The Wall Scratcher

StoryJames WillimetzComment

“Pisco sour?” Asks Ximena, my favorite Peruvian bartender in New York.

“Estupidamente cold and dry,” I say.

“How else?” She says. “My mother just arrived from Lima last night. She came only with her pajamas and a case of pisco.”

“That’s what mothers are for.”

“You know what? I’ll bring you a bottle and give it to you next time you come.”

How could she not be my favorite bartender?

“You know,” she says. “We have a new drink. It’s the Anselmo. You should try it. It’s really good. It has pisco, basil, liqueur, lemon juice. And…each drink has 6 rocoto seeds.”

Ah, the Rocoto. The hottest Peruvian pepper. How many times did I rub my nose or eyes to fiery effect after touching the insides of one as a kid. Peruvians say the rocoto burns twice, when it goes in and when it comes out.  When I mention this to Ximena, the chef overhears and says, “Also, it ruins your nails—when you scratch them in pain against the bathroom wall.”  A lot of the rocoto’s heat is in the veins and seeds of the fruit. I love Peruvian hot peppers, which are like an internal sauna. They have a pleasant taste and then you start sweating. They open up your nostrils. It’s often used in Leche de Tigre, tiger’s milk, a delicious concoction of ceviche juice laced with a little pisco. It’s taken to combat the symptoms of colds and hangovers.

But a pisco drink with rocoto seeds? The Anselmo sounded intriguing.

“OK,” I said. “But make mine a 12 seeder, please.”

I guessed the 6 seeds was for “gringos” not accustomed to this kind of fire power. But I was an old vet.

My favorite New Yorker cartoon shows two American tourists at El Diablo Cafe in Mexico. They seem to be in great pain from having eaten some food with very hot hot peppers. The waiter in a big sombrero is (or seems to be) obliviously pouring them water. He asks, “Mas agua for the gringos?”  Water is the last thing you’d want for hot peppers. It just makes it worse. Instead you’d want bread or milk to put out the fire.

“Why is it called Anselmo?”

“He’s a guy that works here. He invented it.”

She finishes shaking it up and serves it to me.

Before I drank, I ask Ximena, “Just in case . . . you know what 911 is, right?”

Visually it’s stunning with tiny pieces of basil and seed swirling around. It’s tasty and refreshing at first sip. Then you notice it does pack a punch.

“So?” Ximena asks.

“Great, but it’s misnamed. Anselmo’s is too nice for this drink. It should be something like Toro Bravo (raging bull) or, the Wall Scratcher.”

And then I realize the six seeder would have been enough.

“Got any milk?”

Illustration by Veronica Ballart.