How it all developed

See, I come from a country (a region, if you wish) in which food is usually the center of attention. I was born in Peru, South America, where, generally speaking, everybody loves to eat. There’s a whole social aspect around eating, we get together for all meals: breakfast with the family, lunch with colleagues at work or friends at school/uni, dinner again with family or friends. Each special event is celebrated with food and we make a big deal about eat. Each time we eat, we talk about what we’re going to eat at night, the day after, on the weekend, etc. Many people outside from Latin-origin countries (because I believe the situation in places like Spain and Italy are similar) may think “that’s the way we feel about food, too”, but believe me, it’s a very different perspective. There are several theories about why things work this way, personally I think that in South America the causes may be a combination of being poor (and therefore appreciating food more than richer citizens of the world) and having great tasting food.

That being said, on top of this “genetic” interest for food, I come from a family of great cooks. My grandmother had a ravioli business (really strange choice considering that she was Japanese), that unfortunately didn’t exist anymore by the time I was born. However, I had nine years of my life to taste her wonderful dishes. Two of them are tattooed in my memory: “sustancia” and “aguadito de choros y pollo”. The first one I’m sure many people wouldn’t like because it was nothing more than a soup with cow liver (which I must confess I like) and various veggies that my granny used to blend so that we wouldn’t object eating it. I think the blending thing was done mostly for my sisters because I wouldn’t have minded eating the soup with the liver pieces floating around. The other dish, “aguadito”, is a kind of really thick soup where the main ingredients are rice and coriander. The rice is cooked in broth, so that it results in a soupy consistence (hence the name, since “aguado” means watery), garnished with diced carrots, peas and diced potatoes, and with some sort of animal protein, generally chicken. My granny used to add black mussels (“choros”), too, which gave her aguadito that special taste that hasn’t washed off my memory yet.

When I was a little girl and stayed at home on school holidays, I used to watch Teresa Ocampo (a Peruvian celebrity chef at that time) on TV with my grandmother. That’s one of my earliest memories, which should have hinted me on my career choice when I left high school, but unfortunately didn’t. I also used to prepare really simple salads (lettuce, tomato, lime juice and salt) and leave them in the oven (turned off, of course) for one of my aunties, who used to come home from work for lunch. Later on, when I was old enough to use the stove, my granny taught me how to prepare pancakes. On weekends my sisters and I would prepare sandwiches, omelettes, pancakes, salads, and coffees, and sell them to my aunties, uncle, and mom. For us it was just a game (although we did earn some coins re-selling the grown-ups the food they had bought in the first place), but again, this should have hinted me on what kind of profession I was meant to be involved with. Anyway, there’s no point in having regrets.

When we got home from school we had lunch and my aunties’ house (which was right besides our house) because both of my parents worked full-time. When my granny passed away, the oldest of my aunties was the official cook. She used to be a great cook, too (nowadays she doesn’t cook much anymore because of age issues). I remember her “torta de galletas” (biscuit cake), “olluquitos” (a Peruvian tuber cooked traditionally with “charqui” or alpaca jerky, but she used to cook it with beef and Peruvian feta cheese), and “tallarines blancos” (penne with bechamel sauce and tuna). My aunties had these fixed-food days thing going on: soup on Fridays (yep, just soup and a plate with rice) and beans on Saturdays. I still remember all of the flavours and wish I can come up with the exact recipe one day.

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