Off to the Fongal

Cajamarca is the dairy region of Peru, so we Wisconsinites feel right at home.  There are a lot of cheese shops although  to our amusement the large grocery store also sells Crystal Farms cheeses (not Wisconsin’s finest, unfortunately).  No novices to state and county fairs, we were excited to experience the Cajamarca Fongal, or state fair, in late July.  Cruz had cautioned us that the Fongal had diminished over the past few years and that people got really drunk, but as that didn’t sound much different than Milwaukee’s Summer Fest or the Wisconsin State Fair, we weren’t dissuaded.

On Thursday we arrived around 5:30 and it appeared that the Fongal was not yet in full swing.  We watched some sheep and alpaca get unloaded, visited the few food and craft booths that were open and generally tried to avoid the cow and other animal pies in the field.

There were two types of food booths: the ones that sold packaged products and the ones that sold various hot foods.  The Fongal was not as clean as the Mixtura and this adventure was shortly after we arrived in Cajamarca, so I wasn’t keen on eating any of the hot foods.  We did get tastes of various products and bought the soy puffs, some fresh cheese with herbs and chocolate.  As usual, the vendors were really nice to us and patiently explained their products.  It gets totally dark by 6:30 (every day, that’s life near the equator) and there wasn’t much happening, so we left about that time.

Fongal Treats

On Saturday we again walked over to the Fongal around 5-ish, thinking we would check out the scene while it was still light and return later for the Kurt Cobain concert.  Yep, Kurt Cobain “Peru” was playing.  We were cracking up over that and Matt even said to the ticket seller “Kurt Cobain is dead,” which earned him a laugh.  While the fair was busier than on Thursday and more booths had opened, we unfortunately arrived just as some traditional dancing and cow showing (not related) ended and then the events were over apart from the concert.  My sweet tooth overcame hygiene and we indulged in piccarones, fried sweet potato/squash doughnuts topped with sugar cane syrup, that are quite similar to my Auntie Rose’s famous St. Joseph’s Day tucinelle.  We caught a few songs of an opener band and then headed home with the intention of returning later for Kurt Cobain.

Instead we ended up in Cajamarca for drinks with Cruz and the new American teachers.  We went to a place called Full Skee (which we understood to basically mean “you are full of sh*t”) where they had a huge drink menu, including many American favorites.   I had a very tasty American cosmopolitan before switching over to a Peruvian pisco sour.  The place had excellent drinks, a good vibe and nice music but was oddly well lit.  No beer goggles in Peru, apparently.  We got home around 1:15 and while Kurt Cobain was still in full swing, Matt and I did not stop in at the Fongal.  Expecting a Nirvana cover band, I was surprised the band was rocking “Sweet Child of Mine” and “I Love Rock and Roll” instead.  I suspect poor Kurt was rolling in his grave.

Back to the Baños Bash

The party has continued all week here in Baños, and every day we are surprised by the latest happenings.  More vendors arrive daily although the newcomers have brought cheap clothes, jewelry,  kitchenware, shoes, hardware etc. as opposed to the nice craft goods the initial vendors have.  The town has been unbelievably crowded and tonight some of the main streets are closed.  The party is currently rocking, and the music will likely last until at least 2:00 am.  We went for about an hour earlier tonight after a function at Matt’s school, and the band was a lot of fun.  The crowd is drunk – very similar to a Wisconsin church festival – and several people offered us beers as we are a novelty.  This guy also was trying to get Matt to trade hats (he didn’t) while his drunk friend insisted on dancing with me.  They drove 6 hours for the festival.  I didn’t ask, but I suspect they will be sleeping in the square tonight.

photo (2)Matt and his new friend.  And hat.

At some point this weekend there will be fireworks, which are launched from these rickety structures.  Actually, many of them aren’t launched, rather they will wildly spin on the structure.  It is really cool to see although a bit mind boggling to have fireworks set off in the middle of town.  The first time we saw one of these structures, we thought a float was being built.   It is unclear when the fireworks are, but I am sure we will hear them. 🙂

 Earlier in the week, I came upon a scene that appeared to be a product expo of some kind.  New tents suddenly appeared on the perimeter of the square and contained booths with what appeared to be regional products, including cuy, flowers, corn, potatoes, beans, textiles, and honey.  There were crowds of people taking photos and some booths were giving out literature (not to me as I clearly wasn’t the target audience).  Nothing was being sold at that time although later that evening I saw one or two of the textile booths selling their wares.  I couldn’t stay long as I had to get to my volunteer gig, so I didn’t exactly figure out what was going on.  Most impressive were the different varieties of potatoes and corn.

It is very difficult to find good pots here as they are either small or flimsy, so I went native with this one from the fair.  For $16 the price can’t be beat so I didn’t even have the heart to barter.  I made chili in it today for the Green Bay Packers party we are throwing on Sunday – tasty!

Traditional pot

Traditional pot

I finally had my churros.  A few nights ago, Renzo’s Pizza, one of the vanishing restaurants that Matt has wanted to try, was open for the first time since we moved here, so we went there for dinner.  It was horrible – the crust was okay and toppings were fine, but the sauce was some awful brown sauce.  We couldn’t identify the taste, but it was bad.  I really miss Lalli’s Pizza in Wauwatosa!  So as a consolation we stopped at the fair for churros.  They were delicious.

The fair lasts through Sunday, so I am sure we will check it out again this weekend.  Who knows what we will find!

Throwing Culinary Caution to the Wind

Sunday afternoon Matt and I returned to Baños after spending the afternoon in Cajamarca and discovered a festival in our town square.  We checked it out and deduced that it had something to do with sugarcane.

Like most things here, it was unclear whether the festival was winding down or starting up: some shops were closing while others were being built out of pails of cement, wood poles and tarps.  Today we learned that the festival had just begun and will last all week.  Apparently it draws the farm folks and is looked down upon as a lowbrow event, but we thought it was a hoot.

Our Wisconsin roots run deep and as soon as we saw all the fried fair foods, we decided to heck with intestinal distress, let’s eat!  Our first selection was a fried elephant ear type item with some sugarcane syrup (when asked if I wanted it sweet I answered with a big yes – I was going all in).  Matt then decided to have some sugarcane juice.  Well, I saw how those glasses were being cleaned and decided I was not partaking of that treat!

Instead I bought a package of cut sugarcane, which you chew to and then spit out the stalk.  Delicious, if not very ladylike!  We passed on buying the huge stalks of sugarcane as we do not own a machete.  We also passed on the sugarcane syrup.  While it was very tasty on our elephant ear, we now realize why the farm ladies root through our garbage for our plastic bottles.  Perhaps we can bring our own bottle to be filled…

Sugarcane Syrup

These ladies were very friendly and I bought my cut sugarcane from them.

Back to the fried yumminess.  Matt ordered a papa rellena but wisely passed on the salad that accompanied it.  I had one bite and had to order

Papa Rellena

Papa Rellena

my own and even asked for the ají sauce to go with it.  I am becoming quite a fan of the pepper sauce.  A papa rellena is mashed potatoes that are filled with savory items (in this instance chicken, peas, corn and egg), seasoned with cumin and other spices, shaped into an oblong and fried.

We then bought some bread and cookies from this woman.

Baked Goodies

Baked Goodies

We ended it all with another package of cookies.  Those weren’t very good so we threw them out.  We came home about 7:00 but the fair lasted until at least 2:00 am, or at least that is the last time I woke up from the music.  Neither of us suffered ill effects from our unhygienic gluttony and we didn’t get around to having the cotton candy Matt wanted or the churros I wanted, so we may just have to tempt fate and go back to the fair this week.

Tasty Treats

Tasty Treats