The final touch to any Pisco Sour, Peru’s famous signature cocktail, is an artfully administered drop of Angostura Bitters. But of course, no Peruvian has a clue that this indispensable ingredient come from Trinidad and Tobago.
On 25 and 26 April 2013, San Isidro, the poshest district in Lima, held its annual international trade fair/cultural celebration and, like a drop of bitters in a sea of pisco, the Trinbagonian contingent in Peru presented itself as the smallest but most indispensable of ingredients.
In answer to an appeal from Trinidad and Tobago’s Honorary Consul in Peru, Alfonso Alvarez-Calderon, all six of us ransacked our kitchen cupboards, clothes drawers and imaginations in an effort to find paraphernalia worthy of the occasion.
We heard that the Dominican Republic was bringing a 16 piece orchestra and Cuba a piano and a pianist. Heavyweights like China had double booths distributing fancy souvenirs and a calligraphy artist on hand to paint people´s names in Chinese script. National delicacies and other products were on sale everywhere.
Our answer to that challenge was a cricket bat, a small display steelpan, home-made tie-dyed T-shirts, out-of-season black cake, a bottle of lime pepper sauce (with cubes of cheese for dipping purposes), two bottles of Angostura Bitters, a bottle of 1919 rum (strictly for display!) and a Carnival DVD of wall-to-wall wining. We were punching above our weight as usual.
Rest assured that the sum was a lot more impressive that the list of parts would suggest.
T&T, Cuba and the Dominican Republic were the only Caribbean countries represented. And the other two did not have to put up with questions like “is this a country in Africa?” or comments like: “Oh, you speak English there. Ah of course, because of the pirates!”
But, in the end, the other islands did not attract as much enthusiastic attention either.
The Carnival DVD was obviously an eye-catcher and the mini-steelpan was popular with passers-by, who did not at first know what to make of it.
“It’s a musical instrument,” explained the Honorary Consul, seizing the pan stick and battering out a most untuneful ‘platang plang plang!’ Eventually we dug out a Panorama Finals DVD and designated one of the more indigenous of the T&T contingent to demonstrate.
A trio of high school girls got into a pepper sauce tasting competition over the cheese plate (who cried first lost). And the well-soaked black cake that I had made the night before sold, well, like hot cakes as visitors were inspired by the liberal tasting tray we had set out.
“Ah, chocolate cake,” they would say while popping a chunk into their mouths.
Limeños are very enthusiastic about free food. Their eyes would then cross slightly and, hand fluttering in front of their mouths, they asked: “what’s it made of?” But, once the initial shock wore off, they kept coming back for more and sending their friends over as well.
At one point, the Peruvian equivalent of a rum-shop know-it-all took up a position to one side of the booth and started to hold forth loudly in true Woodford Square fashion. Trinidad and Tobago, he informed the passing masses, are two islands in the Caribbean, former British colonies. Of course, he added comfortingly, there are plenty of other islands in the Caribbean that are still British like Bermuda, Dominica and Grenada.
T&T, he explained, is basically a tropical Lima.
But most popular of all was the Angostura Bitters. Inevitable we would be asked by a puzzled public: “Why are you displaying Amarga de Angostura? That is used to make Peruvian cocktails.”
They were amazed to learn that every time they make their national drink, there is a little bit of our country in it. And so, one drop at a time, the T&T posse continues to conquer the world.