleven a.m., Roberto would usually turn to me and say, “We need to get strength to last till lunch. Let’s get an empanada and some chicha.” Chicha morada is a sweet drink made from purple corn boiled with pineapple, cinnamon, clove, and sugar. Or we’d get a pastry and cafecito (a small coffee). At first I laughed when he said we needed the snack for strength, but after a while, it just sounded so damned cute, that I did feel we needed it.
el almuerzo: Lunchtime is the biggest meal of the day. At Roberto’s mom’s, the feast often began with some soup, usually a chicken soup, complete with a chicken claw and bones for flavor. Then, would comes the meal. I was always used to eating just a sad sandwich for lunch, but now, at our house, the rice cooker is always on. Rice is ALWAYS served with lunch. ALWAYS. (Once it even appeared aside a square of lasagna.)
To make rice, Roberto coats the bottom of the cooker in oil and tosses in some whole garlic cloves. He leaves them there to warm and brown and then in goes the rice. When the rice is cooked, he pours in a little oil, some peas and corn.
I am not going to even try to list all of the lunch meal possibilities. They are many, and they are awesome! Notable though is pollo a la brasa, or roasted chicken. Peruvians are crazy in LOVE with roasted chicken. We had a big Sunday meal of pollo a la brasa with all of his family, and it was served with fried yuca, Inca Cola—a highlighter-colored soda that tastes like bubblegum and has somehow grown on me—and lots and lots of aji.
el lonche: Lonche is kind of like las onces all over again: cute pastries and breads served with cafecito.
la comida: Unlike what I was used to growing up, dinner for Peruvians is a small meal, usually some soup and maybe a small portion of the lunch that was eaten earlier, and it’s eaten around nine or ten p.m. Sometimes, if lonche was super-filling, la comida isn’t even necessary.
At what crazy time do you eat dinner?