organic bananas in the chira valley

About a year ago I stopped to photograph some organic bananas being prepared for export in the Chira Valley in northern Peru. I was on my way to photograph something else when the road-side crew caught my attention. The bananas were bound for Germany. I later learned that almost all bananas exported from Peru are organic. Last year organic banana exports yielded US$63.1 million; this year the figure has already reached US$67 million, according to government news agency Andina.

organic bananas in northern peru, chira valley

organic bananas in northern peru, chira valley

work’s random lessons: aflatoxin in corn

One of my favorite parts about being a journalist is always learning new and somewhat random things – random to me, part of daily life to others. A few months ago if you had asked me what aflatoxin was, I couldn’t have answered. In September, I spent a week in Troy, Missouri, for the Missouri Photo Workshop. My quest for a story took me into a field to harvest corn and then to a nearby grain elevator. As a farmer was selling his corn to the elevator, Jennifer took a small sample and put it in a coffee grinder. Then she put it under a black light. I wondered what on earth was happening; it all looked very sci-fi to me.

“They are looking for aflatoxin,” the farmer told me. It’s a group of chemicals produced by certain mold fungi. He told me because of the drought Missouri corn had more aflatoxin than normal. When put under the black light, corn with the toxin produces a bright greenish-yellow fluorescence. If a farmer’s corn presents aflatoxin the elevator can refuse to purchase it or pay the farmer less for it. The FDA has guidelines for the amount of aflatoxin that can be present in corn for consumption and feed. The T.E. Fisher Delta Research Center says that corn that cannot be legally sold can be used for as a component in fertilizers or in ethanol or gasohol production. I didn’t find my story at the grain elevator, but I enjoyed the lesson. Perhaps one day all these lessons will pay off and help me to win Final Jeopardy or at least a friendly game of Trivial Pursuit : )

surquillo market

I photographed Mercado #1 in Surquillo back in May for Peruvian magazine Vamos. Well-known Peruvian chef Gaston Acurio likes to shop here, and he has made it a popular destination for tourists and limeños alike. Maria is one of the vendors who likes attention from the visitors. She hands out samples, cracks jokes and loves to show off her lechón – baby pig.

market 1 surquillo, lima, peru

surquillo market lima, peru

surquillo market lima, peru

surquillo market lima, peru

coffee, anyone?

It’s almost winter in Lima. The sky is usually grey “like a donkey’s belly”, as they say, but on a lucky bright day it is white like in this photo. This time of year I crave more coffee and tea than normal, and with coffee on the brain I glanced up at the giant Nestle mug near my home. I know people who like their coffee with sugar and cream, but, c’mon, with three men in yellow hard hats? That’s a new one to me!

I’ve been traveling a lot in the past few weeks and feel sad to be posting less to my blog. My schedule remains a bit hectic until August, as I’ll be heading to London to teach workshops soon for National Geographic Student Expeditions. Know that I am alive and kicking and making pictures along the way. I’ll do my best to find some time to share.

nestle coffee cup in lima, peru

chilcanos at mayta

At Miraflores restaurant Mayta they have an infinite list of chilcanos. Tamarind, mint, purple corn, passion fruit, green cherry, you name the flavor and they probably have it. Enjoyed photographing the restaurant for G de Gestion. A chilcano is a very Peruvian drink. If you’ve never heard of it I’ve provided a dandy definition below. Cheers!

chil•can•o: 1: alcoholic beverage made of pisco, Ginger Ale and lime juice 2: delicious

chilcanos in peru

cacao as an alternative to gold mining

I always like a good excuse to go hang around the source of chocolate. Juana and Andrés, two farmers in the Peruvian Amazon, recently started growing cacao. In the past decade a gold rush has brought thousands to the area, and farmers are looking for ways to earn more and hang on to their land. Catholic aid organization Cáritas Perú says cacao may be their best bet. We told their story for Catholic News Service.

peruvian food with a twist at nanka

My favorite part about photographing food is being introduced to new restaurants. I would have never stumbled across Nanka if I hadn’t gone there to take pictures for the magazine G de Gestión. It’s owned by a Peruvian/Australian couple, and it was fun to see their twist on traditional Peruvian dishes (and their amazing vertical garden!). You can see Nanka’s version of ceviche and pachamanca (cleverly called pachananka on the menu) in the photos below. Pachamanca is usually cooked in the earth with hot stones and is a tradition that comes from the Andes. The recipe has also been adapted for clay pots on a traditional stove, called pachamanca a la olla. I’m pretty sure Nanka’s chef didn’t dig a hole in the kitchen to cook this version but cooked with hot stones or not, its flavor was perfect.

nanka restaurant lima peru

nanka restaurant lima peru

carnal

A few photos from a mouth-watering steakhouse in Miraflores called Carnal. In a country known for its chicken much more than its beef, restaurants like this are welcomed!

carnal restaurant in lima, peru steak

carnal restaurant in lima, peru steak

carnal restaurant in lima, peru steak

grimanesa’s anticuchos

I’ve been wanting to try Grimanesa’s anticuchos for more than a year. She used to sell them from a street corner in Miraflores and is known to make the best anticucho in Peru. When I went to Peru’s famous food fair the wait for a palito was a little more than an hour. She’s become a celebrity in Peru, and Lays even sells an anticucho flavored potato chip using her secret recipe. Her smiling face is printed on the bag.

Anticucho? What’s that and why is it so good? It’s Quechua for “cut stew meat”. It looks and tastes a lot like a kebab. The meat is beef heart – very tender and soaks up the seasoning.

About two months ago Grimanesa opened a hip little restaurant (Ignacio Merino 466, Miraflores). The menu is simple. You enter and order two palitos or three. Each comes with three chunks of meat. You can also get an order of choclo – giant corn on the cob but without the sweet flavor – and a soda. The anticuchos are served with potatoes and, if you are feeling spicy, a side of ají . You pay, get a number and go sit (or stand, depending on your luck) in a bar-like area. When your number pops up on what looks like a junior varsity scoreboard, your palitos are ready. For me, they were worth the year’s wait.

grimanesa vargas anticucho lima peru

grimanesa vargas anticucho lima peru

grimanesa vargas anticucho lima peru

rafael

Last weekend I had the opportunity to photograph the bar at one of my favorite Lima restaurants – Rafael (San Martín 300, Miraflores). A similar picture was published Tuesday in Vamos (a supplement that comes with El Comercio every Tuesday). The assignment included photographing several of Lima’s top destinations. More photos to hit the blog soon of mouth-watering food and pretty places!

rafael restaurant in lima, peru