I had ordered all sorts of food in Peru. I had tried chicken with a side of beans, beef with a side of beans, alpaca with a side of beans, and beans with a side of beans. I was starting to feel like a human bean and decided it was time to see if I could find some American food. I expressed my feelings to others in our group, and they agreed.
We hunted all over Cuzco. Thankfully, most of the restaurants post their menus on their front window, and many of those are listed both in Spanish and in English.
We hunted for a long time, and the best we found was a pizza place. We were excited until we looked at the menu. The bread was more of a taco, and there were pizzas with beans and cheese; beans, rice, and cheese; and three different kinds of beans with cheese.
“Bean pizza?” I asked my colleagues.
One of them shrugged. “It was bound to happen.”
In all of our searching that night we didn’t find anything, and eventually had to settle for the regular fare. That week we traveled over much of Peru, and one night we pulled into our hotel in a small town name Yucay. Right next to our hotel was a restaurant with a sign written both in English and Spanish. The sign read, “Peruvian and American Food.”
We couldn’t believe our luck. We looked at the menu, and it had line after line of the regular Peruvian foods. But then there was the “American” section. Underneath it there was a single item, and it plainly read, “Hamburger and fries with side salad.”
I questioned the waiter as to whether this truly was an American hamburger and fries. He beamed proudly. “Of course. Our cook go America and learn cook American food. He say nothing more American than hamburger and fries.”
I couldn’t believe it, an American hamburger right there in one of the tiniest Peruvian towns we had been in. I placed my order and waited with great anticipation. The others in our group were much more skeptical.
“Do you trust them when they only have one American item?” one in our group asked.
“I’m sure they are just trying to do one thing well,” I replied.
The rest of our group all ended up ordering something they were more sure about, and I couldn’t blame them. I had a bad experience once ordering Tuna and asking for it to be served on bread with mayonnaise, only to find out Tuna was the fruit of a cactus.
But, finally, the moment arrived. The fries were there. They were just a potato cut into strips and cooked in an oven. They might have been the slightest bit brown, definitely not fries by American standards.
But the hamburger was even more interesting. There was a hamburger patty with cheese melting on it, but there was no bun. The “side salad” was a nice stack of lettuce, a big slice of tomato, and a few pickles – basically all the fixings for a hamburger, but without the bun. And, of course, there beside them was an order of beans.
When I asked the waiter about the bun, he looked confused. “Wait minute,” he said, disappearing into the kitchen. When he came back he said, “Cook say, American side order of decorative roll is extra.”
I realized that when the cook had gone to America, he had misunderstood what the bun was for. In Peru, bread is served before the meal as a precursor to the main dish. Then, as the meal comes, the waiter clears the bread away. It seems it is inappropriate to eat bread with the main dish. Perhaps it is an insult to the chef if it is deemed necessary to the meal.
“You like side dish of decorative roll?” the waiter asked.
I shook my head, not wanting to offend the cook. “No thanks.”
I added beans to my hamburger patty, put the side salad on top, and ate it with a fork.