Highlights from our recent trip to Peru with LAN Airlines. Today is all about Lima!
Central dances within the top 10 of best restaurants in the world, depending on who you ask. Chef Virgilio Martinez’ creative use of local ingredients reflects the abundance of indigenous ingredients available to Peru, while the plates conjure up ideas from the forest floor all the way up to the mountains. The clean sleek room and glass-walled kitchen make for a modern multi-course experience, with a stellar wine list that veers a bit more global than the food.
Astrid y Gaston
When the stars align and every sense is astonished and entertained, the concept of fine dining pays off for me. This would be Astrid y Gaston, Gastón Acurio’s sprawling restaurant located within a white colonial building that fuses old charm with modern flourishes. Under the healm of Diego Muños Velasquez (a man who’s worked in some of the world’s finest kitchens), the food is inventive, unexpected, joyful, and delicious. Quite simply one of the best meals and experiences I had in Lima, hands down. I love this place.
Mate de Coca
Known as a way to deal with altitude sickness as well as put a little zip in your step, mate de coca, or coca leaf tea, really does improve one’s condition with a pleasant, herbal-y green taste. And yes, this is the leaf of the coca plant, and yes,you can chew on it and yes, that’s what cocaine is. I mean, cocaine takes a few additional steps to make or something like that. I’m no scientist. But I do miss it. DID I MENTION IT PICKS YOU UP!?!?
Colors and Textures
To say I was looking forward to patterns and textures would be an understatement. With my camera in hand I tried to snap as many beautiful moments as possible. In fact, I’m pretty sure that specific Peruvian pink has left an indelible mark on the part of my brain that processes color. It’s just so gorgeous. Not to mention the walls, trees, walkways and building. Sigh. It was so beautiful.
Day Tour with Lima Gourmet
Visiting Lima? You’ll want to call on the fine folks at Lima Gourmet to show you around. With visits to markets, coffee shops and cafes, you’ll see the city through local eyes as well as get a few cultural lessons in the process. If you’re lucky, you may even take a ceviche-making class as well as learn to make a Pisco Sour. And if you’re not good at it like me, you’ll have to make another. Oh wait, that was no good either. Can I make another one? Well shoot. One more try.
Pisco Sours, Chilcano, Chicha Morada
Pisco, made in Peru and Chile, is a brandy made from grapes that’s distilled into something very delicious, very unique, and very strong. Indispensable in cocktails, it can also be added to ginger ale with a dash of lime juice to make Chilcano, which might just be the most refreshing cocktail in all of Peru. And if you don’t imbibe, not to worry, you can always order Chicha Morada, a drink made from purple corn that’s been boiled with pineapple, cinnamon, cloves and sugar. It’s utterly fantastic, but you haven’t lived until you’ve had sangria made with Chicha Morada. See? Always puttin’ booze in it, I am.
Chifa & Nikkei
With a huge influx of both Japanese and Chinese immigrants to Peru over 100 years ago, you can’t miss the the ways both cultures have been blended into Latin America in such a seamless way. Interestingly enough, both groups have retained their cultural ties to their cuisine in the form of Chifa and Nikkei. Chifa, or Peruvian-Chinese, can be found everywhere, while Nikkei, or Peruvian-Japanese, features the unique presentation and use of Japanese ingredients in its food. Sure, there are a million blends of both cuisines all over the place, sometimes skewing a little bit more Peruvian or South American at times, but it’s refreshing to see the distinction has been preserved. And as a Latino who loves all things Asian, well, I had a hard time saying goodbye to this food!
El Pan De La Chola
Give me a great bakery any day and I’m a happy man. Now give me that same bakery with beautiful design with hipness to spare and I might just never leave. I mean, if you serve fantastic bread and breakfasts that consist of avocado toast or roasted tomatoes with burrata and bread, I mean really. REALLY. Sigh. What a fantastic place from owner and baker Jonathan Day.
This restaurant from Gastón Acurio is an homage to the cevicherias of Lima, the places that serve the freshest fish in a no-frills setting for lunch. And you simply cannot visit Lima without enjoying the national dish, ceviche. It was an eye-opening experience for me, and certainly not the ceviche I eat in California. Peruvian ceviche is a God among dishes, it’s magic lives in the freshness of its fish and the simplicity of its ingredients: fish, lime juice, onion, some peppers, some corn. It’s mind-blowingly perfect, with La Mar featuring a variety of different types of seafood in Ceviche-style preparations. A killer cocktail list, too. Another one not to miss in Lima!
The Markets! The Seafood!
I saved this for last when it could have easily been items 1 through 100 on a list. You see, Lima markets defy explanation when it comes to freshness, taste, and color. What appears as a basic avocado is anything but, and the same can be said for the peppers, the melons, the cherimoya, the passion fruit, I could go on. It almost feels like some strange daydream, where one bite tastes better than you thought it would, but hey, it’s a dream, right?. But in Lima, it’s not.
There’s an expanded flavor to these things, a subtlety I’ve never experienced before in items I thought I knew. An avocado tastes more like an avocado, a cherimoya is creamier, a pepper is sweeter, I could go on and on. And what about those potatoes? With over 3,000 varieties grown in Peru, you can see how they know what they’re doing when it comes to fruits and vegetables. THREE THOUSAND!
And that brings us to the seafood markets, which were the most sparkling I’ve ever seen anywhere in the world (and I’ve been to dozens on almost every continent!). The tale that was told to us is that the locals do not eat seafood for dinner, with the reason being that anything past noon is too late when it comes to freshness. Talk about being adamant about their seafood!
As a seafood lover this made me happy, and I’m already looking at my calendar trying to get back to Lima just for this alone.
Up next: Visiting Cusco and Machu Picchu