It’s your favorite world traveler here, back to tell you more about Lima.
Now that I’ve composed a loving testament to the food of Peru, I will get down to logistics and tell you just what (and where) you need to eat in the great city of Lima. Behold, a breakdown of my favorite items consumed.
1. CEVICHE – AT LA MAR.
I thought I should start with the dish that Peru is most famous for internationally, and then crush any hope you had of tasting anything nearly this good and authentic outside the country. This is unequivocally the best ceviche I had during my brief stint in town, and during my brief stint in life. Some ceviche factoids:
- Though you’ve likely had many variations elsewhere, in Peru ceviche is simply made with fresh raw fish, the juice of several tiny Peruvian limes, a little salt, and aji (hot peppers). The dish is typically framed by sweet potatoes, red onion slivers, and big fresh kernels of choclo (giant sweet white corn).
- Cevicherias are only a lunchtime affair in Lima. In fact, you will be cautioned not to eat ceviche for dinner because the fish will not be as fresh. They literally catch the beast the morning of the day you eat it. And you can taste the freshness. Typically Peruvian sea bass or another hearty white fish will be used.
And why was it so good you ask? It comes back to the three reasons why Peruvians are culinary ballers. Those limes? They’re better than what you get at home. Those peppers? Varieties you don’t get elsewhere. That fish? Would make even a Japanese sushi snob proud. Finally, this is a dish that is in Peruvian blood. It’s theirs. They own the real thing. Gaston’s cevicheria La Mar serves up the best ceviche a Gringo from Boston will ever have (and we know our seafood pretty well too).
To see Gaston prepare a real ceviche, go here.
Other good ceviche can be found at Pescado Capitales and El Mercado.
2. TIRADITO – AT LAR MAR.
You can tell I liked this spot. Tiradito is a style of Ceviche that borrows from the Japanese influence in Peru. The fish is sliced real thin like sashimi and smothered in a spicy light sauce. Outstanding. Another classic example of fusion gone right.
3. PISCO SOUR – AT BACHICHE.
I was a little afraid when I first heard about Pisco knowing it is a high-octane booze made from grapes – I’m not a big fan of Grappa. But I frickin’ loved Pisco sours. Picture something that tastes sorta like a good margarita made with only lime juice that is creamier with a little more bite (courtesy of a lil’ egg white and bitters). I’m definitely adding this drink to my regular repertoire. This one was at Bachiche (an Italian restaurant owned by – you guessed it – Gaston) but you’ll find good renditions of this classic cocktail all over town.
4. MOLECULAR PASTEL DE CHOCLO – AT MARAS.
Pastel de Choclo is a very traditional dish that is difficult to compare to anything back here in the states. The classic version is basically cooked in a tiny clay dish and involves braised meat covered by a thick layer of fluffy cornmeal slightly crusted on top. I liked the more modern version we had at Maras – a supertastyfunkalicious restaurant run by Chef Rafael Piqueras (an El Bulli alum). Rafael serves up a big menu with many classic Peruvian dishes artfully prepared with a little molecular and gourmet charm. He applied this technique to our Pastel by serving it in a shape mocking a cake layered with braised oxtail and topped with a little foam. Call it fusion. Call it Novandina.
It was just really good food.
For the more traditional version of Pastel de Choclo, try a little café called Claribel in Miraflores.
5. EMPANADA ESPECIAL DE CARNE – SAN ANTONIO.
Oh. mah. gawd. Every once in a while I will bite into something that changes my life.
Usually these experiences are accompanied by a slow moan, a delighted giggle, heavy eyelids, and more moans. This was one of those things. And a surprise it was too – I honestly did not expect to have the best empanada of my life in Lima. But ohhhh this bad boy was stuffed with flavorful ground beef, a little onion, and secrets. Most empanadas are crusty or hard on the outside – but not this one. The “crust” was more like a soft, thick, lightly-sugared corn dough. With a slight squirt of Peruvian lime – this empanada was earth-shatteringly good and so simple. I washed it down with a chicha morada (a popular sweet purple corn drink).
6. “THE SANDWICH” – AT ZIMMERMANS.
While I’m talking about surprises, I should mention “the sandwich.” Zimmermans sounds like a deli in Jersey and rolls out sandwiches that could impress even the most meat-headed shore-dweller. Zimmermans is a small shop with a few locations in Lima that sells goodness like herbed porchetta, pig neck, and other roasted meats sliced into juicy morsels and tucked into your sammie. And then there’s the sauce – a little aji, a little chimichurri, and a little creamy goodness to slather all over. One wasn’t enough.
7. SEA SCALLOPS – AT MATSUEI.
Remember when I said Nobu got his start in Lima? This is that place. And this is that dish. Seared sea scallops served in-shell swimming in a buttery sake liquid. Flaming salt in the middle of the plate. Flaming flavors in my mouth.
8. CORTADO – AT TOSTADURIA BISSETTI & AT HAVANNA
Who knew? Those little espresso drinks served up at Simon’s and Dwelltime are also enjoyed liberally in Lima. Sipping a cortado overlooking the Pacific Ocean was one of the highlights of my time in this great country.
I had originally intended this list to be a “Top 5” but got carried away. I haven’t even gotten to the third part of my Peruvian trilogy – Atrid & Gaston – which deserves a post of it’s own as one of the Top 50 Restaurants in the World.