Independent Storytelling

A few years ago, when I published my book on my time in Bangladesh, I received so many questions about publishing. Back then, in 2013, self-publishing was called “vanity press” — publishing as if it was for one’s own vanity. That seems an age ago as social media has made us all creators and storytellers — Instagram and its television channel, YouTube, and Facebook Stories (watch my month-long farewell to Peru on those channels or on the video page of this website), are all “vanity press” as they are self-published. Of course the paper book did not disappear as some feared. We simply gained more independence in how, where, and to whom, we can share out stories. Maybe we are more vainglorious…

Even with all these new choices, some media are still harder to edit than others. Take PDFs. Adobe Acrobat owns that format almost completely. One can buy a license for $180 per year. It does, however, make editing PDFs acrobatic (had, had, to play on the words!). As I work on my many projects, and my next book (a paper version about Peru), I am glad to have the freedom to be flexible.

Just as story telling has moved beyond the book, so have other media, like chocolate, taken on the terminology of books. My favorite chocolate shop in Peru, El Cacaotal, calls itself an “edible library” — that should encourage reading!

Keeping up with all the forms of communication is a bit like a chariot race. In between my website/blog, Instagram, Facebook, YouTube, and podcasting, something may have to go by the wayside when I get back out exploring in my next country…

Mucilage Never Tasted So Good – Cacao Juice

Cacao juice tastes like nectar. Indeed, the Latin name for cacao is “theobroma” or “food of the gods”.  To learn more, you can read the wikipedia entry of this blog. In Peru, this juice is called “mucilage” which is the technical term for the white pulp that surrounds the beans inside the cacao pods.

I first tried this juice at Kjolle (co-located with Central), Pia Leon’s restaurant. It was a hot summer day and sitting in the tall open sheltered space of Kjolle was a respite from the bleeping traffic outside. While Kjolle makes many other fancy drinks, this unassuming looking drink (it has a watery whitish tinge) was a revelation. It tasted a bit like lychee, mangosteen, or green apples, but had a taste all magically its own.

The other place where I have tried it was at Maido. Their version was in a Gin and Tonic cocktail. I asked if they could make me a mocktail. They did. The presentation was beautiful and their version of this drink was thicker, so more like mucilage, than at Kjolle. People remarked that it would make a good dessert. It was a longer relationship drink as well because of the thickness and richness. They served it with a side visual of theobroma and its cousin the majambo/macambo bean which is whitish in color.

Majambo can also be roasted and eaten. It has a mild nutty flavor. I first tried them at El Cacaotal in Barranco. Since I wrote the blog posting about El Cacaotal two years ago, that store has moved and blossomed. It is a lovely place to just chillax.

On a side note, a friend was planning to make some cacao juice and it made me wonder how ones does that. There is a whole process which can be read about here. As this site mentions, there is already a company that sells packaged cacao juice, so I see it becoming more and more commonplace. Having looked up a recipe on Google, I’m not sure that it entails more than extracting the fruit, maybe blending it for consistency, and then putting through a strainer (this is the method for making juice here in Latin America).

The Best Things About Expat Life in Lima – Or, It’s Always Avocado Season

In celebration of Peru’s independence days, “fiestas patrias,” (July 28 is independence day and July 29 is a holiday for the armed forces and police), here is my posting about what I think is great about living in Lima. As I did for some of the other places I have lived, I have already written about what I don’t like about living in Lima. Before living in Lima, I had visited more than five times as a tourist. The first time was immortalized in this blog posting. Now that I’ve been here for more than a food-frenzied weekend, the following things are what I like about living here.

The food scene: The restaurants. It seems like every week, there is a new restaurant opening, and thanks in great part to Gaston Acurio, the culinary scene has become part of the national identity. There are fancy-foamy-intellectual dining establishments, fast food franchises, family-run restaurants, neighborhood favorites, and hole-in-the-wall secrets.

The immigrants: This is one of the reasons that the food scene in Lima is great. Thanks to the Chinese (Chifa is a normal word here for a Chinese food and restaurant, and it is as ingrained in the local food choices as hamburgers), the Japanese (Nikkei is the word used for both the food style and the Japanese Peruvians — this month celebrating 120 years in Peru), the Italians, the Lebanese, and all the other immigrants who have been been contributing to the deliciousness in Lima. Thank you to the newest (those two Thai restaurant owners, those Pakistani and Indian guys, that American with the chocolate shop, and those three Swedish ladies, that Mexican guy, and the Venezuelans, and all of those others whom I have yet to discover… I’m looking at you, shawarma palace!). Plus, many of the Peruvians are domestic immigrants — from somewhere else in the country (bringing things like their delicious cheeses… which I’m told is called “country cheese”).

The Palta Fuerte (the palta fuerte is too delicate and buttery to be exported, I’m guessing): It is always avocado season. When buying an avocado, the vendor will ask the day and time that you plan to eat it so that they can sell you one that will be ripe at the precise moment that you plan to enjoy it. “Palta” is the word for avocado in Peruvian Spanish. No one in Peru says “aquacate” even if they may know what you are talking about. At a restaurant, you can ask for a side of palta and it’s totally normal, like asking for butter (but better).

The juice (plus fruit and produce in general): the lemonade (they offer it made with pureed lemongrass at most places), the passion fruit, the orange juice, the blackberry juice. Plus, the pineapples are delicious and the mangoes have a season (like Edwardian socialites). The Edward mango is especially yummy as it has fewer fibers.

The chocolate: Go to El Cacaotal. That is my one must-do for visitors, for newbies, for chocolate haters… now serving hot chocolate and coffee!

The cultural offerings and activities: cooking classes, chocolate tasting lessons, Cordon Bleu courses, surfing classes, dance schools, wine tasting lessons, the circus, theater productions, gyms, yoga, concerts, archery sessions, wine and paint classes, museums, open studio nights, expos, marathons, fairs, farmers markets, and almost any other activity that you can imagine in a metropolis (there is always something to do). Even comicon.

The walkability: they even have ciclovia. Yes, you can walk here. There are sidewalks, parks, and hiking trails.

The neighborhoods: I like that there are actual neighborhoods, farmers markets, barrios, districts, parks, malls (mega ultra modern and local “centro commerciales”), and the coast (its own microcosm).

The positive attitude toward expats/foreigners: Generally, as a foreigner, I don’t feel hate or suspicion from the locals. The Peruvians are,  generally, pro-American culture, and certainly pro-European culture. While most Peruvians don’t approach/talk to foreigners, they also don’t harass them and follow them around (as would happen in other countries where I have lived)… It’s funny, the little things one appreciates. As a foreigner, one can have a life here without being a circus act.

The security: I am completely amazed to see people out jogging, with headphones on, at night. Granted this is along the more patrolled streets but I am still amazed. Utterly. Amazed. Every. Single. Day. Really. Still. Ah-maze-ed.

The view of the ocean: Yes. It’s amazing. Beaches too. If one likes sand.

The public toilets: Almost all grocery stores and malls have public toilets. One has to remember to not flush the toilet paper, but, at least they have toilet paper, although, not always in the actual stall — so get it beforehand.

Delivery: Like in Bogota, almost anything can be delivered.

The taxi prices: $2 for a basic short ride of a few miles. Sometimes $7 for an hour’s ride.

Help: there is always someone to carry the groceries, the taxi drivers help with luggage, the doormen help with stuff, and domestic help is a normal part of life here. I’ll write more about that in a separate posting. Aside from the domestic cleaners, there are nannies, gardeners, drivers, porters, dog walkers, DJs, caterers, dishwashers, movers… you name it. I have an “event tech” whom I hire for parties. I may change that title to “event engineer” as engineer seems to be the new generic term for “trained” (I was chatting with a taxi driver who told me that he used to be a “production engineer” — he potted yogurt in a lab. He chose to drive a taxi because the yogurt potting only paid $670 per month, double the minimum wage, but he makes double that as a taxi driver, even though he works double the hours. But, at least, he is his own boss).

The prices for dental care: as with most things, one can pay lots of money for dental care, but one can also get good dental care for $17 (cleaning and checkup). But, if one wants to pay $170, one can. Many of the dentists have trained in other countries and their certifications in those countries may not be valid here.

The prices in general: from picture framing to groceries, to clothing alterations, to the above mentioned items.

And, did I mention the palta?

Chocolate Chakra Ceremony

With the annual Peruvian chocolate expo, Salon de Cacao y Chocolate, coming up July 11-14, I’m reminded of a “first” I had in the Peruvian gourmet chocolate store, El Cacaotal, last year. One day, while in the store, I got chatting with a Danish tourist. She was in El Cacaotal to buy chocolate for a “chocolate ceremony.” Apparently, in Denmark, there are people who get together to drink hot chocolate and open their “chocolate” chakra. It can be super dark in Denmark in the winter, so getting together to drink hot chocolate sounds like a good idea.

The Salon de Cacao can be overwhelming. One should be prepared that one can get “out-chocolated” — at some point, one just needs a break from sampling chocolate. I think I reached the limit at about 20 last year. Wonder what it will be this year…

El Cacaotal Chocolate Tasting

29356627_10156205236974618_4501804735599032424_n****Updated address on March 21, 2020**** Chocolate tasting class? For as little as 60 soles (20 bucks) or 120 soles (40 bucks), you can learn all about chocolate, where it’s grown in Peru, where it comes from, how to taste it, what it should sound like, snap like, smell like, and so on… but, no fear, the class is not intimidating. AJ is clearly an expert (she really is — see below), but she is so warm and friendly that you hardly feel like you are sitting on a school bench.

497BF684-20B3-4B0E-8416-C67AD88394A6AJ is an American anthropologist who did her graduate degree in chocolate!  Then she opened up a shop to share the knowledge and help Peru’s chocolate field. Her shop is called El Cacaotal (cocoa field) and it’s decorated with dried cacao tree leaves and everything chocolate (or items in support of non-chocolate small entrepreneurs). The shop is located on Jirón Colina 128A in Barranco (two streets west from the Metro grocery store on Grau, down the street from a yellow corner building, and located upstairs next to Puna).

AJ’s chocolate tasting classes can be in English or Spanish and at the end, you will be in situ to buy chocolate! The chocolate is sustainable small batch delicious healthy dark chocolate, but you can ignore that if you want and just enjoy the delicious varieties of chocolate from all over Peru.

FCAF90F4-D7D3-4CD6-A90B-14E910A2AC62I emailed to set up a class for seven of us (she can fit up to ten in a class). Her email is: elcacaotalperu@gmail.com. Make it a thing you do when you visit Lima.

Ou5Ux2uwEyBZfzlMsIPcXoIhM67zsQJTGAB58a-3D31P5deqfMaw2YdHVbgZ76LNTkIHxZDGdKhhCZfGrPHdz18cZDhsJ-LiP_lg-f6-q4XCMAcueWscqwLNmtVTL1pLDbM27jYgtS530sBmBS649cJlmws8YXUgWVcq7ftE7jxoSNnWFeM1V31MU3Read a much more thorough article about her on Living in Peru

I’ll be too busy eating chocolate, because, did I mention that I don’t even really like chocolate? So I’ll be trying to find one that I really do like… And not just the world champion from last year… I’ll give them all a try! Even the (healthy, sigh) spreadable version.


Address: Jirón Colina 128A in Barranco

Email: elcacaotalperu@gmail.com