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Donde Hiro is run by Peruvians of Peruvian-Japanese extraction who have returned to Japan (Hiro is the chef/owner). The large TV is always blaring Latin American MTV. The decor includes Andean indio craft hangings and soccer trophies displayed on the shelf behind the cash register. The extensive menu is in Spanish and Japanese, with many photos. Beer, Inca Kola, and chicha morada are on offer. It’s located in Oppama, the next station up the Keikyu line from Taura. We walk there from our house in about 30 minutes to work up an appetite because the servings are like distances in the New World, vast, hard to navigate, picturesque, full of strange new creatures and—nevermind—they have big plates.

OK, so my man’s not Peruvian, he’s originally from Bolivia, but he lived in Peru when he was young, and there are many similarities between Peruvian and Bolivian Andean dishes. [Bolivia lacks the coastline for the fish dishes due to some disastrous international relations moves in 1879-83, but need we bring that up now as the constitution is being rewritten and the wealthy provinces are declaring autonomy?]

So, this post goes out to my Bolivian family members who, I know, will have hambre at the sight of fried potatoes and rice and meat and aji

Donde Hiro’s mixed ceviche, made with “rebodo” (we have no idea what fish this is in either Spanish or Japanese, anyone?), octopus, clams, squid, shrimp, mote (fried hominy corn), choclo (fresh hominy corn), camote (yuca in Peru, but in the photo a sweet potato), red onion, and fresh hot peppers. Fantastic.

Milanesa de carne (breaded and fried pounded beef) with french fries. They serve a hot hot hot salsa de aji on the side.

I kiss you lomo saltado, a stirfry of beef, french fries, fresh tomatoes, onions, and hot peppers. Served with Japanese rice, which is so good it makes me a little crazy weepy.

Not pictured: a follow-on piece of homemade chocolate and coconut cake drizzled with dulce de leche.

Where’s Neruda when you need him? OK so he’s not Peruvian either, but here’s to the french fry:

Chisporrotea
en el aceite
hirviendo
la alegría
del mundo:
las papas
fritas
entran
en la sartén
como nevadas
plumas
de cisne matutino
y salen
semidoradas por el crepitante
ámbar de las olivas.
[…]

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Photo: The abandoned house in Taura.

It’s 4:30 p.m. and the light is fading fast. I descend from my hilltop neighborhood—full of blinking Christmas lights and overly clean cars—via the bamboo grove pathway to the older neighborhood down the hill. My mono no aware reminder, the abandoned house, sits on its perch and waits either to be destroyed or to be loved anew. In Old Taura, the cars are also clean, but they look a bit more run down, a bit less conspicuously expensive. Rust appears on old metal railings. In front of slumped, two-story apartment buildings, flowers are planted in old styrofoam fish crates. I gaze at the abandoned house with affection as I take an evening walk. Suddenly, two young Japanese women scamper up to me, excited.

They ask me if I speak Spanish, which stops my brain for a moment. What? They ask me again in Spanish if I speak Spanish and I reply, “Un poco.” I ask them in Japanese why they want to speak Spanish. Are they students? They shake their heads. I tell them my husband speaks Spanish if they urgently need to speak with someone. What’s going on here? I’m noticing their clothes, all black, strangely black, like either just come from a funeral black or…I can’t think straight.

We talk about how there are many Spanish speakers both in Taura and Oppama (the town up the road) because of the many Peruvian immigrants/returnees here. My fishmonger in Taura knows exactly which local fish are best for ceviche because he has so many Peruvian customers. In Oppama, there is a Peruvian restaurant called Donde Hiro with a menu in Spanish and Japanese. It’s a hangout for the local Peruvian-Japanese returnees and for some Hispanic sailors from the U.S. Navy base 15 minutes away. The house ceviche is outstanding.

I pause and look at the Japanese women: I have run out of trivia about Spanish speakers in Taura. I ask them: “Why do you want to speak Spanish?” No, no, they don’t want to speak Spanish; they want to give people who speak Spanish this—and they hand me a Jehovah’s Witnesses tract. Ah! So! Now they are so clear to me, wearing conservative black, acting a bit nervous, too forward for normal Japanese people.

The pamphlet is in Spanish: ¿Le gustaría saber más de la Biblia? I find this hilarious because I have already told them that although I speak Spanish, my first language is English. Why didn’t they give me an English pamphlet? Why am I being so indulgent with them, whereas in the States I would have walked away long ago? They ask about my husband, and I feel my face get hard: “He’s Roman Catholic.” They murmur, “Oh.” And shut right up. Really? You give up so easily? Back off sucker Christians, my man’s an original RC. So, why didn’t they ask me what I am? Not very good sales people; they had a real live one right in front of them—a sort of Buddhist, baptized Methodist, agnostic/humanist. Now I find myself amused that they are chasing after foreigners (don’t they realize we’ve been covered?), and I ask them if they bother Japanese people with this. My tone has changed. Everything’s not so friendly now.

“Oh, yes, yes, Japanese people, too.” And I am given the Japanese version of the tract: Seisho ni tsuite motto shiritaito omowaremasenka? (Do you want to learn more about the Bible?)

I bring the conversation to an end and they get into a sparkling blue car and drive off.

In a few minutes, I reach the street of my fishmonger and I call out to him as he is closing up shop. He says, “Hey, taking a walk?” He is always relaxed and happy to talk about what he is selling. I think he agrees with me that fish purveyors should wait for customers to come to them.

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