In Trujillo you will likely not find the color green on your plate. The photos below exhibit a brief sampling of traditional criollo dishes served in Trujillo – none of which are served with green vegetables. The basis for almost all of these dishes consists of four ingredients: onion, tomato, garlic, and aji (a mild Peruvian chili pepper). Rarely served fresh, these ingredients are either stewed or fried with meat or seafood. Served on a bed of rice, a typical Trujillo meal then coalesces. Common additional accompaniments are menestras (beans) and maíz cancha chulpe (dried corn kernels tossed with oil). Starchy and unpigmented vegetables, such as white potatoes and yucca, are the preferred vegetable of choice. If greens are scouted in a dish, they are typically mild in flavor and used as a finishing garnish or mixed into a salsa. I have yet to find a dish in Trujillo with a green vegetable as a centerpiece dish.
The absence of leafy greens from the Peruvian diet marvels me. It is not for lack of fertile land that keeps Peruvians from eating their greens. Instead, it comes down to a supply and demand issue; there is no demand for green vegetables. Conversing with locals, I asked why this might be the case. Food is one of the most important focal points of Peruvian culture, and eating vegetables is simply not a part of that food culture. Green salads are never listed on restaurant menus. The most popular salad that one will find in Peru is an ensalada rusa, which is a mayonnaise-based salad of Russian origins that consists of chopped and boiled potatoes, carrots, peas, celery, and chicken. The creaminess of the dressing overpowers the already diluted flavor of the vegetables.
The lack of foliage in the Peruvian diet appears to be particularly indicative of the north coast. In Miraflores, the gentrified neighborhood in Lima, one can find a range of gourmet foods. There is also a growing consciousness to eat more organic, local, and natural foods. Restaurants such as Central are pushing the boundaries of Peruvian cuisine by celebrating the biodiversity of the country. Central even has a 12 course all-vegetarian tasting menu. In Hauraz and other mountainous towns, it is also easier finding greens such as spinach and broccoli in the market place. However, Trujillo, the second most populous city in Peru, continues to gravitate towards a diet of heavily refined foods and away from unadulterated green produce.
What is the significance of the absence of greens from the diet? In a city confronting an obesity and diabetes epidemic, foods low in calories, high in fiber, and rich in vitamins and minerals are one subtle way to assuage the increasing threat of these non-communicable diseases. Naturally, increasing vegetable consumption alone will not reverse the obesity trend in Trujillo, but it is one potential method to ameliorate this trend. The challenge thus lies in the inherently complicated task of creating a social and behavioral shift in people’s food preferences.