Thursday, July 07, 2016

In search of whole wheat flour

Ah!  Organic whole wheat flour, freshly ground an hour ago!  Who would have thought this possible in Lima?

I love to bake, and I prefer whole wheat flour because it's healthier than white flour.  My search began on the internet, and turned up only opinions about where it might be found in Lima -- in high end supermarkets, at organic food fairs, etc.  I searched all of the nearby supermarkets, and stores that sell "healthy" things like granola and yogurt.  I asked friends who have lived here their entire lives, but no one had any idea.  I even asked at a bakery if I could buy a few pounds of whole wheat flour from them.  Their response confirmed that the "whole wheat bread" that they sell is not whole wheat at all, but is made with white flour to which a little wheat germ and bran has been added back.

So I was thrilled when Sonia (who always manages to find what I can't) turned up an article in the newspaper El Comercio that contained a guide to health food stores in Lima.  Among them was a bakery called The Seven Dwarfs that is just a few blocks away.  

The Seven Dwarfs - German Ecological Bakery
It's owned by a German family, who imports wheat from Germany and grinds it every morning to make whole wheat breads and pastries -- baguettes, loaves, strudels, and many others.  They also sell honey, various kinds of oil, and yogurt.  And it's the only store I've found here that offers paper bags instead of plastic ones.  

Now, back to my baking.  I'm going to try several types of bananas to see which ones make the best banana bread.

Friday, July 01, 2016

Money matters

There are lots of things you have to learn about money in Peru besides where to get a good exchange rate for your dollars.  The standard currency in Peru is the Nuevo Sol.  Right now a dollar will buy about 3.3 soles -- near the all time high of 3.5.  Coins come in denominations of 5, 10, 20 and 50 centimos (cents), and 1, 2 and 5 soles.  Bills come in demoninations of 10, 20, 50, 100, 200 and probably larger ones that I've never seen.

Coins of 5, 2 and 1 nuevos soles
When you withdraw money in soles from an automatic teller machine, you generally get bills of 50 and 100 soles.  But unless you live in an expensive neighborhood and shop only at the malls and supermarkets, the vast majority of your transactions are with small, one-person stores in the markets, and with taxi drivers.  They tend not to have change for anything larger than 5 or 10 soles.  So you have to always think ahead and try to keep a few small bills in your wallet.  Whenever I go to a large store, I always pay with my larger bills of 50 or 100 soles, no matter how much the item costs, because I know they have plenty of change and won't complain.

Another money issue you have to deal with is counterfeiting.  Both coins and bills are often counterfeited here, so vendors are always on the lookout and carefully examine every bill and coin you give them.  If a bill has the smallest tear in it, they won't accept it.  (The central bank will accept them, so they're not worthless, but who wants to go downtown just to change a bill?)

Yesterday I tried to pay for an ice cream cone and was told that my five sol coin was counterfeit.  I compared it to another that I had, examining every detail, and couldn't see any difference, so I thought the vendor was just being overly cautious.  I tried to use it for another transaction later, and it was again rejected.  So I asked the vendor how she could tell it was false.  She told me that it didn't feel like a real coin -- its surface was rough instead of smooth.  And I had to admit that she was right.

The other big issue is the banks.  There is plenty of competition in Peru, with lots of international banks and many large national ones.  But that doesn't mean that banking is easy or inexpensive.  Sonia opened a savings account here at Scotiabank when we arrived, because they belong to a network of international banks that waive transaction fees at the ATMs of all of the banks in the network.  They created two accounts for us -- one in soles and one in dollars.  We can freely transfer money between the two, but the exchange rate on transfers is about 3% less than the market rate.  So in order to take advantage of the currently high exchange rate, we have to wire our money in dollars from the U.S. (which costs us half a percent on each end), then withdraw the money from the bank, carry it across the street to a money changer -- who will give us a slightly better than market rate if we're exchanging thousands of dollars -- and then carry the soles back to the bank to deposit them.