Sunday, June 24, 2012

The Village of Callanca

There are a few interesting characteristics that set Callanca apart from the thousands of other small villages in the Lambayeque Region. Take the shape of the town for instance. Its physical dimensions are 6 miles long by 200 feet wide. There are no side streets and only one row of houses bordering each side of the road. Behind the houses are farmland and garden plots. The larger agricultural plots are devoted to sugar cane which is pretty much the standard crop in the entire region. In the gardens are lettuce, corn, carrots, and tomatoes. Bordering the gardens are fruit trees bearing bananas, avocado, guanabana, mamey, maracuya, ciruela and others.

Adjacent to the gardens are animal pens. It seems as if every house has a collection of pigs, chicken and ducks, and goats. If you’ve never been around pens of goats when they all decide to start baaing….well, the volume and intensity can be a bit unnerving for a first-time experience. There will also be a burro to pull carts and carry things.

Another characteristic distinguishing Callanca is the inordinate amount of restaurants. Peruvians refer to them as “restaurantes  turisticos”.  They are not the typical one room four table restaurants found in most small villages. These are outdoor restaurants usually occupying a large space with the grounds containing a profusion of colorful plants and trees. Tables, chairs and other hardware are constructed of bamboo…the usual theme for these types of restaurants. Callanca’s “restaurantes turisticos” are numerous and successful, attracting many customers from larger near-by cities, especially on weekends.

What accounts for the success of these restaurants in a town that has nothing else to offer? Locals and customers will tell you one of the reasons is the wide variety of fresh vegetables organically grown. Another reason is the variety of delicious juices home-made locally. A third reason, and the locals are careful to stress this, is that the poultry and animals are fed garden crops – not garbage as is done in other towns. We did not eat at a restaurant during our recent visit. We ate instead at the home of Elio and Paula in celebration of Paula’s birthday.

In a way Elio is also an identifying feature of Callanca. Elio is a baker. He has been a baker since age 10. His father, grandfather and great grandfather were bakers, also in Callanca and within a stone’s throw of the present location. Elio’s specialty is empanadas, though he will make any pastry asked for if ingredients are available. An empanada is stuffed bread with a small amount of sugar on top. It can be stuffed with anything bakeable but locals mostly prefer no stuffing at all, in which case it called an “empanada de aire.”

Elio helped his father build this oven in 1954. For fuel he burns bamboo and pine branches. I don’t know what temperature it reaches or maintains and neither does he. For Elio the entire baking process is done by look and feel. The outside of the oven is cool to the touch.

Elio’s custom is to bank the fire to the left and place two trays…no more and no less, of empanadas to the right. He will occasionally stick his hand into the oven to check the temperature, but his indication that the empanadas are ready to come out is when they’ve risen to the right height and the sugar has melted and browned to the proper color; a process I timed at 5 minutes.

We ate empanadas right out of the oven, and then sat down to a delicious meal of arroz con pato. And, as is the Peruvian custom, ate a second meal an hour later (pavo con garbanzo) accompanied by wine and more empanadas.

Elio gets up at 4:00am every day and begins baking. When he’s finished and his cooling racks are full – around 1:00 in the afternoon he will put the baked goods into several large baskets and place the baskets on the rear of his tricycle. He will travel the same route he’s ridden for the last 50 years in Callanca, stopping occasionally to blow a distinctive 3-notes on his whistle to alert his customers. He will return home several hours later with an empty basket and requests for specialty baked goods.

Elio will be the last baker in the family line. He has two sons living and working in Spain and another in Lima. Of his three daughters one is in Argentina and another in Lima. Only Juanita remains and she is happily married and busy in Chiclayo, with no desire to bake commercially. Elio says he is happy for his sons. They are doing well and regularly send money to contribute to the house. His children point out to him that he no longer needs to work and should slow down but Elio won’t hear of it. He says “This is what I do…this is who I am…this is what I like.” He wants to continue baking until he “can’t do it anymore.” I’m sure the people of Callanca would support that.

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