Cooking with Esperanza

Meet Esperanza. She is a 70-something year old abuelita (little grandmother) that opens up the kitchen in her home every Monday through Saturday from 12-1pm. Esperanza opened up her small "restaurant" after her spouse passed away over 30 years ago because he needed to start making an income as well as a way to fill her days. Her passion for cooking filled both of those needs by allowing her to share her talent in the kitchen, while also staying connected to her community. 

Esperanza preparing the purple maize for the chicha morada beverage.

Esperanza preparing the purple maize for the chicha morada beverage.

The meal starts with caldo de cabeza (soup of heads) and then there is a choice of either cabrito (little goat) or pollo guisado (stewed chicken)

The meal starts with caldo de cabeza (soup of heads) and then there is a choice of either cabrito (little goat) or pollo guisado (stewed chicken)

Esperanza describes her cooking as natural and fresh. She goes to the Mercado Mayorísta – Trujillo’s biggest market in the city center- every day at 1:30pm. There she buys fresh ingredients for the next day’s menu. Food in Trujillo is plentiful and inexpensive, so she can buy what she needs on a very modest budget. Every morning at 3:15am she arises to start cooking at 3:30am. Though she changes the menu daily, there is a very similar pattern to her meals, as is typical of most of the set lunches in Trujillo. First comes a soup, typically made from a stock of either chicken, beef, or goat bones. The lunch always includes a plate of rice with some varietal of meat. Some additional accompaniments may include menestras (beans), tallarin (Peruvian spaghetti) or papas (potatoes). She also serves unlimited refills of her homemade chicha morada (sweet purple corn drink). This generous meal costs the going rate of 6 Peruvian soles (~USD $1.80). Each day she typically makes enough food to serve 25 people, so depending on the flow of customers, her dishes are likely sold out before 1pm. I asked Esperazna if she draws inspiration from any cookbooks or television shows and she laughed. She assured me that she has no need for those things as all of her recipes, passed down from her grandmother, are ingrained into her memory. I then asked her if there are any typical dishes that are more challenging to make than others. She jests, “No, todos son faciles.” (They are all easy). 

I eat what I am served and this day I was served cabrito (stewed little goat) and caldo de cabeza (soup of head) with a goat head in it!

I eat what I am served and this day I was served cabrito (stewed little goat) and caldo de cabeza (soup of head) with a goat head in it!

Hanging out in the kitchen, I inquired why younger generations are losing interest in cooking homemade food. Esperanza hypothesized that nowadays people are more interested in paying for convenience. When cheap, fast options are available, there is less incentive and motivation to spend hours cooking a home-cooked meal. This trend is not indicative to Peru, but instead a global theme with increasing prevalence in developing countries such as Peru. The unforeseen costs of this convenience is compromising one’s health, as foods eaten out of the home tend to be higher in sugar, salt, and fat. Eating more meals outside of the home is likely contributing to the rise of non-communicable diseases, such as obesity and diabetes, in Trujillo.

Hungry patrons eating caldo de cabeza.

Hungry patrons eating caldo de cabeza.

In Trujillo, there are countless places to eat, but I eat at Esperaza’s with great regularity because of her unpretentious style of cooking classic Criollo dishes. The main difference between her style of cooking and cooking found in many of Trujillo’s restaurants is that her dishes are unadulterated by excessive cream sauces, sweeteners, or oils. I asked Esperanza if there are days when she does not feel like cooking. Absolutely, she confides in me with a giggle. However, food is a part of life in Peru, and she can hardly imagine living a life where she was not sharing her gift of cooking with others.

Stewed meat with menestras (beans), rice, and salad (i.e. red onion, iceberg lettuce, and a slice of tomato).

Stewed meat with menestras (beans), rice, and salad (i.e. red onion, iceberg lettuce, and a slice of tomato).

The goat heads for the soup.

The goat heads for the soup.

Mote (corn kernals) with caldo de cabeza (goat head soup).

Mote (corn kernals) with caldo de cabeza (goat head soup).

It is a constant ebb and flow of hungry patrons at lunch time in Esperanza's kitchen.

It is a constant ebb and flow of hungry patrons at lunch time in Esperanza's kitchen.

Sometimes I bring tuberware and take my food to go. On this day I ate pavita frita (fried turkey) with peas, potatoes, and rice.

Sometimes I bring tuberware and take my food to go. On this day I ate pavita frita (fried turkey) with peas, potatoes, and rice.

Esperanza washing 4 kilos of rice. She cooks that much rice every day!

Esperanza washing 4 kilos of rice. She cooks that much rice every day!

Eating my soup and stew in the kitchen. Esperanza always keeps out a bowl of lime slices and aji (Peruvian hot sauce).

Eating my soup and stew in the kitchen. Esperanza always keeps out a bowl of lime slices and aji (Peruvian hot sauce).

A vegetarian meal of lentils, rice and fried plantains. This was a special request, as none of her main courses come without meat.

A vegetarian meal of lentils, rice and fried plantains. This was a special request, as none of her main courses come without meat.