In college, I was a member of the Peruvian Student Forum. We had gathered one day to plan an upcoming event, and the discussion quickly turned to food. The group reacted enthusiastically as each member announced the dish he or she was going to bring to this function, until someone mentioned the word aguacate, and the room fell silent. Who allowed this decidedly non-Peruvian word to infiltrate this very Peruvian gathering? Almost in unison, we all corrected the mistake by shouting “palta!”
Go anywhere in Latin America, from Puerto Rico to Colombia, and aguacate is the word of choice for avocado. It originates from the Nahuatl language of the Aztec people, in what is now central Mexico. However, in countries like Peru, where the Inca Empire dominated prior to the Spanish conquest, people use the Quechua-derived word palta. In the United States, this word for avocado is one way in which we can identify fellow Peruvians among other Latinos, and use of the word palta over aguacate is as much a part of our national identity as the ruins of Machu Picchu.
The difference in word use is also reflective of a difference in consumption. Whereas many other Latinos may only dress the fruit with citrus juice, Peruvians like to enhance the creaminess of avocado with mayonnaise. Avocado accompanies our version of shrimp cocktail with a creamy mayonnaise-based sauce, and avocado halves are stuffed with a mayonnaise-dressed chicken or seafood salad—Peruvian mayonnaise, that is, where limes, rather than lemons, lend acidity.
Palta and mayonnaise also find their way into triples, the country's favorite sandwich—a ubiquitous Lima snack food, a regular at lonche (mid-afternoon coffee and tea break), and a crowd-pleasing hors d’oeuvres, where they are cut into dainty triangles or squares. Peruvian birthdays and receptions, even in the United States, are incomplete without them. As the name implies, a triple consists of three of something—slices of bread, fillings, or both—and creative incarnations of these sandwiches abound.
Perhaps no triple is as popular, though, as the triple de palta, starring avocado, with hardboiled eggs and ripe tomatoes as backup singers. If you were to imagine this sandwich as a three-story building, each filling would get its own floor between slices of white bread. Of course, it wouldn’t be Peruvian if there were not a smear of mayonnaise cementing each layer together. Once assembled, the crusts are carefully cut off to make the fillings flush with the bread, and the triple-decker is cut in half diagonally.
The end result is a visually striking sandwich with a diversity of textures from avocado, mayonnaise, and hardboiled egg. The slices of tomato lend just the right amount of acidity to counter all that richness. Because of this sandwich’s simplicity, it is important to thoughtfully procure and prepare each component: Use ripe, good quality avocados and tomatoes for this recipe, and be careful not to overcook the eggs.
Any square or Pullman loaf of white sandwich bread will work for this, but try to find one with flat, even sides. I find that the toast bread or shokupan available at Asian bakeries is perfect for these sandwiches: soft, yet substantial enough to hold up to the fillings.
Peruvian-style mayonnaise (included in triples recipe, below) gets its distinctive flavor from fresh garlic and lime juice, and it is typically not as sweet as American varieties. In a pinch, you can use any commercially made mayonnaise, but avoid using sweet salad dressings or Miracle Whip. The recipe makes more than is required for the triples—but it will come in handy, trust me.
For Peruvian-Style Mayonnaise
- 1 large egg
- 1 large clove of garlic
- 1 1/2 tablespoons lime juice (juice of about one lime)
- 1/4 teaspoon mustard powder
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon white sugar
- pinch of white pepper
- 1 cup vegetable oil
Triples de Palta
- 2 large eggs
- 1 Hass avocado (approximately 5 oz.)
- 1 large plum tomato (approximately 5 oz.)
- 8 square slices of white sandwich bread (approximately 1/3” thick)