Monday, March 04, 2013

What I Miss: New Zealand vs. Peru

Over the past five or six years, I've divided my time between New Zealand and Peru. I've generally made a lot of effort to get back to Peru, and when I'm there I don't really feel homesick. This might be because I've always been there on a fixed term - if it became permanent I might feel differently. However,there are always a few things about New Zealand I miss when I'm away. Conversely, when I'm back in New Zealand there are specific things I miss about Peru, apart from the general reasons for wanting to go back.

As will be seen, there are specific foods I miss about both places when I'm in the other place. Peruvian cuisine is varied and often delicious, but there are a few things you just can't get.

What I miss about New Zealand when I'm in Peru

Fish and chips - terribly unhealthy and you can't have them too often, but there's nothing like a serving of serving of greasy fish and chips, and I occasionally get a craving for them. Ironically, chips (papas fritas) are very popular in Peru, but they're just not the same.

Asian cuisine - New Zealand's cities are full of Indian, Malaysian, Thai, Cambodian, Japanese and Korean restaurants - often cheap, and generally good to excellent. It's not just Peru, but Latin America as a whole, where it's near impossible to find good Asian food (Peru at least has chifa, its version of Chinese food, and there are some reputable Japanese places in Lima).

English breakfasts - there's nothing like a big plate of eggs, bacon, mushrooms, hash browns, tomatoes and toast with butter, especially after a night out. Most cafes in New Zealand do something like this, and some do it brilliantly (Kelburn Cafe in Wellington springs to mind). In Peru, the closest thing is what they call 'American breakfast', but almost everything is not quite right. The eggs are dry and scrambled without milk, 'ham' is something that has barely made the acquaintance of a pig, and the toast is from aerated pan de molde that crumbles at first touch. Having said that, my mouth waters at the thought of a 'German breakfast' from El Turco in Arequipa!

The coffee. Peru is a notable coffee exporter, and a blend from Sandia in the Puno region recently won an international prize for best organic coffee. However, it's hard to find a decent espresso coffee (there's a couple of places in Arequipa that I haunt) and strong espresso with milk (flat white, latte or cappucino) doesn't really exist. Every so often, I really miss this aspect of Wellington!

Clean and green spaces - Peru is full of wonderful natural spaces. Unfortunately, wherever people live or anywhere near main roads there is usually significant litter scattered about - the exceptions being tourist sites and some upper middle class neighbourhoods. It's a serious and growing problem, especially as economic growth occurs and consumption of plastics and other durable materials increases. New Zealand also has environmental problems and is nowhere near as pristine as the tourism campaigns make out. However, most urban and rural areas are free of actual litter.

What I miss about Peru when I'm in New Zealand

Cebiche: my mouth just waters every time I think about it. Slices of raw fish or shellfish marinated in a little lemon juice and chili, served with red onion,  canchita (toasted corn kernels), camote (flat sweet potato), perhaps with some seaweed, and ideally washed down with beer. In New Zealand, at parties and potlucks people sometimes offer something they call 'cevish' (pronounced as if the correctly spelled word were French). This tends to be chunks of lightly boiled fish floating in coconut milk On these occasions I have to resist the temptation to be a boor.

Menus: in Peru, all but the finest restaurants will offer a menu or set meal, at least for almuerzo, the main meal in the middle of the day. This is usually extremely cheap, and will incude a soup or starter, main course, drink and sometimes dessert. As an example, there's a place around the corner from where I stay in Lima where you can get a starter of a stuffed avocado, followed by a main course of seco (meat stewed with coriander) and beans in a hearty sauce, served with rice and complementary chili and lemon. All for S/. 8 (around $4 NZD).

Pisco: in my view, there's no mixed drink anywhere better than a good pisco sour. With a good quality pisco and a skilful bartender, it simultaneously dances all over your taste buds, loosens your tongue and gives you a warm, happy feeling, In New Zealand, the only accessible pisco most of the time is what I bring back.

General knowledge crossworld puzzles: I'm addicted to the crossword in La Republica,which is based on a mixture of clues and pictures: you have to recognise the people or places in the images, and fill in the clues based on a mixture of synonyms, general knowledge, geography, actors, artists, musicians, politicians, sportspeople, Greek and Roman mythology and alphabets, and common words from English, French, Portuguese, German, Italian, Russian and Quechua. The lower brow papers also have these kind of puzzles, useful for when La Republica isn't accessible.

The unpredictability: when people have asked me why I keep coming back, I think about it for a while and come up with this. Strange and surprising things happen continuously, and it's often a bit of a puzzle exactly what has happened, let alone why. These can be unfortunate or upsetting things, but they're almost always interesting. You truly learn something new every day. My perspective is of course biased, and in many ways this is a good thing, but New Zealand often seems to be running on autopilot.