There’s no doubt that people in different countries eat differently. Even people in the same household may have different eating patterns, but as we do with so many other subjects, human beings have a tendency to generalise. Some people get it wrong and assume, for example, that all South Americans eat tacos and drink tequila. Of course they don’t even know that Mexico is not in South America, but in North America.
In the spirit of getting people to know what seems to be the norm in Peruvian eating patterns, I’ll just jump into the generalisation wagon and say that we live to eat. I’d say that most people have the classic three main meals: desayuno (breakfast), almuerzo (lunch) and cena (dinner) and that they usually have these characteristics:
Breakfast: smallish, usually one or two bread rolls with cheese, ham, jamonada (a cheaper processed “ham”), butter and jam, or something similar, plus tea, herbal tea or coffee (café con leche, instant coffee with milk, seems to be a popular choice). Weird choices can include my sister’s Inca Kola + cigarette, and an ex-coworker’s 8 bread rolls with cheese and ham + big bowl of porridge (made with oats, maca powder, apple, quince and milk) + 1 liter of papaya juice + reheated leftovers.
Lunch: big meal, surrounded by family, friends at school or coworkers. A big percentage of people still eat like farm workers, with entrée, main, dessert and beverage. Some have soup for entrée or soup plus entrée. Both are usually overloaded with carbs, usually potatoes or pasta. Rice is almost compulsive in main dishes, and is usually surrounded by other starchy items, maybe mashed potatoes, boiled potato, potato chips, boiled sweet potato, boiled or fried yuca (cassava), boiled corn, potatoes as part of the stew, etc. Dessert of course comes with more carbs and lots of sugar. You can hear from lots of Peruvians that a sandwich is not a lunch.
Dinner: Usually a main as described in the lunch section.
But it turns out that for people in the past (in my grandparents time for sure) that wasn’t enough. They had a fourth meal between lunch and dinner called lonche, obviously translated from “lunch”, but actually meaning afternoon tea. There’s still a radio show called La hora del lonchecito (“afternoon tea time”) with music that my grandmother would love. In the past, it was common to have breakfast, lunch, lonche and dinner, I think there may be people who still do, but as most of us get smarter and realise that an office job does not require that many calories, we choose between lonche or dinner.
A traditional lonche is similar to breakfast, with bread rolls, small goods, cheese, butter, jam, olives, tamales, empanadas, chancay (the Peruvian very humble take on brioche), maybe some cake, hot beverages, etc. It’s often enjoyed in family, although nowadays people tend to use that time of the day to catch up with friends in fancy cafes.
Last week I was in the mood for lonche. Maybe it’s the cold weather or the fact that I’ve been a bit sad, I don’t know, the thing is that I picked a cake recipe I’ve been wanting to try for a while and told my sister “how about a lonchecito on Saturday?”. She agreed and decided to bake a quiche.
I don’t know where Gladys got the recipe (it was handwritten) but the mushroom, broccoli and bacon quiche was delicious. The crust was the only weakness, it was a bit crumbly, but the whole thing looked (and tasted!) beautiful.
We served it with a yummy salad: mixed leaves, cherry tomatoes, grated carrots, avocado, canned beetroot and a few broccoli florets that were left out from the quiche, simply dressed with olive oil and balsamic vinegar.
I got the recipe for the cake from Stephanie Alexander’s The Cook’s Companion, an amazing (and heavy!) book that has loads of information about key ingredients and a wide variety of recipes that feature them. I had a bottle of Tokay (dessert wine, originally from Hungary but this one was Australian made) sitting in my cabinet for a while, so the Olive Oil And Dessert Wine Cake recipe (below) looked like the perfect choice.
The cake is very simple if you see the ingredients list and preparations, but the complexity of flavours makes it special. It’s basically a sponge cake prepared with the classic method of egg yolks beaten with half of the sugar and whites beaten with the other half, with the oil and wine added into the yolks mixture. The result is a cake for grown-ups, soft and light. The author suggests eating it with fresh or poached nectarines or peaches, but they’re not in season, so I poached pear slices in water, dessert wine and vanilla essence and served them (with the syrup) next to the cake, which was was dusted with icing sugar before cutting.
Before eating the cake we had a few pieces of Stilton (the real deal, from the UK) with Tokay, to confirm the theory behind that pairing. The wine worked extremely well with the cheese and with the cake too.
Olive oil and dessert wine cake
Recipe from The Cook’s Companion by Stephanie Alexander.
Stephanie’s notes: This recipe is a slightly modified version of one given in Alice Water’s Chez Panisse Menu Cookbook. It is the perfect accompaniment to poached or fresh peaches or nectarines and is a revelation when served with a fine dessert wine. I use an Australia dessert wine when making (and eating!) this cake.
5 eggs, separated
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup dessert wine
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
150 g plain flour, sifted
pinch of salt
2 egg whites
1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
pure icing sugar
Preheat oven to 180°C. Butter a 24 cm springform cake tin and line base with baking paper. Beat egg yolks with half the sugar until pale and thick, then add wine and oil. Fold in flour and salt and transfer to a large bowl. Wash and dry mixer bowl and beat all 7 egg whites with cream of tartar until they hold soft peaks. Beat in remaining sugar until you have a soft meringue. Fold lightly but thoroughly into yolk mixture. Spoon into prepared tin and bake for 20 minutes. Lower temperature to 160°C and bake for 20 minutes. Turn off oven, cover cake with a buttered round of baking paper and leave to cool slowly. Remove from oven after 15 minutes. (The cake tends to deflate as it cools, so it needs to be protected from sudden changes of temperature.) Dust with icing sugar before serving.
Small cakes: Spoon batter into paper patty-pan cases and bake at 180°C for 10 minutes, then lower heat to 160°C and bake for 10 minutes more.