During the “winter” months in Lima, the city is draped in a foggy gray sky that locals refer to as la garua. However, the mild overcast weather does allow one to get out and enjoy a thriving metropolis of ten million that is quickly becoming a South American foodie destination. Because of its variety of ecosystems ranging from the Andes Mountains and the Amazon River basin to Lima’s three mile malecon (boardwalk), Peru is a country teeming with gastronomic diversity.
In Lima, descendants of the Incan empire mix with immigrants from Spain, China and Japan to create grand culinary traditions for Peruvians and visitors alike who have an appreciation for amazing ingredients. Even going to the grocery store is an intoxicating cornucopia of colors and sizes: endless varieties of potatoes and piles of huge tropical fruits can be found at Wong, a Whole Foods-type supermarket in Miraflores, an upscale part of Lima. Quinoa, the darling grain of foodies across the United States, lines the shelves in everything from crackers to baby food.
During my visit, I am drawn to the Choco Museo, which I find out is really just a store masquerading as a museum to showcase its endless varieties of single source Ecuadorian chocolate. At the corner store by my European style guest house, the Hostal Torreblanca, I pick up a cold bottle of Inkakola – a pink colored soda that tastes like bubble gum.
At El Tio Mario in Barranco, the bohemian, Greenwich Village-like area of Lima, I dine on anticuchos, an indigenous Quechua word meaning little pieces of stewed meat. No, it didn’t taste like chicken – more like grilled steak, which I washed down with chicha morada, a purple corn juice spiced with cinnamon.
When I walked into Restaurante Altamar for dinner, this noted seafood restaurant was empty. Virtually all establishments in Lima that specialize in fresh seafood are usually only open for lunch, I was told, because Peruvians consider fish to be “not fresh” by the end of the day. (As a resident of landlocked Minnesota, I found this quite hilarious.) I tried their famous seafood dish, ceviche, with some trepidation as I am not a fan of raw fish. However, I discovered that the fish (sole in this case) is “cooked” in the acid of lime juice and Peruvian spices, resulting in a texture much more pleasing to my palate.
Any discussion of Pervian cuisine would be remiss without mention of Gaston Acurio, whose multiple restaurant concepts dot the city. His flagship Astrid y Gaston recently moved to a 300-year-old, two-story estate called Casa Moreyra. After a $6 million renovation, the San Isidro landmark features six themed dining rooms, a state of the art kitchen and restored gardens to teach local school children about Peru’s gastronomic culture.
From the highest point in the Andes Mountains to the sea level of Lima, each elevation in this country produces its own riches. I didn’t even have a chance to try a chifa, the ubiquitous Asian restaurants with a Peruvian twist. Well, there’s always next time.