Tag Archives: fish

Unruffling our feathers in Nha Trang

The countdown to returning home is nearly over; just two more sleeps and we will be back in Blighty.

I can’t help but think of the chickens my pal Marcia keeps in Christchurch (bear with me, there is a connection).

We learnt that when you collect freshly laid eggs, it is important to leave at least three eggs behind in the nest (or golf balls, which the chickens hilariously mistake for the fruit of their loins). Apparently, chicken counting goes “one… two… many”; they can’t quantify numbers larger than three.

I can relate; when we had several days before the flight to LHR, I was able to convince myself that there was still loads of time left on our travels. Now the number has ceased to be “many”, I am a squawking, clucking, freaked out chook.

Nothing better to unruffle our proverbial feathers than some downtime in the beach resort of Nha Trang, south central Vietnam.

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While it was a great place to relax, the beach was not particularly remarkable save for the surprising number of Russian holidaymakers there; even TV channels, shop signs, menu translations etc are in Russian in this “little Russia”. It seems Nha Trang is to Russia what the Costa del Sol is to Britain.

Anyway, we ignored the restaurants pushing blinis and borscht and sought out a couple of local specialities, following tips picked up from Vietnamese foodies in the know The Ravenous Couple and my buddy Anh from Banh Mi 11.

First was nem nướng, barbecued pork meat and crunchy crackling. You make a fat cigar by smoothing out a sheet of rice paper, topping with pork, a forest of herbs, as many chillies you can handle and whatever condiments you fancy before rolling up and dunking in some sauce between bites.

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Nem chua (fermented sour pork wrapped in pretty parcels of banana leaves) got the same treatment.

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Then it was time to move on to another street joint to sample what may now qualify as the strangest thing I’ve ever eaten: sứa (jellyfish).

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Before this, the weirdest thing I had ever eaten were deep fried locusts, which were a struggle to force down. Happily, jellyfish is actually really good! It has a mild, fresh flavour and isn’t slimy or rubbery as I thought it may be – it was a crunchy and refreshing topping for my seafood pho. And no sting! I could even imagine it adding some interesting texture to something like paella.

Mark eschewed the jellyfish option, although he experimented with a local vegetable drink which tasted healthy/medicinal, not unlike wheatgrass.

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Knowing our travelling days are numbered (in chicken-friendly quantities), we splashed out on our last day in Nha Trang with a couple of scuba dives. I certainly regarded jellyfish with a fresh perspective!

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In many ways however we are looking forward to coming home. It will be wonderful to be reunited with family and friends. Not to mention a proper cup of tea…

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Hanoi: a city built on street food

I started prepping Mark for our visit to Hanoi months before we actually arrived.

“We will be eating as much as physically possible,” I said matter-of-factly. “I don’t want to hear any ridiculous excuses like ‘we just ate’ or ‘I’m already full’ or ‘we’ve already had four bowls of pho today’. We’ve only got three days there and I have a long list of places where we have to eat. We will probably get a bit fat but so be it; we can diet when we’re back home. We will just have to man up and eat through the pain!”

Mark chuckled at me as I went back to my complex system of cross-referencing recommendations from Vietnamese friends in London, tips from my days working with Pho restaurants, online forums, twitter, guide books and maps.

After that, I reckon I could run a military dictatorship, no problem.

As planned, we arrived and were soon negotiating the famous crazy Vietnamese traffic and the narrow alleys in Hanoi’s Old Quarter, where street food glory is found in abundance.

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The tangled electrical wiring is as crazy/dodgy as the traffic.

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Let me give you an idea of our typical schedule over the three days we spent in Hanoi. We would get up at around 7am, have some tea and fresh fruit at our guesthouse before heading out for two or three bowls of pho at different street stalls around town. Then we may have a mid-morning snack of banh mi sandwiches (just to keep our metabolisms ticking over) before it was time for lunch – probably bun cha noodles to have a change from pho.

Sometime mid-afternoon, one of us would point out that it was probably beer o’clock. We would find the nearest bia hoi (fresh beer) joint (25 pence a glass). Inevitably we would be offered a snack like bo la lot (beef wrapped in betel leaves and grilled).

For dinner we would go more upmarket and eat at an actual restaurant rather than perched on tiny plastic stools at the side of the road. We would aid digestion with a stroll around a night market where we would be tempted by snacks like bánh cuốn (barbecued pork wrapped in rice paper), giant prawns or slices of sour green mango dipped in salt and chilli powder (my favourite).

Here are some of the highlights – this is the stuff that made the extra chub around our waists worthwhile.

bun rieu cua (crab noodle soup)

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Pho tai nam (noodle soup with roasted and rare beef) at Pho Gia Truyen. This baby was superlatively good, combining the different flavours and textures of savoury cooked beef and thin slivers of very rare, pink meat in a silky broth. I actually felt sad as I neared the end of my bowl, knowing I would measure all other pho against this one.

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There was a long queue of locals outside; one woman smiled and said “this place, number one!” as if congratulating us on finding it.

Mark queuing patiently

Mark queuing patiently

Giant prawns, grilled over charcoal:

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These guys managed to escape our greed…

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Cha ca at Cha Ca La Vong. The dish is prepared with oodles of green herbs, which are stir fried with fish and other ingredients at your table.

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As the sign says, this is all they serve here. It’s funny how restaurants with only one or two items on the menu have only recently become a trend in London; they’ve been doing it for ages here.

Pho ga (chicken noodle soup) at Pho Hang Dieu

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And around the corner, pho bo (beef noodle soup) at Pho Thin

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At Pho Thin they stir fry the beef before adding it to the stock, which gives an amazing smoky flavour. It’s also served with a thumbs up and a smile!

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Another incarnation of cha ca flavours, this time wrapped in rice paper at Highway 4:

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Also some pork ribs in barbecue sauce, also from Highway 4:

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Check out the crackling on this pork:

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Dinner at Quán Ăn Ngon:

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Believe it or not, we also managed to find time for non-food related sights and activities. I was going to talk about them here but I’ve just made myself hungry with all these pictures; I must go and find sustenance. Toodle pip!

First NZ blog: Auckland, Bay of Islands and Northland

After four months of struggling to communicate in Portuguese, Spanish and French, we were looking forward to spending a month in New Zealand where people speak English – albeit with some funny vowel sounds.

Lots about New Zealand made us feel at home: the cold weather in June, the Queen on banknotes, driving on the left. And best of all being met at the airport by a friend – thank you Anya!

We spent the first couple of days with Anya (a lovely Kiwi gal I know from her days living and playing softball in London) in Auckland while we ran a few errands.

We picked up the campervan which was to be our home for the next month. This process took hours: there was a thick stack of paperwork to sign, a safety film to watch, and a mandatory tour of all the van’s features.

Finally we were allowed to drive away in this. We named her Gabby, inspired by the licence plate.

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Roomy, isn’t she!? We were upgraded to a vehicle which can sleep 6 (which we initially thought was a stroke of luck but has turned out to be a pain. Imagine getting this beast in an average parking place, or around wiggly roads).

Next we had to pick up the package of winter clothes we had posted to ourselves from England – much needed to deal with the shock of cold weather after Tahiti!

Once all that boring admin was sorted we were free to explore. First stop was the Sky Tower in the centre of Auckland. We signed up for the “Skywalk” where you walk around a 1m wide platform which circles the outside of the building, 192m up. I’m sure this is just the kind of activity needed to cure Mark’s fear of heights…

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Once we were back inside in relative safety, we got some more fantastic views of the “city of sails” at night:

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We also did some sightseeing at ground level. The Auckland museum has some brilliant Maori portraits and an exhibition about the first successful expedition to the summit of Everest, led by New Zealand hero Sir Edmund Hillary. Frankly we thought the museum’s much hyped performance of the Haka (traditional Maori war dance, popularised by the All Blacks rugby team) was below par; the performers were more porky than petrifying and their moves were far from slick. But there will be other opportunities to see a good one, and displays like this giant bird made up for our disappointment.

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The Domain is the park next to the museum which was lovely to walk through.

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After getting engaged in Tahiti Mark and I went shopping for rings in Auckland. I had fun trying on obscenely OTT bling like this 5ct diamond worthy of Elizabeth Taylor.

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In the end we chose a more understated, classic solitaire:

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From Auckland we headed north to the Bay of Islands area where a friend of Anya’s has a pimping beach house which he very kindly offered to us for a night or two. Enormously grateful, thank you Robin!

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While in Northland we savoured what could very well be the best picnic ever. In a sheltered bay we found a little place selling oysters, just $10 NZD (£5) for a dozen freshly shucked beauties plus a lemon twisted off a nearby bush to squeeze over.

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We sat at a bench right next to the sea, unwrapped a loaf of artisan bread from a bakery down the road and opened a couple bottles of beer to say “cheers” to a memorable lunch.

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Korororeka Oysters also had a smokery and we luckily happened to be there on “smoked fish Friday” (the locals really do use this term) – once a week, on Friday, the owners smoke piles of fat mullet to perfection. They are in high demand; just after midday they had almost sold out. Not sure why they don’t fire up the smokehouse more often than once a week!

We scored one of the last few whole smoked mullet.

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This baby yielded two delicious meals: first tossed through linguine with olive oil (New Zealand produces some quality, punchy olive oils that deserve some shelf space in the UK) minced garlic, lemon zest and fresh parsley.

The remainder went into a kedgeree: flakes of fish stirred through rice flavoured with onion, ginger, garlic, turmeric, mustard seeds and other spices, finished with fresh coriander, parsley, mint, lemon wedges and hard boiled eggs.

Even with a meagre campervan hob, with such fabulous NZ produce it is easy to eat like kings!

With our appetites for seafood sharpened, we took advantage of a promotional offer to go fishing for a day from a charter boat off Marsden Point. We had to get up before sunrise: the early bird catches the fish!

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These waters are full of fish, snapper in particular. I was useless and only caught tiddlers which had to be thrown back (in fairness, the minimum length for keeping was 30cm – I have definitely paid for fish smaller than the ones I was forced to reject!). Mark fared better, catching two decent sized snapper and this stunner, a John Dory!

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John Dory is a beautiful fish to eat and this catch was the envy of the whole boat. It was so fresh we cooked it simply with just butter and lemon – perfect.

Some of the more experienced fishermen on the boat landed some whoppers like this 16 pound snapper.

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We were even lucky enough to spot whales on the way back to land, an unexpected bonus!

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As our confidence in handling Gabby on the road grew, we explored increasingly rural lands.

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We really pushed the limits of our comfort zone…

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We were bemused to read that a must see tourist attraction nearby was a public toilet.

Off we went to check out the apparently celebrated Hundertwasser toilets, named after the reclusive Austrian painter and architect who was commissioned to build the public toilets in Kawakawa after making the small town his home. The design is quirky and colourful, using broken tiles, bottles and wrought iron objects.

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After we relieved ourselves we were ready to hit the road again. We couldn’t visit Northland without going to Waitangi, one of the most significant places in NZ history.

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This is the site where, in 1840, a group of Maori chiefs effectively signed their country over to the British crown. Cultural misunderstandings together with some dubious translations of the Treaty of Waitangi text meant the chiefs did not really know what they were getting themselves into. The site now has a big whare runanga or Maori meeting house built alongside the colonial treaty buildings and the largest waka (war canoe) in New Zealand.

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It also has a pretty large tree.

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Many people told us not to bother spending too much time on the North Island and that it was all about the South, but we felt every day we spent in these parts was worthwhile.

Food in Ecuador

I’ve said before how much I love checking out food markets in new places. Aside from the eye-catching displays of fruit & veg, in South American countries like Ecuador there are often stalls hawking hot food and cheap set meals made from the market’s best produce. Generally, the prices are astonishingly low because the ingredients are so readily available – and I imagine long standing deals with the produce stall keepers are arranged.

It can work out cheaper to buy a three or four course market almuerzo at $2.50 (typically consisting of a hearty soup, fresh salad, some sort of chicken or meat stew with rice, potatoes and a spicy salsa, with a fresh fruit smoothie or fruit salad to finish) than to make a picnic back at your hostel.

Like the increasingly popular street food scene in London, hot food stalls in Ecuadorian markets are strictly no frills operations: you are given just a single spoon to eat with (forget being shy about using hands and teeth to do what a spoon cannot) and kiddie sized plastic furniture to sit on. The food is always hearty, simple and rustic – nothing fancy.

Some examples of typical almuerzo fare: a plate brimming with sausage, chicken, meat stew, rice, fried egg, salad and lapingachos (fried potato and cheese cakes)…

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Or yagauarlocro (potato soup with toppings of fried black pudding/blood sausage, crunchy onion and avocado). Love all the textures in one bowl…

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But friendly service costs nothing and is often provided with abundance – the stall holders are all jokes and smiles as they motion you to sit down, or invite you to stick your nose into their saucepans to see what they’ve got cooking. Condiments are always interesting – aji (homemade hot salsa) is often on the tables along with freshly cut lime wedges and diced onion.

As well as being a great way to stay within tight backpacking budgets, eating in markets lets you get away from the gringo joints and sample what locals really eat. It’s not unusual to be squashed in at a table where a toothless octogenarian cholita, a suited business professional and a gaggle of uniformed schoolkids are all slurping away at identical set meals.

It was a setting like this where we had one of the most enjoyable and visually memorable meals of our time in Ecuador, on the top floor of a grubby market in Cuenca.

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Pork is a big deal in Cuenca. I don’t know the exact recipe but it probably goes something like this:

  1. Get a bloody great big pig
  2. Blast it with heat until every inch of skin turns into thick, crisp crackling
  3. Plonk the whole thing out on a counter top – the head or a few of the legs will inevitably flop over the edges
  4. The serving lady must always be elbow deep inside the carcass to pull out the juiciest shreds of meat with her fingers
  5. The serving lady must also snap off samples of that insane crackling to lure people to sit at her tables
  6. Serve with potato cakes, maize, salad and a spoon

Markets are also a great place for breakfasts in the morning. In Ecuador, empanadas are not the Cornish pasty-like baked meaty treats you get elsewhere. Here they are more like donuts: fried until puffy, filled with mild creamy cheese and dusted with sugar.

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Great with a coffee, or a cup of morocho, a thick hot drink made of maize simmered in milk with cinnamon, cloves, sugar and raisins – a bit like rice pudding.

Another uniquely Ecuadorian take on the empanada is empanadas verde, made with mashed green plantain. These are uncooked, waiting for a quick flash in a frying pan…

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We kept seeing malta con huevo for sale at various drinks stalls in markets. After confirming that this does in fact mean “malt beer with egg” and is sometimes translated into the English “scrambled beer”, our curiosity was piqued enough to order a couple to try for oursleves. We watched in astonishment as the drinks stall lady filled a blender with an unlikely combination of ingredients. In went a bottle of pilsner, a slurp of alfalfa juice, a bit of borojo pulp from a packet (a sour fruit, pic below) and finally a raw egg to be whizzed together.

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The end result was peculiar but surprisingly drinkable – the earthy taste of beer somehow works with the grassy alfalfa. We both finished our glasses, albeit with looks of confusion on our faces. I think malta con huevo would be a great hangover cure – a filling meal in a glass, gentle on the tummy, with a bit of hair of the dog, vitamins from the fruit and alfalfa and protein from the egg. Only a drunkard could have invented it!

A less challenging drink commonly served in Ecuador’s markets is jugo or thick juices: fresh fruit blended with water or milk and sugar. Ecuador’s diverse ecosystems yield a wealth of native fruit and even the smallest stalls have dozens of options. Mark has developed a taste for tangy tamarino (tamarind) and my favourite is tomate d’arbol (tomatillo), a beautiful fruit with a taste which is hard to pin down – the seeds, internal structure and sharpness are reminiscent of an unripe tomato but there is also a delicate, fruity flavour a bit like melon.

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It seems to grow everywhere in Ecuador but I haven’t come across it before in the UK; I read that you can source the frozen pulp which would work in a blended juice but not sure if you can get the fresh fruits. Tomate d’arbol is also awesome in aji de tomate d’arbol – a punchy salsa made with the fruit and hot chillies. I have bookmarked this recipe to play with later.

Although Quito is miles from the coast, one of the specialities of the capital city’s food market is corvina (sea bass). This meal at Quito’s Mercado Central consisted of a huge slab of the fish served with ceviche (in Ecuador, ceviche is quite soupy, with lots of lime juice), potatoes and popcorn – all for $4!

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After the epic pork at Cuenca’s market, we ate another kind of pig; guinea pig or cuy is a delicacy in Ecuador as well as Peru. The friendly man who made us our Panama hats in Cuenca recommended a local place which specialised in cuy, Tres Estrellas.

It takes at least an hour to cook so you have to call in advance to avoid a long wait; although they are little creatures they are quite fatty so time is needed to get a really crispy skin.

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Ecuadorians think the best bit is the feet so we tried them – they taste like pub pork scratchings. We were slightly more squeamish about the head, which still had teeth intact…

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Ecuador grows some of the best cacao in the world and if you avoid the ubiquitous Nestlé bars, you can find really fine chocolate. We stocked up on some sublime bars at Quito’s Kallari cafe, which is linked to a small artisan producer in the countryside.

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The cafe also makes gorgeous tarts, cakes and brownies – we couldn’t resist sharing this gooey pud.

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Before I came to Ecuador I read this Guardian article which indicated that Ecuador’s food scene was behind Peru’s and eagerly snapping at its neighbour’s heels. Some of the country’s top chefs and foodies seem to be envious and indignant about Peru’s global culinary success and can’t help but compare the two cuisines.

But after a couple of weeks of happy, stimulating eating around Ecuador, I see no need for this anxious “keeping up with the Joneses” attitude – Ecuadorean food deserves to be more than just second fiddle to the popular Peruvian trend. It is hugely underrated and should be recognised in its own right.

Peru bites

Keep your cathedrals, plazas, museums and statues – the first place I want to visit when I arrive somewhere new is the local food market.

Nowhere is better for getting under the skin of a place and gaining insight into how people shop, eat and live. I could (and often do) spend hours browsing; marvelling at the colours of unfamiliar fruits, asking questions and accepting samples, checking out how prices compare from place to place, practising my haggling skills and generally absorbing the energy of the hustle and bustle.

It is impossible to leave empty handed and I think the best travel souvenirs are from markets; I have a growing collection of wooden spoons from all over South America waiting to be taken back home to London.

True to form, we visited a main market on our first day in Lima. At first glance this market wasn’t anything fancy or high end (unlike São Paulo where perfect specimens of fruit were constructed in architectural wonders for display).

But with such vivid colours and variety, there is no need to add frills.

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Black or purple corn, used to make the classic fruity Peruvian drink chicha morada (it’s a bit like a grown up ribena!)

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Fresh cacao, which people take home to grind and make their own chocolate.

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Reptilian looking cherimoya aka custard apples – the biggest I’ve ever seen!

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When we looked closer we saw that although this market seemed a bit rough and ready, like a regular busy market in any country, a tremendous amount of care went into preparing the produce for sale.

It was beautiful to watch: men and women crouched near their stalls meticulously trimming lettuces, picking over soft fruits, even finely chopping onions, herbs and vegetables to bag up separately to relieve their customers of a tedious prep job.

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Even humble garlic was given this treatment, with the papery husks discarded to show off plump cloves.

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There seemed to be a real sense of pride among the stallholders, not only in their work but in the produce itself. It’s clearly a culture which values and loves food. I wish we could find more of this attention to detail and level of service in the UK.

There is plenty of good eating outside of the markets too.

This is a snack called “causa” sold at many cafes. It’s layers of potato, chicken or seafood, mayonnaise, avocado, topped with hard boiled eggs and black olives. The story goes that the name originates from the War of the Pacific, when women would make these to sell “por la causa” (for the cause) to raise money for the troops. It’s tasty and filling, a bit like Russian salad (salad olivieh to Persians).

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There was no way I was visiting Peru without trying their delicacy of cuy, guinea pig. Especially after I learnt that it was a main part of The Last Supper…

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It’s decent; the “tastes like chicken” cliche is apt. The meat is quite fatty for such a little beast but they carry a lot of chub around their haunches.

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After getting bitten by the ceviche bug, we ate as much as possible while we were in Lima.

The ceviche apaltado from La Canta Rana has set a new benchmark for me. I can’t get enough of the large, buttery avocados in South America and this combination of a perfectly ripe specimen with fresh fish and a skilfully balanced marinade is something I will crave, even years from now.

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Mark’s ceviche mixto (fish chunks mixed with octopus, clams, prawns and other seafood) was memorable too.

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Even Sir Paul McCartney is a fan – his autograph is among the many wall decorations!

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Another highlight was Panchita, a restaurant which is part of Gaston Acurio’s empire in Lima. We couldn’t get a reservation at his most famous place Astrid y Gaston (recently named #14 in the World’s 50 Best list for 2013) but a visit to Panchita, which showcases the best of typical Peruvian street food, helped to make up for this.

Four of us enjoyed sharing hearty portions. Clockwise from top left: aji de gallinas (chicken in a creamy sauce), arroz con pato (stir fried rice with duck), tallarines (stir fried beef, veggies and noodles) and lomo saltado tacu tacu (flash fried marinated steak with vegetables).

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Lima recently had another of its restaurants recognised by the World’s 50 Best list, a new addition at #50. Central is run by Virgilio Martinez who also owns the restaurant Lima in London and used to be head chef at Astrid y Gaston. We booked a table here and looked forward to a real treat before we left the city.

And what a treat it was. After nosing around the upstairs library which is crammed with reference books, maps, photographs and obscure ingredients Virgilio and his team are researching, we were shown to our seats.

We were given a platter of excellent artisan bread, dried seaweed, flavoured butters and dips to nibble on while we read the menu.

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(Sorry for the quality of the photos – we had only a phone camera in the dimly lit room.)

Central’s menu is like a map of Peru: there is arapaima fish from the Amazon jungle, shrimp and grouper from the rivers and seas, suckling piglet from high altitude grasslands and chuno (a frozen dehydrated potato) from the Andes mountains. Native ingredients are combined with Virgilio’s international favourites – he has trained and worked around the world.

It was such a good menu that we had to ask the waiter to help us choose. Following his advice, I ordered “charred purple-corn scented octopus” to start, which was served with sauces of black olive and tree tomato (aka tomate d’arbol which I am rapidly becoming obsessed with, particularly in freshly juiced form).

These were served in fun purple and yellow dots which stirred memories of Mr Blobby – first time I’ve thought of that 90s pop chart horror in a decade!

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Mark went for lamb cannelloni with Urubamba cheese (we had crossed the Urubamba river on our trek to Machu Picchu).

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For the main course, I had suckling pig which was beautifully tender, sticky and gelatinous – it didn’t need all of the slightly gloopy, sweet “pear custard” served alongside. Mark chose the arapaima, a meaty white fish which complemented another Amazonian ingredient, hearts of palm.

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Central has its own chocolate cellar downstairs, which holds some of the best chocolate in Peru. Obviously I had to choose the chocolate dessert! Mark ordered the goats cheesecake which came with a fragrant, steaming pine concoction for extra theatre.

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We just about found room for the playful petit fours of marshmallows and other goodies served on a “lava rock” made of sugar.

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I grabbed Virgilio himself for a cheesy photo and to thank him for a delicious meal, congratulate him on his restaurant’s recent success and wish him well for his forthcoming wedding.

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Great news – he and Gaston have teamed up to open another restaurant in London early next year, spitting distance from where I work in Shoreditch.

I dare say I will be a regular!

Recipes from Lima: ceviche and Pisco sour

Peruvian food is a bit of a “thing” in London these days, with restaurants such as Lima, Coya and others opening recently.

Ceviche is by far Peru’s most famous and popular dish. The idea is to get the freshest seafood possible and toss it in lime juice and other flavourings to cure the flesh slightly.

Since food is often best in its birthplace, I couldn’t wait to go on a bit of a pilgrimage while we were in Lima, Peru to learn more about ceviche and check out some top cevicherias.

I asked Ericka from Delectable Peru to take me under her wing with a visit to one of her favourite cevicherias, El Veridico De Fidel, where we would be shown how to make a classic ceviche (and eat plenty of samples, of course!).

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The ingredients, freshly picked up from Lima’s ports, were waiting for us to get stuck in.

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We had to don attractive headgear to be allowed in the prep area.

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This is the recipe we followed:

Classic Peruvian ceviche

Ingredients:

  • 1kg Cojinoa fish (or any firm-fleshed white fish), cleaned and diced into 2cm chunks
  • About 15 limes, freshly squeezed for 200ml juice
  • 3 tbsp salt
  • 1 tbsp ajinomoto (later I learned this is MSG and can be omitted)
  • 2 red onions, thinly sliced (about 150g)
  • Small handful of fresh coriander leaves
  • 2tbsp hot salsa (recipe follows), or to taste

To make one cup of hot salsa, blend together the following in a blender or food processor:

  • 100g celery
  • 10g garlic
  • 10g ginger
  • 5 aji lemon peppers (a mild, fruity red chilli as modelled by Mark below)
  • 5ml oil
  • 5ml condensed milk

Method:

1) Put the fish pieces into a large mixing bowl.

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2) Add all the other ingredients and stir to combine.

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3) Allow to marinate for no more than a few minutes while you decorate your serving plate with choclo (sweetcorn), sweet potato and lettuce.

4) Feel free to get silly with some of the ingredients.

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5) Serve the ceviche (don’t waste any of that tasty juice) and enjoy!

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Ideally the seafood should only be allowed to sit in the marinade for up to five minutes to just take away the edge of the rawness. If left too long, the acid from the lime juice overcooks the flesh, leaving it with an unpleasant mealy, mushy texture and a watery taste – not what you want! The best ceviche should have fresh, citrussy, sour and salty flavours with firm, meaty flesh. Ceviche is often served with popcorn which is great for soaking up the juices left on the plate.

You can also make ceviche with different varieties of seafood, such as shrimp for prawns, octopus, or these black clams.

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Leche de Tigre (tiger’s milk) is a drink for only the brave – it is made with ceviche juice mixed with a little milk and garnished with seafood.

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Yummy, but an acquired taste as the milk has a tendency to curdle with all that lime juice.

The classic Peruvian cocktail, Pisco Sour, is a great boozy drink to have with ceviche.

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The universal ratio to remember is 3,1,1,1 (3 shots Pisco, 1 shot lime juice, 1 shot sugar syrup and 1egg white). Shake like crazy with plenty of ice, pour into an old-fashioned glass and sprinkle Angostura bitters on top of the foam. You can experiment with flavoured Pisco if you like – the bottles below contain strawberries, coca leaves, lemon zest and much more.

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Salud!

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Lake Titicaca

Bolivia is a country of surprises and superlatives – it is the southern hemisphere’s highest nation with the world’s highest capital city. It has some of Earth’s coldest, hottest and windiest places. It is South America’s poorest country yet rich in natural resources.

Our final experience of this remarkable country was exploring yet another superlative: the world’s largest high altitude lake…with the world’s funniest name.

For fact fans:

  • 3810m above sea level
  • 8560m2 total area
  • 4996m2 on Peru side
  • 3564 on Bolivia side
  • 281 m maximum depth
  • 71km of islands
  • 896,000,000m3 volume of water

After a short minibus ride from La Paz, we had to hop on a ferry to cross a small stretch of water before we could arrive in Copacabana, a town on the shore of Lake Titicaca.

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We climbed on a tiny dinghy while our bus and all the luggage drove onto a larger barge. Luckily this system runs smoothly and we were reunited with our bags after a few minutes waiting on the other side – just enough time to buy some snacks from this little cutie.

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Thanks to Lake Titicaca’s bountiful supply of fish, we ate the best food we had in Bolivia in this area. Dinner in Copacabana was this grilled trout “a la inglesa” – apparently people in South America think we Brits smother everything in a cheese sauce.

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The quinoa fritters we ordered as a side dish were a treat I will definitely try to recreate in the UK.

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The next morning we took the 1h 30min boat trip to Isla del Sol, one of the most important areas for Andean culture. Inca mythology says the sun was born here and many people travel to see the footprints he left behind.

Andean/Amayran cultures believe there are three levels of existence: the lower level, often depicted by a snake, is where Pachamama resides. The upper level, portrayed by a condor, represents spirit life. The middle level, depicted by a puma, represents powerful human life.

Although it didn’t stop us giggling like the puerile idiots we are at any mention of “titicaca”, we learnt how “titi” is Quechua for “puma” and “caca” means rock – Isla del Sol is home to a famous puma shaped rock which gives the lake its name.

Isla del Sol was pretty close to my idea of paradise: gorgeous views, vibrant colours, fresh air and peaceful tranquility.

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We cheekily hijacked a guided tour and overheard a lesson about moonya, a local minty, citrussy herb which helps with altitude sickness and nausea when sniffed or brewed into tea to drink.

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Near to the puma rock or “titicaca” were pre-Inca structures, including a stone table used for sacrifice rituals – I was reminded of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.

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We meandered along the path from the north to the south of the island, a lovely three hour walk with plenty of photogenic vistas along the way. But no trees along this route meant no shade from the sun, made fiercer by the 4,000m altitude!

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We realised we hadn’t eaten since early morning so decided to follow some locals to find a good spot for a late lunch.

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Our llama guides did well, leading us to a picture postcard spot where the specialty was, of course, fresh trout.

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Tummies full, we found a lodge to spend the night which had a wide terrace, perfect for watching the sunset along with a bottle of Malbec saved from Mendoza.

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I could easily while away days on end on this island – it is an ideal spot to get lost in some good books or take up painting. Sadly we had a bus booked from Copacabana to Cusco via Puno the next day, so had to get back on the ferry in the morning.

Puno let us see the Peruvian side of Lake Titicaca. It is famous for the Uros community: several hundred people who live on floating islands made from layers of reeds, which you can visit by boat.

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While this was a good way to pass the few hours before the next leg of our bus journey, Mark and I felt a little uneasy about the blatantly touristic and voyeuristic setup.

Although some debate that the steady flow of visitors to these areas ensures that this way of life is preserved, to us it seemed forced, false and borderline exploitative. The villagers sang snatches of songs to please their international visitors; “row row row your boat” followed by “sur le pont d’Avignon” and then a Japanese ditty while I cringed inwardly.

It seemed a world away from the peaceful authenticity of Isla del Sol, where visitors mixed quietly and respectfully with the farmers and fishermen.