While the northern most countries in South America (Columbia and Ecuador) have some delicious food creations like their crunchy corn and potato empanadas, I must begin by jumping straight to the mysterious and fantastic food paradise of Peru. We had heard for months about the incredible cuisine of Peru and especially the foodie capital, Lima, which is famous for its innovative ceviches and modern seafood creations. What we didn’t expect to find was fantastic, Peruvian influenced comfort food which we soon discovered was available almost everywhere. At this point in our adventure, we had not yet had any access to the familiar cuisine we were used to in California; so this segment will be different from my other posts based simply on my joy of being able to consume some familiar bites along with new delights.
Cusco. It was raining and cold when we arrived in this beautiful, quaint, village so of course we immediately sought out a place to fill our tummies and warm up. I cannot begin to express how surprised we were to find an Irish pub right off the town square called Paddy’s Irish Pub. Our travels have taught us many times over that international menu items are rarely what they are described to be. So we took all the sumptuous sounding, classic Irish pub menu items with a cautious grain of salt. When our huge portion of perfectly layered shepherds pie hit the table and the luscious aroma of herbs and gravy hit our senses, it was clear we were in for a genuine treat. It may seem strange that I got so excited about something as seemingly simple as shepherds pie but having gone six months eating only new flavors, eating something so familiar and comforting was transformed from an ordinary experience to an exciting one.
The following day we decided to treat ourselves to the best Peruvian steakhouse in Cusco, Uchu. The menu here read like a fairytale to us; dry aged, stone cooked steaks, Peruvian spiced hot chili and peanut mashers, roasted fresh fish and so forth. Since we dove so quickly into the familiar the day before, we decided to try something new at Uchu. The specialty of the house is the Anticucho Peruvian Kebabs. These are Alpaca tenderloin pieces marinated in traditional panca chilies, corn beer, vinegar, cumin, black beer, garlic cream, oregano and parsley. The skewers are served on an extremely hot volcanic stone at rare temperature and presented with an assortment of sauces and veggies. The diner is actually able to cook the skewers to the temperature they so desire on the hot stone at the table. I found the Alpaca to have the best flavor at the medium rare temperature, however the leanness of Alpaca meat lends itself well to any cooking preparation. This dish is the stuff of dreams, seriously, I still dream about this dish. Every aspect of it was perfectly executed and absolutely divine.
Lima. The modern foodie paradise of Peru! We were finally here and we were hungry. We set out on foot from our hostel and marched straight into the center of town on a mission to find some of the goodies we had heard so much about. Jackpot! I spotted a sandwich place across from the park teeming with patrons. I am a sucker for a well-made sandwich so we darted across the bustling street and quickly began scanning the huge menu board at the famous La Lucha. I ordered the El Preferido, a beef brisket style sandwich with melted cheese, red onion, avocado and gravy and Daniel decided on the Pavo a la Lena sandwich which is seasoned turkey, slowly roasted over a fire with grilled onions and garlic sauce. We had died and gone to sandwich heaven. We would go back two more times during our short visit in Lima. Yeah, it was that good.
Next on the list of must tastes in Lima was the legendary ceviche. After asking locals and other travelers where the best place to dive into a bowl of the jewel of the seas was, we headed out to El Pez On Restaurant Marino. Even though the ceviche is why you come here, the menu is extensive with many different and unexpected fish preparations, like the Leche de Pez On which is fish and prawns in a creamy, milk and lime sauce. I ordered a more traditional dish of Pez On Solitario which is the white fish catch of the day, marinated in fresh lime juice with onion and a kiss of jalapeño. What makes this ceviche so special is that not only has the fish been caught that afternoon, not even a mile away from the restaurant, but there are no premade ceviche’s here. Everything is made to order so when the fish lands on your table it has just begun to cook in the lime juice. The fish is clean and bright tasting and the marinade is a delightful balance of tang and spice. I happened to have a coupon that awarded me a glass of Perus most famous drink, the Pisco Sour, along with my ceviche which made the whole experience feel even more traditional.
The final wonder of our Lima food tour would be the haute couture seafood experience. I had read about an outstanding seafood restaurant outside of the downtown area in the trendy, upscale residential neighborhood of Miraflores. The restaurant is called El Pez Amigo. Since we are still backpackers and on a budget, we opted to visit this restaurant during the lunch hours on a Sunday afternoon instead of at the higher priced dinner hours. The afternoon menu was vast and the staff were incredibly patient as we asked endless questions about the different fish options and preparations available. I finally chose the Salmon al Romero en Salsa de Naranja. This was a generous fillet of fresh salmon, grilled perfectly with sprigs of just picked rosemary blanketed with a bitter-sweet sauce of orange rind, orange juice and grapefruit segments. The plating was beautiful, the fish was flakey, moist and just barely cooked through. The sauce was a bit sweet but the orange rind with the rosemary brought it back down to earth. Simply spectacular and seriously haute couture cuisine.
Peru is a spectacular country full of incredible history, wonder and beauty. The amazing cuisine is simply the sugar on top.