When you think of good food destinations, cities like New York, San Francisco, Las Vegas, Paris, Hong Kong, and Tokyo quickly come to mind.
But what about Lima, Peru?
What once used to be considered an overcast, big, dirty city worth nothing more than a quick stopover on your way to Peru’s main attraction, Machu Picchu, is now being hailed as the gastronomic capital of South America. And when one has to compete with the world-renown steaks and bold Malbec’s of Buenos Aires, this is saying a lot.
In fact, Lima was awarded the World’s Leading Culinary Travel Destination by World Travel Awards, two years in a row (2012 and 2013) and gastronomic tourism is on the rise.
Peru has a wide variety of climates and altitudes across its landscapes, which lead to a wide variety of produce, gains, meats, fish, and more. Altitudes vary from below sea-level to well over 12,000 feet above sea-level. They have coastal lowlands, mountain highlands, cloud forests, and jungle.
To highlight the variety of foods throughout the country, consider for a moment that Peru grows over 3,000 types of potato, and a saying that goes, “I’m more Peruvian than the potato.”
And the multi-cultural history of Peru brought culinary influences from Spain, Africa, China, Japan, and Italy, making today’s Peruvian cuisine an incredible fusion of all these places with the indigenous foods of the Peruvian Indians.
At times, I feel like a dog or a baby, both of which explore the world around them with their mouths. I joke that Tom and I are eating our way around the world. So when our friends, Kristin and Brenden, came to Peru last month to visit us, we met them in Lima for three gut-pleasing days of exploring Lima via mouth and fork.
If you are similar, and you like to taste, savor, sip and digest cultures via food and drink, consider Lima for your next culinary getaway. Find out why choclo, causa, ceviche, rocoto relleno, papa rellana, and arroz con mariscos are the foods you never knew you had to eat.
Not convinced? Get inspired by our gastronomic escapades below.
Tasting Altitudes At Central Restaurant
Our first day with Brenden and Kirstin was Brenden’s birthday, so we planned a special lunch at the renowned restaurant, Central, which was recently voted as one of the top 15 restaurants in the world! We chose lunch, as dinner was even more expensive and harder to score last-minute reservations.
We had a hard time finding the restaurant at first. Like most fancy-schmancy restaurants, the place maintains an air of exclusivity by neglecting to mark itself with a sign. A large 376 and a well-dressed doorman were the only clues to finding its discreet location.
But once in side, the restaurant is anything but discreet. Clean, slick, and modern with a 2-story floor-to-ceiling glass wall showcases the massive kitchen. At least 25 white-clothed sous-chefs scurried about the kitchen like mad artists under the direction of one casually-dressed, famous head chef, Virgilio Martinez, in an unassuming yellow t-shirt.
We ordered the 17-course menu (yes, you read that right…seventeen!), and it took us over 4 hours to complete the meal. Mind you, the first eight or so courses were “amuse-bouche,” a small, one or two bite, intensely flavored course (so I learned).
The menu listed each course by name with a brief description, and most interestingly, the altitude from which the ingredients originated. So we literally got to taste the climate variation and biodiversity of most all of Peru in one setting. Our foods came from 15 feet below sea-level all the way to about 12,500 feet above sea-level.
We took pictures of each course and made notes on our menus like we were real connoisseurs and then discussed our favorites. This was not just a meal, for us it was an activity and a museum of Peruvian food and agriculture. I guess we either looked like real food critics, or the chef just took delight in the fact that we were enjoying the meal so attentively, but we caught his eye, and ours was the only table he came out of the kitchen to visit.
Without further ado, here are pictures of each course, taken by Brenden (who we learned has quite a knack for food photography). Let your eyes wet your appetite. The food looked as pretty as it tasted.
*If the pictures are not showing up in your email, please click here to view.
Note: For this level of quality, the place was a good value, but certainly not cheap. To eat at such a restaurant with a famous chef in New York or Paris would cost three times as much. Luckily we recently received a gift from some family to do something special that we normally could not afford on our budget (thanks grandma and grandpa!).
Learning To Cook: The Easiest Souvenir To Pack
Learning something new is the best souvenir. It sticks with you forever, takes up no room in your suitcase, collects zero dust after you return home, and will never end up in a garage sale for 5 cents.
So we took a cooking class with SkyKitchen and learned how to cook Peruvian food.
Christian and Yurac, the founders, have converted their apartment and rooftop terrace in Miraflores into an open-air kitchen and classroom. Here, we learned, hands-on, how to make three very traditional Peruvian dishes, Papa A La Huancaina, Ceviche, and Aji De Gallina.
In Peru, the largest and primary meal of the day is at lunch time. They call it “almuerzo” and it consists of an “entrada” or starter, a “segundo” or second/main dish, and a glass of fresh juice. The entrada is typically salad, soup, or some other small dish. The segundo typically includes some sort of meat or seafood dish with rice or potatoes.
Papa a la Huancaina
Papa a la huancaina is named after the town from which the dish originates, Huancayo. It is a creamy sauce made of milk, cheese, and ají pepper poured over potatoes and most commonly served as an entrada.
Click below for Papa a la Huancaina recipe, courtesy of SkyKitchen:
The second dish we made was Peruvian ceviche. Now, before you snub your nose, ceviche in Peru is nothing like the rubbery, over-cooked shrimp and scallops sitting in lime juice all day, like back home in the States. No, ceviche in Peru is more akin to high-end sushi with way more flavor.
A small dish of ceviche is served as an entrada or a large dish as a full meal.
Ceviche is most often made with a white fish such as Perico (similar to Mahi Mahi). Once cut into cubes or strips, it is lightly stirred with a marinade of fresh lime juice, peppers, garlic, and salt. Some variations also call for fish stock, milk, coconut milk, cilantro or other “secret ingredients.”
The acidity of the lime juice slightly cooks the outside of the fish in just minutes, but it is still mostly raw when you eat it. Good ceviche should be prepared from fresh, sushi-grade fish and it should not be prepared more than about 15-minutes before serving. Peruvians usually eat it at lunch, not dinner, when the fish is still at its freshest.
In Peru, they balance out the tartness and acidity of the lime by serving the dish with a variety of carbohydrates, such as camote (sweet potato), steamed choclo (large-kernal corn), conchita (toasted and salted corn kernals), chifles (chips made from plantains), or yucca (a starchy root).
And as an added benefit, if you drank too many pisco sours (Peruvian cocktail) the night before, the juice from the ceviche (called “leche de tigre” or tiger’s milk) is touted as a hang over cure.
Click below for Ceviche Pescado recipe, courtesy of SkyKitchen:
Ají De Gallina
The star of this dish is the ají pepper, which is used widely across all of Peru in almost every dish. It is an orange/yellow mild pepper used for its flavor, not for spice.
This dish is a creamy, mild pepper sauce with shredded chicken, poured over rice and/or potoatoes. It is served as a segunda (main dish).
Click below for the Ají De Gallina recipe, courtesy of SkyKitchen:
Overall, the class was fun and informative. In fact, we ended up taking two classes with SkyKitchen. Other dishes we learned included causa con pollo (cold mashed potatoes layered with avocado and shredded chicken salad), rocoto relleno (spicy pepper stuffed with beef), and picarones (a fried donut-like dessert with spiced, sweet sauce).
Christian and Yurac, make a great team. Yurac is Peruvian and a professional chef. Christian is from Germany. Between the two of them, they can give instructions in English, German, or Spanish. They even accomodated allergies, making and teaching variations of certain dishes when necessary, so you have no excuse not to attend one of their classes when you visit Lima.
Some Local Flare At Antigua Taberna Queirolo
After so much “gourmet” we wanted to get down to the nitty-gritty of Peruvian cuisine with the locals. We headed to a local and historical tavern called Queirolo (also the name of a brand of Pisco) for dinner and drinks.
From the moment we walked in, we knew we were in for an experience. We were the only gringos in the place and there were certainly no other blondes besides Kristin and myself. The joint was hopping as it was Friday night.
After fighting for a table, the waiter handed us menus, but they were unnecessary as there was really no question as to what to order here. Every table, whether filled with 2 or 10 people had a bottle of pisco (a Peruvian liquor), a 2-liter bottle of ginger ale, a small cup of bitters, and a small cup of simple syrup for mixing their own Chilcano cocktails right at their tables.
We ordered the same along with a variety of “piqueos,” such as tequeños with guacamole, papa rellena, and rocoto relleno. It was certainly less fancy than Central, but just as tasty and the cuisine was much more traditional.
It was a fun-filled and food-filled adventure. At the moment I am writing this post, Tom and I are sitting in a café in Ecuador, missing our fresh Peruvian ceviche and our good friends Brenden and Kristin.
They almost convinced us it’s time to come home by spoiling us at the Hilton with a soft bed and the most amazing pillows on which I have ever laid my head. In a previous post, I said we didn’t miss our comfortable beds at home. Thanks to our stay at the Hilton with Brenden and Kristin, I now miss them just a little. ;)
I'm Jaime. My husband is Tom. Suburbanites, backpackers, and expats...we've been them all!