We wouldn’t exactly describe ourselves as foodies, but we do like our food and enjoy eating out regularly. Learning about and trying the different foods we have, and are yet to, encounter on this trip is an important part of the travel experience for us and we suspect we are choosing to spend more of our budget on dining out than many of the other overlanders we meet on the road. Given that, we arrived in Lima (on Tuesday 16th February 2016), dubbed the food capital of South America and one of the world’s great dining destinations, with high hopes for some gastronomic experiences. But a good meal (or two) every day for six days was more of a splurge than even we had anticipated!
But where to start? Lima’s global reputation for fine dining has created somewhat of a monster of a food industry, with TripAdvisor listing more than 1,750 restaurants. Five of the top 20 restaurants in Latin America are in Lima. Miraflores, Lima’s more exclusive suburb, and the areas around it, are full of restaurants, most, we suspect, given our experience, operating to a pretty consistently high standard. So, parked in the little yard in front of Hitchhikers Hostel in Miraflores, where we were set up for a little noisy mid-city camping, I did some research: I read a few blogs from other travellers; looked at articles with titles like “Top 10 restaurants and street food stalls in Peru” (which was where we found out about La Nueva Palomino in Arequipa) and the listing of the top 50 restaurants in Latin America; and cross referenced these with Tripadvisor and a map.
We expect to pay for good food, but what we hoped to find was at least one top international class experience for considerably less than we would pay in Europe, and, ideally, within walking distance so we could at least pretend we were getting a little exercise to balance it out! We had had a great experience at Gustu in La Paz (no. 17 of Latin America’s best) a couple of months before and here, we hoped to try a least one or two places in a similar league. A few hours later, I re-emerged with a little list and some ideas…
Our first evening in Lima had got us off to a rather pleasing start, when a walk around the nearby area to find a laundrette had also taken us past the wonderfully posh supermarket of Vivanda (funny how a luxury supermarket can be such a treat these days!) and also to Parque Kennedy, which is famous for its population of surprisingly well looked after and healthy cats. Given that we are both rather fond of cats, we enjoyed a couple of visits there during our time in Lima. In the park, we snacked on one of our favourite Peruvian treats, some Piccarones, which we had discovered in Ayacucho.
Day 1: Nekkei – Japanese-Peruvian fusion
Peru is known for some unique “fusion” food cultures that result from a mixing of different immigrant cultures. One of these is Nekkei, a fusion of Japanese and Peruvian influences and, before I’d even had a chance to open google to do my research, we’d already decided we try Edo after we had passed it, just two blocks up the road from the hostel, on the afternoon we arrived. Later that first evening, it had a promising queue to get in, so we figured it should be our starting point for lunch the next day.
Indeed, it turned out to be a real treat. We got there in good time after it opened and choose to sit at the counter, where we could watch our sushi choices being made in front of us. The place soon filled up around us and was emptying again by the time we left after lunch! It wasn’t until late evening, once the sushi had digested, that we started to feel peckish again, so we made the most of being in a 24 hour city and got a sandwich at Lima’s famous sandwich stop, La Lucha.
Edo (Berlin 601, Miraflores; website) highlights:
- Capitan: a pisco martini made with red vermouth and bitters
- A variety of sushi dishes, including with bonito (a close relative of tuna), Nekkei sauce and some flambéed with parmesan on top
- Ice cream tempura
Sangucheria La Lucha (Av Santa Cruz 847, Miraflores; Facebook page) highlights:
- Sandwiches of chicharron (crispy fried pork) with sweet potato and chicken with cheese and pineapple (really, it worked!)
Day 2: Classic seafood & city centre ruins
Peru is perhaps most famous for its seafood and, of that, most famous for ceviche. Bruce had had ceviche several times already during our time in Peru and, up until then, the best he had sampled at been at a market stall in Arequipa, perhaps thanks to the intense competition between the large number of ceviche stalls in the market. Being allergic to fish, my opportunities to try this dish had been rather limited, if not non-existent, so far. So I was quite excited to get a chance to try mariscos (shellfish) ceviche at La Mar, a restaurant recommended to us as one of the best for seafood in Lima and listed as no. 12 in Latin America.
Just around the corner from La Mar was La Pan de Chola, a café specialising in sourbread that I had read about in one of the blogs I’d looked out, so we decided to start the day there with brunch. We really didn’t allow sufficient time between what turned out to be hefty bits of very tasty bread and then arriving early enough at La Mar for lunch to be sure to get a table! Thankfully, seafood is relatively light on the stomach and we took our time ordering whilst sipping another appetising pisco cocktail!
Unfortunately, La Mar turned out to be a rather mixed experience for us. The entradas of seafood empanadas and an octopus causa (a traditional Peruvian dish of cold mashed potato with a filling / topping) were delightful, but my much anticipated ceviche was so tart (too much lemon? too much vinegar?) as to be inedible. Of course, it being my first experience of ceviche, I couldn’t be sure, but I was pretty confident it should taste better than it did! And then we realised that one of Bruce’s tasting dish of 3 ceviches was also awful, presumably made with the same batch of Leche de Tigre (the dressing mix for ceviche) and Bruce, more experienced with ceviche than I, concurred.
A chef was summoned, great concern was expressed and another batch brought – which was a little better balanced, but still pretty hard to eat… so we gave up on it! Happily, one of the 3 taster portions that Bruce ordered was made with bonito, a fish that I am not allergic to, so I did at least get to try ceviche! The other dishes, particularly the scallops, were delightful. We will never know what had gone wrong at La Mar that day with their ceviche – or even if that is how other people like it! We walked it off in the hot afternoon sun with a visit to the Huaca Pucllana, a dramatic pre-Incan ruin in the middle of the city.
La Pan de Chola (Av Mariscal La Mar 918, Miraflores; Facebook page) highlights:
- Sourbread toast, one portion with half an avocado (to spread) with olive oil and sea salt, and the other with homemade orange marmalade, suitably chunky and bitter!
La Mar (Av Mariscal La Mar 770, Miraflores; website) highlights:
- Empanadas of crab and prawn
- Octopus causa
- Scallop tiradito and the bonito ceviche in a nekkei sauce
Day 3: A ground-breaking restaurant – an Amazon appetiser
In spite of some disappointment lingering from the day before, and perhaps a little because of that, we decided to give a top restaurant in Lima another try. Looking for something a little different, we walked the other way across town a few blocks to Amaz, a relatively recently opened offering showcasing experimental Amazon inspired food, hoping it would give us a little taster of things to come on our planned trip to the Amazon in April. Again, arriving early enough at lunchtime, we had no trouble getting a table and our experience here restored our faith in Peruvian cuisine. From flicking through a fully illustrated electronic menu on an iPad (so we could properly understand what we were ordering) sipping yet more novel appetising pisco cocktails, to finishing off the exquisite deserts, we had tasty and fascinating experience. Just what we had hoped for from Lima… Once again, no further food was required that day!
Amaz (Av. la Paz 1079, Miraflores; website) highlights:
- Cocktails: another Capitan and another version made with orange bitters (yum!)
- A trio of starters: giant Amazonian snails, scallops in camu camu butter & plaintain cups with salsa
- Tuna ceviche and a prawn ceviche cooked in bamboo
- Duck in a rich sauce of achiote, yoghurt, lemon curd and bitter chocolate
- An hoja dish (cooked in a leaf) of chicken, meat and rice, and a plantain stuffed with salty Andean cheese
- Deserts: Avocado tart (yes, correct, a sweet tart – avocado mixed with cream perhaps in a pastry cup with sweet tomato slices on top, and ice cream and mango on the side) and a banana split of a sweet pink “isla” banana coated in dark chocolate, with a little chilli and some icecream and a cremolada (frozen fruit slush) on the side
Day 4: Chifa – Chinese-Peruvian fusion in Chinatown
We don’t think you have really visited a capital city unless you have been into the historic centre of the city, even for a city like Lima where so much of city life is in the various suburbs, so, fortified with a Lúcuma juice (a jungle fruit that is particularly popular as ice cream, it has a mousse-like texture and a strangely carroty aftertaste), we hopped on a bus from the Ovalo de Miraflores for a slow ride through Lima’s infamous traffic to near the Plaza de Armas.
It was a short walk from there into Lima’s Chinatown where we intended to eat Chifa, a fusion of Chinese and Peruvian food. We had had quite a few Chifa dishes as we came up the coast of Peru, as there are Chifa restaurants everywhere, with Arroz con mariscos (fried rice with shellfish) becoming a safe and easy on the road staple, so we were there as much for the busy and hectic Chinatown atmosphere as for the food itself.
We digested our lunch by joining a tour of the nearby Museum of the Inquisition, inside the restored building that was originally the Inquisition’s base in Peru, later housing the first congress of the Republic. We managed to understand a little of what we were told, despite the tour being in Spanish, but much of what we saw didn’t really need any explanation and was perhaps not so good for the digestion after all!
By the time we got back to Miraflores in the early evening, tempted by a fashionable new cocktail bar La Emolienteria, we decided it was time for a drink. We learnt that emoliente is an infusion of numerous Peruvian medicinal plants and is a delightful, slightly dry and refreshing mixer for pisco. We also had our first Algarrobina cocktail, an eggnog-like pisco cocktail made with rich algarrobina (carob) syrup that has become a firm favourite option instead of desert.
- Duck in tamarind sauce, house special prawns, with vegetable chaufa (egg fried rice)
La Emolienteria (Diagonal 598, Miraflores; Facebook page) :
- Pisco with emoliente
- Algarrobina (pisco, carob syrup, milk and cocoa)
Day 5: Sunday lunch at a Miraflores local
We got into the spirit of Sunday in Lima by heading out of the hostel in the early afternoon towards the Malecon along the sea-front. But we hadn’t got very far, when a nearby restaurant, La Brujas de Cachiche, tempted us in. It looked appealingly lively with Limeñas families eating Sunday lunch accompanied by a small band. Here we tried a vegetable tiradito (definitely needs to be tried at home), had yet more beautifully cooked octopus, lasagnes made with a Peruvian twist and two classic Peruvian puddings that we had yet to taste. We made it to the Parque de Amor up on the cliffs above the coast towards the end of the afternoon and found it full of Sunday afternoon life. Once again, no further food was required that day either!
La Brujas de Cachiche (Bolognesi 472, Miraflores; website) highlights:
- Vegetable tiradito; octopus salad
- Lasagnes of “seco de res” (slow stewed beef) and “aji de gallina” (a classic Peruvian dish of chicken in a lightly spiced, rich yellow chilli (aji amarillo) sauce)
- Tres leches (layers of sponge soaked in milk syrups made of 3 kinds of milk: evaporated, condensed and cream) and Suspiro (a classic Limeñan desert of a white caramel and egg yolks topped with meringue.
Day 6: Spare parts & a taste of northern Peru
When we had got back to the hostel after lunch at Amaz on day 3, we found there had been a turnover of other overlanders parked in the courtyard and another European T4 had arrived – the only other one we’ve met on this trip! Almost as soon as we met Roberto, he and Bruce started peering at each other’s engines and exchanging maintenance notes. In the process, we found that our air filter was in an awful state, even after trying to clean it out with our air compressor (for inflating tyres). We decided we should try to find a new one and that became Monday’s job. First thing that morning, we contacted a VW truck garage by phone (thanks Roberto!) and email (at their request), then got the hostel to order us a taxi to take us there in person, all the way across the city, and preparing the driver that we might need to visit other places as well.
Indeed, it was at the second VW garage, all the way back again in Miraflores (where we were directed by the truck centre), that they were able to confirm that there was one of our type of air filter showing on their system as being in Lima and, yes, he could contact the place that had it to reserve it. After a detour into a part of Lima’s suburbs we didn’t feel very happy about being in when the street numbers on our map sent us to the wrong end of a very long road, we finally put our hands on the air filter. Did we know how much it would be they asked us yet again? Yes, it is relatively expensive, we replied, but much less than having one couriered out from Europe! They seemed to want to have all kinds of details, about us, our vehicle etc., for their sales system, and we felt rather relieved when they finally produced the filter and let us pay for it!
By then it was well past lunch time and we decided to walk back up the main road we had come down in the taxi towards some Chifa places we had seen, when we stumbled on a restaurant called Moche, which turns out to be one of a chain of Limeñan restaurants specialising in the food of northern Peru. Seeing as that was the direction in which we were heading next, it seemed an appropriate place to stop! It wasn’t up to the gourmet standards of some of the places we had experienced in the previous few days, but it offered a chance to try some of the Peruvian classics we had yet to have and was tasty, interesting and filling.
We finished off our time in Lima by spending a few hours at the small but perfectly formed climbing wall just around the corner from the hostel. We were pleased that we could complete the standard indoor climbing wall safety test in Spanish!
Moche (Av. República de Panamá 6445, Miraflores; website) highlights:
- Classic crab causa (crab and avocado in mayonnaise sandwiched between layers of cold mashed potato)
- Tacu tacu (bean and rice cake) with cabrito (goat) stew