Viva Lucuma, Carajo!

By voyageuw · 11 months ago

The fog permeated the coast. My brother took my husband and me on foot from his apartment in trendy Barranco to the flowery district of Miraflores, Lima. We strolled through the uneven streets filled with colorful homes, and my mind rushed with forgotten sensations. It had been 10 years since I last visited Peru. I walked through my past, yearning for a precise taste: the taste of my childhood. 

I would visit Peru often as a child. My father is the quintessential Peruvian: loud and hungry, his appetite passed down by generations. During a trip to Machu Picchu when I was a teenager, we ate and drank everything. From salchipapas to Leche de Tigre, Peru would forever alter my culinary expectations. Everything sparked with flavor, with a wonderful bitterness.

Somehow, life happened in a way that prevented my return. During my adolescence, Peru became a distant memory. Details faded, and the idea of Peru alone intimidated me. I could barely remember the sights, smells, and sounds. Only vague feelings remained. When I flew back to Lima as an adult, I had no idea what to expect.

At a busy intersection, my grandmother’s home still glowed. The house was sold after her death five years prior. We walked to the front and peeked through the door. The smell was familiar, of wet roses and expensive perfume, and the walls were crowded with greenery.

The once quiet neighborhood now erupted with people, shops, and noise. Around the corner, we ate lunch at a restaurant called Punto Azul—the go-to place for seafood, my brother told us. After waiting an hour for a table, we ate fresh ceviche, tiradito, arroz con mariscos, and to top it off, anticuchos.

Eating seafood at Punto Azul in Lima.

Peruvian ceviche is revolutionary. A culinary classic. A national treasure. The dish originates back to the Incan Empire and commands its own holiday: National Ceviche Day on June 28th. Every Latin American country has attempted their own version of ceviche but all fail in comparison. Served with slices of sweet potatoes and choclo (large-kernel Peruvian corn), the fish and onions are marinated and cooked in lime juice—a citrusy paradise.

I yearned for more, my palate incomplete. I remembered an ice cream shop, Lartiza D, around the corner from my grandmother’s home. Upon arrival, I had an out-of-body experience where my present reconnected to my past. The flavors were plentiful, from limón to manjar blanco to maracuyá. But one flavor shined like lost gold. Instantly, I knew. It was lucuma. It was always lucuma.

Lucuma ice cream.

Regarded as a symbol of creation, lucuma was once referred to as the “gold of the Incas.” The flavor puts shame to all other fruit: it is sweet like mango yet creamy like a sweet potato. It makes a great addition to desserts, especially ice cream. After the first taste, I remembered it all. I remembered how I craved the flavor as a child and how pretty the sun shined through my grandmother’s windows. I remembered painful sunburns, boring afternoons, and my dad yelling loudly when Peru scored a goal. I remembered Mamina, my grandmother, calling me penguina: her little penguin.

The next morning, we had breakfast at a quaint cafe in Miraflores called Homemade. It was hidden but vibrant upon discovery. We sat towards the back, in a room with pink walls and gold picture frames. I ordered quinoa pancakes and lucuma juice, the nectar of the gods. It was creamy, smooth, and so Peru. My husband also began to obsess over lucuma. A born Russian, now a converted Peruvian.

Lucuma juice from Homemade restaurant in Lima.

Quinoa pancakes from Homemade restaurant in Lima.

Days later, at the end of my trip, we visited Wong, a popular supermarket chain in Peru. I remembered driving past the supermarket as a child and wondering why it was called Wong. But, really, I was too young to realize that my thoughts centered around my complete love and wonder over everything Peruvian. Now, at 28 years old, I was awakened. Peru was and is my cultural identity.

I searched for all things lucuma. For me, lucuma was rare and scarce back home in the United States. Some Peruvian restaurants incorporated the fruit into their menu. Yet, ceci n’est pas une lucuma. This is not lucuma. It only existed in its truest form in Peru, where it belongs. I left Wong with lucuma flour, lucuma chocolate, and lucuma cookies.

Outside the market, in bold red paint, a mural read: “Viva Peru, Carajo!

Lima, Peru skyline.