Our New Year's in Barranco and 12 Wishes for 2024
In Peru, it’s traditional to eat 12 grapes at the start of the new year. For each grape, you make a wish for the upcoming year. In the spirit of that tradition, I’ll express 12 wishes or goals for 2024 in this post. First, a short account of our New Year’s Eve in Lima.
We ended up celebrating New Year’s at Juanito, a traditional tavern and cultural institution in Barranco, the bohemian district of Lima. In truth, I had loftier goals for New Year’s, but we ended up where we belong. We are not usually in Lima during the end of December since like many Peruvians we usually head to the beaches on the North Coast after Christmas. Jake, a good friend of mine is visiting Peru for the first time so I wanted to end the year with a bang.
I looked for New Year parties in Lima with good food. The price for one such party, set at one of Lima’s most revered restaurants, was beyond our price range. We had decided on another, but I’m finding that making reservations for things in Peru can sometimes go from an intriguing ad on Instagram to back-and-forth correspondence on WhatsApp and e-mail only to suddenly fade out before closing the deal.
We were already in a cab heading to a party at a waterfront restaurant where we were going to see if they could squeeze us in when we decided at the last moment that Juanito would be a better fit for our current mood. Part of it was that we already had a substantial lunch at El Bodegon and wouldn’t be able to fully enjoy the feast of a dinner. We just weren’t feeling fancy.
It felt like any night of the year when we arrived at Juanito. And it never got too crazy either. Jake, Mariela, and I just talked the hours away while enjoying the small sandwiches and Pisco cocktails that Juanito is known for. We might have even eaten a little less than normal.
When the New Year came, there was no countdown, just a quiet realization. All of the patrons congratulated each other. One woman brought a suitcase. In addition to the grapes, another tradition is running around the block with an empty suitcase to inspire many travels in the upcoming year. As Mariela explained the tradition to me, I could see that she was still a bit exhausted from our 2023 travels. I joked that we should run around the block in the opposite direction with a suitcase to bring in a year of settling down.
We paid our bill which was less than sixty dollars for three (not including tip) and shook hands with the owners. We walked out into a pleasant Barranco night and watched the sporadic fireworks erupting along the cloudy sky. We crossed the Puente de Suspiros and saw a crowd and tents on the beach. That’s where the party is, I thought to myself. Maybe one year we’ll find ourselves there or maybe one year we’ll actually feel fancy. For now, there’s a whole year for us to get to know.
Now for the goals:
Keep on keeping on
Last year was pretty good in terms of goals. We were able to explore a healthy mix of new and familiar places and connect with friends and family. While traveling, I was able to maintain work-life balance by keeping a routine of swimming and improving my sleep habits. We made just about every meal count. As a bonus, I was able to consistently publish one long-form story a week.
This year, I’m happy with building on my progress which means no earth-shattering goals this year (at least in terms of my writing projects).
Introduce more people to Peruvian food
I simply love introducing people to the world of Peruvian food. That’s why I continue to write even when the audience is small. Whether it’s one person at a time or just seeing familiar names in the comment sections, it’s the thing that keeps me posting stories.
Continuing growing my audience the slow way
In a lot of ways, this project is my respite from thinking about things like OKRs and bottom-line numbers. Even so, the stats tab in Substack is always two easy clicks from the drafts, and it’s always fun to see the number go up.
The discoverability in Substack leaves a to be desired. I can’t even use search to discover people writing about what I want to read. Currently, 2/3 of my traffic comes from Google searches so I’ve been learning more about SEO which always feels icky even though I generally like optimizing things.
I thought it would be easy to just see what kind of content people enjoy most and write more about that. However, even after more than a year, no clear story has emerged from the stats yet. But overall, the trend of readership is upwards and I’ve been proud of the work I have published so far.
Explore new lightweight income streams
Luckily, I’m not reliant on writing for my day-to-day survival. However, bringing in more income would help fund more ambitious projects such as producing short videos.
I never really believed in Substack’s subscription model as the only option to fund writing. I say this as both a reader and writer. I see many posts across many different Substacks I would pay a one-time fee to read, but managing a bunch of subscriptions adds undesired complexity to my digital life.
I plan to look into tip jars and maybe even ads for writing about travel and the digital nomad life. Writing about Peruvian food will continue to be a labor of love.
Experiment with generative technology
I enjoy this project because it allows me to combine many of my interests—exploring food and places, writing, photography, and learning languages (badly). However, up to this point, there’s one aspect of my creative life that I haven’t fully incorporated and that is my love for software. I joined Substack largely so that I wouldn’t spend all of the time I have allotted to writing mucking around with code.
Inspired by a conversation I had with Jake at Juanito, I started looking into ways ChatGPT and other related technologies can help unblock aspects of the writing process. The core writing for this blog will always be done the long way—walking around and noticing new places, asking a lot of questions, letting thoughts simmer, and then finally committing words to electrons. However, I have some ideas where ChatGPT can help infuse some visual creative energy into my stories or help with some of the tedious bits.
Publish more people stories
This year, I will feature more stories about the people behind the food. Expect more stories like my story featuring Chef Arlette Eulert as well as interviews and behind-the-scene portraits. Recently, I’ve been especially interested in talking to up-and-coming chefs and fellow eaters.
Continue exploring the Peru beyond Lima
We had to postpone a couple of trips within Peru, but I hope we can fit in a couple of trips within Peru this year. In addition, I still have many stories about the regional cuisine of Peru to share. These stories span the Sacred Valley, various parts of the Amazon, Arequipa, and the Northern Beaches of Peru.
Take my photography in new directions
I’ve transitioned to shooting most of my food photos from my phone. However, I miss the more ambitious types of storytelling that come with shooting with a full-frame camera. I’m beginning the year with a three-day photo workshop which I hope will catalyze new ideas about photography and storytelling.
Feature more home cooking
Home cooking has been a big part of my journey in learning about Peruvian food. And our kitchen is finally set up. Later this year, I hope to give some of my Peruvian cookbooks a whirl while also sharing some of Mariela’s cooking secrets (if she lets me).
Experiment fusing Thai and Peruvian flavors
Peruvian flavors and techniques play well with so many cuisines. Peruvians are still in the process of learning about Thai food. I have a couple of recipe ideas that combine Thai and Peruvian ideas that I’d like to develop this year.
They say that the best Substacks build communities. However, that’s a tad lofty for a side project such as this one. I’m happy with just inspiring conversations.
I met a couple of people last year through this project which was quite amazing. I’d like to spark more conversations in the comments. What would be even more amazing would be to meet more readers over a meal or Pisco. Reach out to me if you’re visiting Peru!
Write more widely about food
Mariela and I have been spending just under six months a year in Peru. The other half of the year we’ve been traveling to new places. Later this year, I will launch a new Substack where I will share stories about cooking in Airbnbs around the world.