The next day I decided to treat my hosts, Juan and Malena, to a dish from California. Because California cuisine is really a mixture of food from all the cultures that live there it’s hard to find things to single out as uniquely Californian. I decided on California rolls (vegetarian sushi that replaces fish with avocado) because tortillas for burritos are not available and, as I found out in Lima, I do not have a good tortilla recipe.
I did, however, need seaweed to wrap the sushi and for that I had to go to Chinatown. The materials were easily found if not expensive, actually about twice the price in the USA. But the notable part of the journey was when I saw an English teaching school with a girl outside handing out flyers for it. I asked her if she knew if they were hiring new teachers and she said I would have to inquire within but if I wanted to teach her friend, who was working next door, I was welcome to.
I went inside and asked how much I would be making were I to work for them: 8 pesos ($2.40) an hour and they couldn’t guarantee any amount of hours per week. Not a good job though I told them I’d call them when I had a resume for them. As I left the flyer-girl’s friend came out to convince me to take her on as a student and I said I’d call her as well. She would pay 8 pesos an hour for two hours a week. I returned home that day with sushi materials (which cost about 40 pesos all told) and one potential client.
As in Japan and the USA sushi is a delicacy and Juan had never tasted it before. He loved it and everyone was pleased. Afterwards, to compliment the dish I got my first sample of real matte etiquette.
Besides cheap, plentiful and organic wine, the official drink here is yerba matte. It is drunk in a traditional wooden cup with a metal straw. More ritual than thirstquencher, you cannot buy it in restaurants because it is a personal thing to be enjoyed at home. Despite this it is completely ubiquitous. You see people in the park, at the news stand, walking to work with their thermos and cup of matte. Police officers drink it on the street, sipping at their cups over the half hour period it takes to finish their thermos of hot water. Matte has lots of caffeine and helps with digestion. I have always dreamed of a city where slightly bitter herbal tea is considered the drink of choice.
Juan taught me how to make a wall with the leaves so that you could keep the same flavor for 20 cups in a row and how to pass the cup with the straw facing the recipient to signify friendship.