I took a break from the Machu Picchu training hikes and spent the weekend in Lima with my friends Sarah and Mistina to celebrate Sarah’s birthday. While I have been to Lima several times, it was never for straight enjoyment; rather, it was always an extra day tacked onto a trip related to getting our immigration paperwork completed. The school puts us up in a hotel in San Isidro, which is one of the nicest districts in Lima, but pretty sleepy. So this time we were doing Lima right: we stayed in the hopping district of Miraflores, solicited restaurant suggestions from our Peruvian friends in Cajamarca who are from or have lived in Lima and signed up for a food tour. In other words, food was the focus of this weekend, including the important stop at Wong supermarket so we could stock up on imported cheese. I limited myself to 8 1/2 pounds this time…
Friday night and we had one goal: Indian food (called Hindú food here). I did my research and discovered that there were two Indian restaurants in all of Lima and they were a block away from each other. We got to the hotel about 8:00, dumped our bags at the hotel and set off to Mantra. We were not disappointed: the service was good, the food was decent (although not the least bit spicy) and the chai was excellent. Was it as good as the feast Archana’s mom made for me when I was in Chicago in August? No, but it was fresh and flavorful and hit the spot.
On Saturday we were picked up at 9:45 by Lima Gourmet Company (http://www.limagourmetcompany.com/) and began our culinary adventure. I admit that I had some reservations about the tour: we all have lived in Peru for over a year so why would we go on a tour designed for tourists? Plus, I already knew how to make a mean pisco sour! Then, when the 15-person van pulled up with a bunch of tourists, all 3 of us had reservations. But we were wrong: the group was friendly, our guide, Sylvia, was great and the tour was fantastic fun.
The first two stops focused on non-alcoholic beverages in Barranco, a gentrified neighborhood adjacent to Miraflores. Peruvian coffee was the focus at the magnificent Tostaduría Bisetti, a coffee roaster and cafe with a great vibe and cute enclosed back garden. They buy organic, Peruvian beans and hand select each bean for roasting. I’m not a coffee drinker and was planning on passing my coffee off to Sarah or Mistina, but non-coffee drinkers were offered tea instead. What a delight! My tea came in the coolest tea infuser ever: you place it over the cup and the pressure releases the tea into the cup with no tea leaves or spices mucking up your beverage. Sheer genius.
The next beverage stop was at the darling La Bodedga Verde where we had a lucuma smoothie. The Bodega has a huge, 100 year old lucuma tree on its outdoor patio. I had heard of the Peruvian fruit before but had never tasted it. Typically, it is dried and used as flavoring in desserts and ice cream. The smoothie had hints of almond and vanilla and was delicious.
Although the lucuma smoothie was filling, our eating had just begun. Next stop was the San Isidro market, the most upscale in the city. It was glorious: clean, fresh, gorgeous displays…very different than our hard-working Cajamarca markets. We started at a fruit stand where Sylvia introduced many of the amazing Peruvian fruits and provided us with ample samples of some. With the exception of lucuma, I had tried all of them before, but it was still a treat. Incidentally, Sylvia is so vivacious and energetic that is is hard to get a picture of her when she is still!
We walked over to the fishmonger and got a demonstration on how to pick fresh seafood. Unfortunately, we did not stay to taste any. The only downside of the tour was that we were not given any time to purchase anything at the market. I assume that given the price of the tour, they likely didn’t want us to feel pressured to buy, but I think most people on our tour would have enjoyed purchasing a piece or two of fruit.
We left the market and headed to Embarcadero 41 for our pisco sour and ceviche lessons. There are multiple locations for this restaurant, but whichever one we were at was well appointed and had a very friendly staff. We bellied up to the bar and started with 3 mini shots of pisco – non-aromatic, aromatic and fruit infused. I was wimpy and didn’t finish any of my shots. Then the bartender showed us how to make a pisco sour. The recipe is easy: 3 parts pisco, 1 part simple syrup, 1 part lime, 1 egg white and a dash of Angostura bitters. While I had made these before, I learned that the secret was to add the ice at the end, after vigorously shaking all the ingredients but the bitters and then to pour out some of the drink into the glasses and shake yet again to get a good froth on the egg whites. I forwent my turn behind the bar, but enjoyed the drink someone else made for me. Need I mention that the group got much more chatty and friendlier after our drinks!
Then we moved on to making ceviche. The sous chef did a great job because we sat down to a beautiful display of ingredients. The head chef led us step-by-step through the process and we were encouraged to make our ceviche to our liking. At the end, we were given the chef’s version to taste. Both Sarah and I agreed that we liked our own dishes better! One guy in our group did not like fish so he was provided with mushrooms instead. He said the end result was good and his wife was excited to have a vegetarian option to make for her friends. My plate is boring because I don’t like sweet potato, raw onions or giant, starchy corn that were to be used as the accompaniments. Plus, our eating wasn’t completed and I couldn’t even finish my ceviche!
But our fun was not finished! We headed back to Miraflores where we went to the swanky restaurant at the Huaca Pucllana ruins. We had another cocktail and looked at the ruins, which date to 500 AD and were where women were sacrificed to appease the goddess of the sea during El Niño. Once seated, we had 4 appetizers: green humitas (similar to tamales) with criolla sauce, grilled octopus with yuca, beef heart anticuchos (heart sliced thinly, skewered and grilled) with fried corn and potatoes, and deep fried cuy (guinea pig) pieces over fried plantains. It was the 3rd time I have tried cuy and I can say that while I can eat it to be polite, I will not order it again. After our appetizers, we had 4 small desserts to share with a partner. I think this set up was a bit weird for a tour as not everyone was with a friend, but as Sarah and I shared, it didn’t matter to me. The desserts were: suspiro de limeño (Lima’s signature dessert, which didn’t do much for me or Sarah), a dessert with manjar blanco, cookies and some pudding-like filling that was so sweet even I couldn’t finish, another dessert that Sarah warned me had coffee in it so it was all hers and rice pudding (my favorite of the four).
The tour was over around 3:30, but our eating was not done for the day! After a walk to the crafts market for some shopping and around Kennedy Park, we relaxed at the hotel for about an hour and then headed to the water fountain park (blog post coming soon). At around 10:00 we hit Ámaz, a restaurant that focuses on food and drinks from the Amazon region of Peru. Two of our friends had recommended it, as had Sylvia. The decor and music were jungle inspired and our friend Rodrigo, an artist, told us to look for his “erotic jaguar” in the bar. We found it, but my picture does not show off the erotic feature; use your imagination and you are likely right! We each ordered a different cocktail and then shared several dishes. They food was really flavorful and very different. We started with an abreboca (mouth opener) of a little, chewy, cheesy roll and a crunchy, fried cracker-like treat, then moved on to an amazing salad with grilled prawns and fruits, a crazy gigantic mushroom that had a flan-like filling cooked within it and was served in a huge leaf, delicious causa (mashed potatoes) served with prawns and a great sauce, and a lovely fish dish. We also had cachapas (fresh corn pancakes) and smashed, fried plantains, but neither of those were my favorite. Our food was so plentiful that we had to skip dessert! While the service was sporadic, when we left we asked for directions to our hotel as we were only a few blocks away but disorientated because we had come from the park. The staff was very nice and one guy walked us to the street and then ran about a half block trying to figure out where we needed to go. That just doesn’t happen in the US!
We arrived to the hotel after midnight and called it a night. Sarah concluded that it was her best birthday ever!