Living in Lima, Peru as an exchange student in 1968 was a "coming of age" experience in many ways for this country girl. This restored post from Mary Beth's Kitchen was published in a 2005 anthology, Digital Dish: Five seasons of the freshest recipes and writing from food blogs around the world, by Press For Change Publishing, edited by Own Linderholm. Original post date: October 4, 2003.
Growing up in rural Florida, "pasta" was not in my vocabulary. Spaghetti came from Chef Boyardee. In my home, tuna fish might as well have been born in a can. The only fresh herb I saw as a young girl was the stiff clump of parsley decorating an ice cream scoop of unyielding mashed potatoes at the occasional after-church family lunch at Howard Johnsons.
The stirrings of an epiphany came when I lived with a local family in Lima, Peru during the summer of 1968. I was seventeen and had never been away from home. It was there I began to taste the world. The searing heat of Aji peppers ground and mixed into a creamy sauce whose fire belied its looks. Cool, fresh ceviche. Earthy, luscious ravioli made from pigeons raised for my birthday dinner. I was shocked to discover I was eating what I thought were decorative family pets, living in their wooden cage in the family dining room until the special day arrived.
And there was pachamanca, a mixed grill barbecue, accompanied by yams and cooked on hot rocks underground, enjoyed in the open air of a countryside restaurant with live music. The elders drank copious quantities of pisco, a potent Peruvian grape brandy, while we young folks danced to exuberant guitars.
This was my first taste of bold food, my first taste of freedom. I drank deeply. When I returned home, Mother was very upset. She said I was speaking with a Spanish accent. She knew that her shy, studious, classical piano-playing daughter had somehow changed forever. She was right. There had been a fundamental shift in the tectonic plates of my personality.
And I never looked back.