Peruvian Street Food Crash Course Part One

Don´t drink the emoliente!

Did you hear that? That’s the sound of a thousand food carts being pushed consecutively through the busy streets of Lima.

You see, street food is like a religion in Peru. We are the devoted congregation and every street cart or food truck is a temple waiting for worship. Don´t get me wrong, though, we aren´t talking about a great monotheism here; this is a cult. And like all cults, you can only understand their appeal from the inside.

Let´s start with the basics. Do you want to know what the greatest invention ever made is? I´ll give you a hint, you didn´t see on the History Channel, and it´s not the blue Jurassic Park themed Doritos that came out this year. Good try, though. Allow me to introduce you to the carrito emolientero (‘emoliente cart´).

Every morning and afternoon in Lima (and other parts of Peru), you will find hundreds of these bad boys parked all over the city. If you can't see them, look for the groups of people huddled together, each with a plastic cup in hand. But what can you find here exactly? Well, apart from redemption, good and cheap food on-the-go. This is where Peruvians have breakfast, discuss the news, and sometimes even go on romantic dates.

Emoliente is a kind of hot herbal drink these vendors are particularly known for. It includes everything from toasted barley to flax seed, lime juice, and just about anything good mother earth has allowed to grow on this side of the planet. People will praise it for its medicinal properties, but you only need to care for how it makes you feel. A feeling similar to what Carlos Santana might have felt as he was shredding his guitar to “Soul Sacrifice” in Woodstock. If that is not a spiritual reference then I don’t know what is.

However, emoliente is not all you can find here. Once you have been invited to the Lord's feast the rewards shall be plenty. Prepare yourself for servings of maca (Maca root beverage), quinoa, and a variety of sandwiches that include avocado, cheese, omelet, olives, chicken, lomo saltado, and more. Soon enough, you'll find that nothing unites people more than standing around for a few minutes with strangers or friends while sharing a bite as they prepare to start their morning or head home after a long day. Laborers, office workers, students, housewives, dog-walkers, you name it. Everyone gathered, at least for a few minutes, is so much a part of the Peruvian experience and lifestyle that it is defined by it. 

On to the part about speaking in tongues. Now, even if you don't have the spiritual gift of glossolalia (look it up) you need to get with the lingo, man. All religions have a unique word that make them special. So why shouldn't we? If you want to get by in this pavement jungle you'll need to learn the following word: yapa. What does this magical word mean though? Respect, recognition and responsibility. At least, that’s what I think, because to be honest there is no established definition. Still, I do know that whenever you buy something in Peru and ask the vendor if there is a yapa included with your purchase, they will usually smile and add a little extra of whatever you are buying. In a carrito emolientero, this might as well be a commandment.

If you have made it this far then you have what it takes to be in our cult. I bet you feel cooler already. All things considered, these little carts provide daily sustenance to millions of people daily. They are also a means for thousands of people to provide a steady income for their families. Sometimes you just need something delicious and warm in a cup to start or end the day. What if I told you that you could find it on a Lima street on any given morning or afternoon?

Plus, did I mention the fact that you can snag breakfast at one of these places for about a dollar or two? It's pretty cool to have one of the world’s healthiest breakfasts for that price. I´ll skip on the granola bars for now, thanks.

Local Author: Stefano Corzo