Sampling and Samples
Day 001 – July 23, 2011
Landing in and starting to live in a foreign country where one does not know the language or culture can be a rather stressful affair.
(If you would like to read more profound declarations by the author, please sample “The sun rises in the east” and “China is a large country located in Asia”)
Thankfully, my wife’s work has a program in her office where a co-worker is designated as the Work Sponsor to help the new arrival and family become acclimated to the area and to ensure a smooth (or, at the least, “relatively smooth”) transition to the new locale. Our Work Sponsors were the O’Ryans, Marcus and Elizabeth, and they took time out of their free Saturday to help us go shopping so that we could stock up our new house and to show us the ropes about how one shops in Lima.
However, before that grand shopping adventure could commence, lunch was on the menu.
Being an atypical American, I wanted to sample some food of a local flavor. Being a typical American, I didn’t want to stray too far from my edible comfort zone. Luckily, near the market we were going to visit was a happy compromise…Peruvian hamburgers courtesy of Bembos.
(ASIDE: For those in the States who think that this Peruvian chain sounds like the slang name for a ditzy and attractive woman, that name is already taken by a Mexican bakery conglomerate.)
Bembos appears like any other fast-food hamburger establishment (brightly lit, menus above eye level, counters, staff wearing loud colors), but the selections are of a local flavor. The Mexican hamburger comes with tortilla chips between the buns. The Bembos Huachana contains eggs, potatoes, mayonnaise, huacho sausage, hamburger and lettuce.
Yes, an egg. Poached, I believe.
I went with the Bembos Criolla which has fried sliced potatoes, Creole sauce, lettuce and mayonnaise.
It was not my choice of burger that introduced me to a new taste sensation. Instead, it was a tiny packet of sauce that I took for my papas fritas (French fries) suggested to me by the O’Ryans.
This type of sauce is called aji and it is a tangy, spicy, orange-colored sauce. It is more flavorful than ketchup and more robust than mustard, yet less spicy that jalapeno. This is exactly the type of new food flavor that I was looking for in this whole Peruvian adventure – and thankfully, it would not be the last.
My other new find is Inca Kola…but my reaction to it can wait for another post.
With lunch done, it was time to shop and our place to go was a local shopping market. Again, just like the thought I had when entering the terminal at Jorge Chavez International Airport, I wasn’t quite sure what I expected when I entered this suburban Lima grocery store, but it was similar to any Kroger’s, Ralph’s, Shopper’s Food Warehouse, or [insert your local supermarket here] to be found in the States.
Bright, clean aisles filled with a wide variety of foodstuffs, cleaning products, and produce greeted us and the O’Ryans and us began our quest for all the things we would need for the house.
Despite the similarities, I would like to point out one difference between this local shopping establishment and any up north in the Lower 48 (I can’t speak for Hawaii and Alaska). Back home, at Costco for example, people would give out samples (and anything with cheese on it was my favorite) but they would be standing behind a small counter. Here, the women (and they are all young women) would be standing in the aisles holding trays of their promoted products. They would come up to you and ask if you would like to sample their wares. Even when we were checking out, the Scotch-Brite woman kept asking us to feel her sponge. A further difference to mentally take note of is that these women are wearing an outfit that has the logo and color scheme of their advertised samples, which sort of made them look like tiny NASCAR drivers.
We sent the kids at staggered intervals to the Splenda woman because my wife loves her coffee sweetener and free always tastes better.
END NOTE: To finish off our dining experience for our first full day in Peru, we had dinner at Pizza Hut. Baby steps, people, baby steps.