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  • Traveling through South America as a vegetarian leads to interesting detours. On our last day in Lima, Rabia insisted we lunch at El Almazen, South America's #1 vegetarian restaurant. After a week of searching menu's for the one or two vegetarian options, we were ecstatic at having our own menu. It was 3pm and we were the only guests in the restaurant. And we were starving. We asked the chef to surprise us.

    Henry, (second from left in the picture) the chef and owner of Almazen, was immediately taken by our candor and excitement.

    "Where are you from?" Henry asked us. His accent was fascinating. Peruvian but with a British lilt.

    "Well, that's a complex question." We began.

    "I'm from New York. But originally from Mumbai, India." I offered.

    "And I'm from Philadelphia by way of Pakistan." Rabia said.

    "Fantastic. Fantastic," Henry said. "Easy to be a vegetarian in India, no?"

    "Yes. Incredibly. New York and Philly aren't so bad either. Your accent is different. Where are you from?"

    "I'm Peruvian. I lived in England though. But came back a few years ago to start my vegan restaurant here."

    "Wow. Are there enough vegans in Peru?"

    "Not nearly. But I make do."

    A few minutes later, he bought us a plate of small, button-like tomatoes. So tiny, I would squelch one between my fingers.

    "Did you know, the tomato originated in Peru?"

    "Er. No."

    "Yes. Years ago. This is what it looked like. See? Yellow and smaller than a grape."

    Over the next hour and a half, Henry engaged us in a gastronomical journey that spanned cactus fruit juice, nutty bread, cactus fruit and another local fruit (much like the custard apple) which we were instructed to swallow, like an oyster.

    "Everything, everything here grows in my farm."

    "You own a farm?"

    "Yaes. Yaes. It's only 45 minutes from here. So everything you ate together was grown 45 minutes from here and plucked probably yesterday."

    "Incredible. Thank you. This has been the best meal we've had."

    "I'm glad. You must visit again. I shall take you to my farm."

    "Is there anything we can bring you or send you from America?"

    "Maple syrup. There isn't any maple syrup in Peru."

    "Done. We'll ship you some." We promised.

    It's been a year and half. We have yet to keep our promise.
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