Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Food Glorious Food

Peruvian food is AMAZING. The last time I was in Arequipa and Lima (November 2013), I gained 5kg in 6 days. Even as a devout pescatarian, I will admit that there are lots of wonderful land proteins served in Peru. There is no shortage of wonderful food options in Peru. The seafood (especially ceviche), fruit, pasteries, chifa (Chinese food), Inca Kola – I love it all. One of my favorite things to do in Peru is to visit the local market and look around at the food stalls.

The fruit stalls are my favorite – so much fruit I’d never seen, heard of, or tasted before visiting Peru. Most of the fruit is trucked in from nearby farms.

Within hours of arriving into Arequipa, we drove to the market and brought back a ton of fruit (and carrots) to our hotel.

During my last trip to Arequipa, I tried 5 new fruits. This time, I’ve added a few more to the list. I can never remember names. One of my favorites is granadilla, which looks and feels like a hollowed out orange. Cut it in half and there are tons of edible seeds swimming in a mass of gooey and sweet fruit.

Gigantic Peruvian corn with kernels 5 or 6 times as large as kernels of U.S. corn. Peruvian corn isn't sweet like American corn.

Avocado and cheese sandwiches made with Pan de Tres Puntas (or Three Points Bread), a puffy pita-like bread that originated in Arequipa. Bought a few of these from a very nice woman at a sandwich stand for 1.2 soles (<$0.50 apiece).

Inca Kola, the best-selling carbonated beverage in Peru. It's everywhere. This is the famous stuff that looks like a yellow-hued Mt. Dew and tastes like bubble gum. I’ve been told that Inca Kola had historically outstripped Coke and Pepsi in terms of sales and popularity. Coke had tried to compete, but it gave up and ended up buying Inca Kola. After toying around with the formula, which resulted in massive consumer protests, Coke reverted to the original Inca Kola formula and hasn’t touched it since. Not sure if the popularity of Inca Kola is generational. Most of the young children I've seen in Peru seem to prefer other types of carbonated drinks. I'll ask around and report back later.

Speaking of Inca Kola. I agree with my Peruvian friends that it is the perfect accoutrement to chifa, the Peruvian version of Chinese food. Haven’t seen General Tso’s Fish yet, but I’m on the prowl.

I’ve managed to walk over 10,000 steps each day (tracked using my handy FuelBand), which has helped me to keep my weight down this trip. So far, my belt notch suggests that I haven’t gained any weight. In fact, I think I’ve dropped a couple pounds. Last trip, I was walking less than 2,000 steps per day, which in conjunction with heavy, non-stop eating might explain the flash weight gain. I have an embarrassingly large collection of food photos. I will continue posting new AMAZING food photos throughout the week.

Sunday, March 09, 2014

Hello, Arequipa!

The last three months, I have been busy running around town preparing for a clinical trial funded by the International Association of Dental Research. We are working with our long-time friends and colleagues in Peru to test whether adding xylitol to milk prevents tooth decay in Peruvian school children. Xylitol is a natural sweetener found in birch trees and other agricultural byproducts that has been shown to prevent tooth decay. There is an interesting story that led to the development of our study. All low-income children in Peru are given a glass of milk each day as part of Peru's Programa del Vaso de Leche, a national nutrition program designed to improve the health of vulnerable populations. Peruvian children, like most children worldwide, don’t like the taste of  milk. To enhance uptake by children, local schools add sucrose (table sugar) to milk. Adding sweeteners like table sugar or honey to milk is common practice by milk manufacturers in Latin America. Notice the honey bees on the Gloria milk can label. The rest of the world isn't innocent. We do this in the U.S. with chocolate and strawberry milk and in Korea with banana milk. The public health problem is that exposing low-income children to fermentable carbohydrates via sweetened milk can increase tooth decay risk among these already vulnerable children.

Before we left Seattle, I visited the Peruvian Consulate in North Seattle to seek approval to transport our microbiological supplies to Peru. The Consul, Miguel Angel Velasquez, was very friendly and helped moved the process along quickly. The Consulate is located in a neighborhood off Bothell Way.

We flew to Atlanta and arrived in Lima at 1:00 AM. After a few hours of sleep, we were back at the Lima airport to catch our morning flight to Arequipa, the second largest city in Peru (after Lima, the capitol).

After nearly 22 hours of non-continuous travel that started at SeaTac Airport, we made it to Arequipa, Peru. We were greeted by at least 100 parents and family members of local high school students who were returning from studying abroad in Europe. Each family member was holding balloons and screaming as each passenger entered the airport. I felt like a K-pop star.

Our team will be in Arequipa for the next 11 days. The weather today was sunny, dry, and warm. Rain is in the forecast, which is an obvious feature of the rainy season that typically lasts from January to March.