Last week, after posting my realties and expectations post, I had a sudden, hypochondriacal fear that I had writer’s block. It was as if I had expended all of my allotted writing brainpower and was awaiting a new shipment. I couldn’t think of anything to blog about. I almost actually started to worry about it. Then, I decided not to. And, lo and behold, I had an inspiration! So, my people, I would like to introduce to you my idea: a series of posts called “Cusco: A Study in Food.” Once the idea occurred to me, it seemed quite natural. These three months in Peru have morphed into as much of a culinary adventure as a Spanish learning opportunity. Somehow it has become my mission to try ever sort of pastry available. At school I have come to be considered a sort of pastry expert. People actually ask my opinion about certain pastries and pastry shops. Of course I do eat things that are less calorically extravagant: fruit, for example. As soon as I had oriented myself in Cusco enough to find a place to buy fruit, I began to search out and taste anything and everything I did not recognize or that looked slightly strange. I tried other things, too, of course. This series will detail the various foods (not dishes, though; there’s too many) I have sampled here in Cusco. Thus far, I have seven categories in mind: bananas, oranges, apples, exotic fruits, cookies, pastries, and cakes. Some of the groups are still in the works. For example, I am in the middle of attempting to purchase and taste every kind of orange-like fruit I can find. I have not even started on the apples, and perhaps I never will, since I do not particularly love them. I doubt I will finish the pastry category until leaving the country forces me to do so. Anyways, without further verbosity, bananas:
First, we have the normal banana.
I would say that it is quite similar to the normal bananas you can buy at home. However, as you may perhaps be able to note from the picture, the bananas have a more angular bottom and top. One might even say they have edges. Also, this type seems to travel better than what we eat in the U.S. Blackened places on the skin of the banana mean nothing for the quality of the flesh inside, whereas at home a black spot almost always denotes a mushy, brownish, disgusting rotten place on the inside. Speaking of the flesh, it is a warmer, more yellow color than at home. I would call the flesh of the bananas at home a creamy white with perhaps a hint of yellow. The insides of the normal bananas here I would describe as creamy light yellow with a hint of white. They taste more banana-y than bananas at home, as if someone remembered to add the essence of banana flavoring that they always forget for U.S. bananas. I definitely like them better than U.S. bananas.
Please do observe its thickness. The thing is downright fat. Other than that, though, its outward appearance is more or less the same as the normal banana. However, its taste most certainly is not. It is gross. I cannot think of a way to describe it. The best I can do is to refer you (or at least those of you who have been [un]fortunate enough to consume the dish) to the taste of a fried plantain. Got that? Now, subtract the lovely oily flavor, the vague nuttiness, and most of the sweetness, and add in a hint of some unripe banana flavor minus the chalky sensation plus a bit of extract of nausea. There! Of course, when you first bite into the banana, you do not realize it is that bad. At first you may even think it’s pretty good, though a tad bland. But, a few bites later it hits you. And then you deposit the remainder of the repulsive thing in the nearest trashcan, perhaps sealing it in a plastic bag of some sort to prevent a lingering smell from bringing back the revolting sensation you felt mid-chew on that third bite. Really, this banana, which has a peachy-colored flesh, by the way, is meant to be fried and eaten as a fried plantain (or whatever they call that around here). It is neither absolutely horrible nor pleasant to eat raw and by itself. I bet a good four tablespoons or so of peanut butter would solve all its problems, though.
This is the medium banana.
As you can see, it is thick and somewhat short. Its skin has a normal appearance, and its insides are creamsicle orange and have a taste like the plantain-like banana but without the unpleasant unripe banana flavor and essence of nausea. Really, it just tastes strange and somewhat unpleasant. It also has a weird, somewhat tough texture. I tired of it quickly.
Now we have the giant banana (I hope you realize I am calling all these bananas by the names they are known in Claire Nomenclature).
Look at it! It’s longer than my head and as thick as the plantain-like banana, besides! Its skin looks like that of a normal banana. Inside its flesh is a very light peachy color (not that you can tell at all from the pictures; arg) and has a somewhat faint but very pleasant and proper banana flavor. The center of the banana is nearly a core; it is tough and slightly fibrous. I ended up eating it almost like an apple to avoid the core. Though I did not finish the whole thing, because of its immense size and only okay flavor, I did enjoy it. Of all the bananas I have tried, I would have to say I feel the most apathetic about this one.
We have come to my favorite (actually it’s a tie between these ones and the next kind) bananas now: the tiny bananas.
The ones in the pictures are probably the tiniest of the tiny bananas that I’ve seen. They can be almost twice as big. Their outsides are normal and their flesh is the color of the normal banana with just a bit of orangey brown thrown in. But, it is their taste that endears them most to me: they are super sweet! And delicious! And wonderful! I once ate six at one time. I could have eaten 12. That is all there really is to say about them. I love them.
Finally, we have reached the strangest-looking banana of all: the red banana.
Outside it is pinky red with some green thrown in if it is slightly unripe. Inside it is a light peachy color – the same shade as the plantain-like banana. But that is where the similarity stops. If the plantain-like banana is fat, this banana is obese. Packed into every, necessarily massive, bite is very sweet, strong banana goodness. This one ties for my favorite with the tiny bananas. It is infinitesimally less sweet than the tiny bananas but definitely just as good. And, even better yet, it is neither tough nor does it have a strange texture. I love it, too.
And that, people, is all of the bananas I have tried, and, I think, I hope, all that are available here in Cusco. I am not sure, however, of the likelihood of the latter part of that sentence. As I was coming to school to finish and post this post, I walked through the market. There, right in front of me was a banana I had never tried before: the medium banana. Of course, I could not in good conscience ignore my discovery while carrying in my backpack my blog post on bananas. So, I dutifully purchased it and tried it here at school. The partial remains of that medium banana are sitting to my right as I type this, unfinished and doomed for the wastebasket. Who knows what other bananas I might have missed. Regardless, this will have to do.
I HAVE LESS THAN FOUR WEEKS LEFT IN CUSCO!