Cheers, to Mistura.
My dear Sirs and Gentle-ladies, I am a proud person, although, I have a love/hate relationship with my stubborn attitude. But I have no shame in admitting that I am wrong. What was my wrongdoing in this case? Up to what point where my predictions flawed? I’m not sure how to delve into in to this so lets go step by step. First, I was flung to the other side of the city because I went for the congress of speeches called “Qaray” held each year, typically inside of the food festival, but this year there was a change (that cost me about 20 sol es in gas). I picked up my official Mistura badge within the fairground an d along the way I cherished the smell of the burning wood that creates a smoke wall encircling the whole south side of the fair grounds with it’s seductive smell, causing nostalgic sensations of years past combined with intense salivation & hunger.
The “Qaray” congress was exceptional. This time around we got to see specialized producers and food masters of assorted expertise from around the globe (different from the typical Latin American chef) 3 Italians ( an olive oil producer, a pasta maker, and a butcher), 2 Scandinavians(a brew master and a food scientist), and a Japanese Michelin star chef were some of those who gave amazing speeches on not only food, but how we should treat food, our relationship with it and how to care for that bond. It was inspiring to see the crowds roar as Hells Bells by ACDC ushered in the renowned butcher Dario Cecchini to mutilate half of a dead pig live (so hardcore) and then later give a moving speech about his respect for animals. He talked about how he studied veterinary science, how he loved his wife, how it was a hard job to come in contact with the death of a living thing everyday. But when you care for the animal, how it lives, what it’s feed, and how it’s killed, it’s all worth it in the end.
But in respect to Mistura, the food festival, I would have to admit I was wrong (partially). If you didn’t catch my article about my predictions, I basically talked about how Mistura was in a decline, how it wasn’t as “Peruvian”, Although I’m not wrong on this, I feel like I was too critical. I was unable to view Mistura for what it has evolved to, and when you realize it, it’s so poetic that it almost jerks a tear (but I cried watching Kung-Fu Panda 2 as well.) Mistura is no longer an exposition where they promote the relics & treasures of Peruvian food culture. No more will you find the best samples of food from each region of the country, but you will be bombarded by the classics. I must have found at least 5 stands selling rocoto relleno, 3 stands selling lomo saltado and 3 stands selling aji de gallina. These are all Peruvian staples you could find anywhere, why would they be taking the space from the more undistinguished dishes? Are the restaurateurs to blame? From the information I’ve gathered, APEGA controls very strictly what is sold within Mistura, it can neither be too unknown nor distressfully familiar. But as I spent more time in the food festival I remembered that death, isn’t an end, but a new beginning. And although the place I once knew as the orchestra of the unsung Peruvian dishes has gone, something else admirably took its place.
It took me sometime to realize it, but Mistura is now a display of what the Peruvian people are doing with food, our aspirations, our innovations, what we copy from foreign countries and what we’ve made our own. The things I tasted were delicious. Fusion is a huge thing here; they try to fuse just about anything with everything. I tried a limpit rachi, a dish normally made from 1 of the 4 cow stomachs and seasoned with the colorful ajies of this country, later thrown on an extremely hot barbecue or skittle to light all the oil on fire and give it a characteristic smoky taste. An Arequipenian Adobo, basically a pork ragout, served inside of a bowl of bread (Nothing unheard of in the rest of the world but it’s certainly a novelty here.) and perhaps the most tender boston shoulder I’ve had in a while, paired off with a porcor mushroom demiglace and pureed lima beans from Ica, a little more loose than I would’ve preferred it but a great flavor all the same.
Eating wasn’t the only thing that to do at Mistura. There were live events where a chef from a different region of Peru would come and cook something while talking about the gastronomy of their home. There was also a pisco tent, where some of the better conversations were to be had. I caught myself in a heated discussion with the madam running the booth of Pisco Porton who could throw back her pisco like a fish drinks water, but had a horrible time with beer, or so she said. I also found that you shouldn’t let appearances deceive you. Some of the piscos that were “national champions” tasted more like cooked vegetables than the delicate citrus and dried fruit aromas that flourish in pisco. The marketplace in the middle of the event offered hard to find produce from different parts of the country, but nothing that really stood out. My favorite and I think most undervalued product is the potato llumchuy waccachy (yoom-chuí wha-jhá-chi) a bulbous tuber with purple and blue veins that when cut resemble a butterfly. Or chunta bread, that takes a large circular form, and slightly resembles a couch cushion. It’s made from special water found in the mountains of Cuzco and only kneaded and formed by women. Something I saw that was delectably stunning was seeing the mamachas who make queso helado (a traditional ice cream dessert made from the ice crystals produced from spinning a bucket of cream in ice) try different flavors out and give it a try. For the first time in my life I tasted a sesame seed queso helado & with every bit that followed I filled with the excitement of what will come next for the emerging creativity of the Peruvian gastronomic scene.
Every year I explain to those close to me how Mistura is going into a decline, how it’s straying from its dogmas, that it’s just not the same. Yet every year I go to the congress of speeches called Qaray, I get drunk with my friends of samples of pisco and artisanal beer, I eat some decent food, and I have fun while celebrating, perhaps not the unknown & exciting, but still something worth experiencing, at least once a year.