By now my “yummy-licious” – food guide” episodes have become one of my favorite blogs to post. “Yummylicious” is all about the local food scene, culture, and lifestyle. I was always pleasantly surprised during the exploration and I always learned a lot through the experience.
Forgive me, I had absolutely no idea about the culinary status of Peru in the world until a month before my visit. People said Peruvian cuisine is “the fruit of a long embrace that combines people from all over the world”. Well, the embrace continued and welcomed me with loving arms.
Lima, the capital city of Peru is filled with world-class restaurants. In fact, there are three of the World’s 50 Best Restaurants are located in Lima (While, London, and New York also “only” got three, and Maido, ranked number 8, is owned by a Japanese Chef). So, I made some reservations and I was determined to give my taste buds a treat that has been long overdue~
Check out the list of the World’s Best Restaurants!
The Ingredients – Peruvian Corn, Potato, Quinoa, and Seafood
Visiting the local market would be fun because I always have a lot that I don’t usually see in my hometown. One of my most interesting market trips in Peru was in Cusco, at Mercado Central de San Pedro.
The Peruvian grows different kinds of corn (some of them are really big), potatoes, and quinoa. I remember I had an amazing quinoa and potato soup in a small joint in Cusco that I went there twice during my stay.
Besides, healthy food like quinoa, chia seeds, and flax seeds are incredibly cheap in these markets; I got a whole bag of seeds and quinoa for about US$4, while they usually cost double (or even triple) in Whole Food in the US.
Peru also has a dramatic coastline by the Pacific Ocean. The country is also embraced by the Amazon River and Lake Titicaca in the East. Seafood is the major meat source for Peruvians like fish, shrimp, oysters, and scallops. The Peruvians also eat chicken, even guinea pigs, and alpaca, but not a lot of beef. Don’t be surprised to see a lot of Japanese restaurants in Lima that serve amazingly authentic sashimi and sushi. In fact, locals love Japanese cuisine as well!
The dishes – Ceviche, Cuy, and Aji de Gallina
If you could only try one Peruvian dish and nothing more (although I wonder why you would get yourself into such a predicament), I would implore you to go for Ceviche. This Peru’s national dish tastes rather “complex” and nearly all who tried it would have an immediate obsession. Ceviche is somehow easy to make but it is quite tricky to balance the flavor between ingredients. The meat (usually the seabass, sometimes with shrimp, octopus, or scallops, but I would simply go for the fish) is cooked and marinated in lime juice, onion, salt, and a hint of hot chilies. It is served cold yet tastes hot and sour, the fish is tender and the onion is crispy… It’s so refreshing as an appetizer for a meal and I never have enough of it.
Another dish that I love is Aji de Gallina, the creamy chicken. Shredded chicken bathes in a thick sauce made with cream, cheese, ground walnuts, and Aji Amarillo (Peruvian yellow chili pepper).
Again, the mix of hot and creaminess reflects Peru’s love of thickened sauces that tastes mild but pungent. The sauce is usually poured over chicken and served with rice, boiled potatoes, and black olive. It’s like a portion of comfort food after a day out.
Lastly, the signature (yet may be creepy to some) Peruvian dish… yes… let’s talk about Cuy, the Guinea Pig. The guinea pig and Alpaca are the Andean region’s major source of meat, while it’s common to them it might be nerve-wracking to those who think of it more as a pet than a meal and see the whole guinea pig lying on a dish. I didn’t actually taste the guinea pig myself but from the look of it, it does look very much like a small size roasted suckling pig, and I bet they would taste very much similar?
Another recommendation I have is chocolate and sweets from Sra. Buendia, a well-known shop in Peru since its opening in 1966. Today, the shop has branches in a few places in the city like Miraflores, Real Plaza Primavera, and Avenue Caminos del India in Surco; it has business in Pisco, Ica, and Chincha as well. The delicacy that they make is a lusciously chocolate-wrapped “Candy” where you could find a “lemon” or “fig” in it with Latin American ingredients like manjar blanco. Other flavors like caramel, Coco, and Lucuma are some of my favorites. They are good gifts to bring home to your family and friends, too!
Feeling hungry and looking for a snack? An empanada is a baked pastry with various kinds of fillings that are common in Latin American and Filipino cultures. They could be found in bakeries or they are sold in a cart on the street. I remembered when I was in the Atacama desert, a lady showed up with a cart of empanadas and was immediately surrounded by tourists and locals.
The warm and freshly empanada is just so comforting and fulfilling, especially with so many types to choose from, they could be sweet or savory, depending on your liking – and my favorite is cheese, and chicken. But I am sure I have room to explore many other tastes in the future when I am visiting the rest of Latin America!
Chicha Morada and Pisco Sour
I was just walking along Miraflores (a neighborhood with shops and cafés), I wandered into a small café for a snack it was the first time that I had a Chicha Morada and I immediately fell in love with it. It is a Peruvian beverage made from purple corn and maize (I told you, Peru has a lot of corn) with spice. The ingredients are usually boiled with pineapple, cinnamon, clove, and sugar. It’s fruity and a little bit sweet, which was quite refreshing for my palate.
For those who drink, don’t forget to order a Pisco Sour while you are dining out because it is a signature cocktail that originated in Peru! The base liquor of the drink is Peruvian pisco, and it is mixed with lime juice, Angostura bitters, egg white, and syrup (that’s why there’s a layer of creamy white foam formed on top after shaken). Another refreshing drink that I like… apparently, I am a big fan of lime!
The World’s Best Restaurants and many more…
I mentioned earlier that three of the World’s 50 Best Restaurants are located in Lima; but forget about the list, there are a lot more excellent places in the city for everyone to explore. I couldn’t visit all – limited time, limited stomach room – and a table in some of these restaurants are simply arduous and back-breaking to get! Like Central Restaurante, it’s filled up months in advance and I couldn’t get in because the restaurant closes on Sundays and I was only available Sunday (which is extremely ironic to me because I was staying merely one block away from the restaurant). I had a friend though, who went there a month after my visit and gave praise to the food and services. Well, it doesn’t mean I couldn’t go back to Lima next year – It still remains in the top 5 of the World’s Best Restaurants.
Most of these restaurants offer an amazing tasting menu with a number of dishes that I usually lost count of generally less than US$100. While they are considered “high-end” in a Peruvian standard, honestly, they are to be considered good value compared to those places in London, New York, or Hong Kong (I mean… seriously). I would recommend splurging a little and going for the tasting menu, it’s a journey and I found the experience satisfying.
If you still have room in your tummy, don’t forget to dive into some of the sweet local desserts, cakes, and sweets, that you could find in Peru – Alfajores, picarones, kinkones, and many more.
Astrid y Gastón
The restaurant is located in the business district of Lima and it’s a historic building with abundant sunlight and open areas. The structure features a main dining hall, private dining areas, and a 60-seat gastro bar with a mix of modern and traditional art décor. I was in the main dining hall for lunch, and the ceiling is a garden dedicated to experimental growing, while the plants were all hanging upside-down. The chef’s tasting menu costs ~280 Peruvian Soles (without wine pairing) and it is comprised of a broad selection of Peruvian cuisine from scallops, ceviche, corn, and rabbit to the guinea pig. The restaurant would update its menu from time to time~
I love the openness, spaciousness, and décor of the restaurant and I visited there for lunch on a sunny afternoon. The dining hall receives lots of sunlight (which is essential for the plants in the gardens) and it was a great experience to just relax and enjoy the warming breeze…
Website and reservation: http://www.astridygaston.com
I had a great time with IK Restaurante’s tasting menu. Actually, I was the first to arrive, and so, the servers gave me a tour of the dining hall and I got to see all the light projections on the tables, which were inspired by various symbols in Peruvian tradition and gastronomy. The namesake chef, Ivan Kisic, tragically died in a car accident before the restaurant opened, and his brother continued his work and manage the restaurant.
The service was excellent and each dish had a fantastic presentation. I love the design of the menu; the ingredients were simple and “down to earth” (like wild mushrooms, potatoes, Sachatomate, pineapple, baby corns, cheese, pork belly, etc), yet it seeks harmony between the design and the message IK wanted to share – sustainability, recycling and love for nature. They were a message of their kitchen philosophy – respect for their mother earth and the importance of the natural growth of food.
Website and reservation: http://www.ivankisic.pe