Tag Archives: Lima

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!

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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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