A Taste of Peru

At La Mar in Lima

I’m back.  It’s been a over three weeks since my last post, but I have a good excuse for my absence:  I went to Peru.  And upon returning to the States, I was warmly welcomed back by a disgusting cold.

Going to Peru, we knew we were going to run into some tasty food.  I mean, here in New York, we often order from our neighborhood Peruvian chicken joint, Senor Pollo, but other than some rotisserie chicken, we weren’t entirely sure what to expect.

Our first stop in Peru was the city of Cusco.  At 11,200 feet, it took me a couple of days to adjust to the altitude.  At the end of day two, I finally had an appetite, and we made the short walk over to Los Toldos,

Pisco Sours

the site of the most flavorful, succulent chicken I’ve ever had.  Walking in, the first thing you notice is the wood-fire oven full of rotating chickens.  Sitting down, I had no trouble deciding what to order—since it was obvious that everyone orders the same thing—pollo a la brasa.  Brandon, mistakingly, had other ideas and ordered something off of the surprisingly extensive menu.  This not only confused the waitress but also caused his meal to come out an hour after mine.  Apparently, despite the lengthy menu, no one orders anything but the rotisserie chicken—and for good reason.  Brandon didn’t make the same mistake on our second visit.

After Cusco (and surviving a three-day trek to Machu Picchu), we made our way to Arequipa.  There, we

Ceviche

had our first taste of Peruvian ceviche. Ceviche, fish that is “cooked” by adding an acid such as lime juice, might just be my favorite new food.  It is fresh, spicy, and bursting with flavor.  Sometimes it is made using a single type of fish, and other times, it’s full of shellfish, octopus, squid, etc.  When done well, it’s divine.

After our ceviche lunch, we decided on a steakhouse dinner. We tried the much talked about Zig Zag restaurant in Arequipa.  Now, living in New York spoils a person.  Within a ten-block radius of my apartment, there are hundreds of really fantastic restaurants.  So, Brandon and I walked into Zig Zag hesitantly.  Could it really live up to the reviews we read?  It did.  I started with a trio of pisco sours, the signature cocktail of Peru.  All three (classic, currant, and coca leaf) were sublime.  We had an ostrich carpaccio that rivaled any beef carpaccio I’ve ever had, and our salads were both fresh and well-composed.  All of this led to some of the most perfectly-cooked meet I’ve had.  Before receiving our entrees, the waitress tied a pretty embarrassing bib on each of us.  Thinking this was strange for such a nice restaurant, I quickly realized, after she placed a sizzling piece of meat atop a wicked-hot stone in front of me, that the bib was to protect my clothing from my spitting steak. Between the two of us, we had beef, pork, and alpaca (a very popular dish in Peru), and all were delicious.

Leche de Tigre

After our meals in Arequipa, we weren’t sure if Lima could impress us. Immediately after arriving at our hotel in the Miraflores neighborhood of Lima, we decided to try a local ceviche restaurant, Punto Azul. Before our lunch, we ordered two leche de tigres, the left-over liquid from the ceviche. Yum.  For our entrees, we ordered a mixed ceviche and a langoustine risotto with yellow chili oil. Everything was delicious.

The next day was our last day in Peru, and to celebrate our time there, we decided to explore as many culinary avenues as

Langoustine Risotto with Yellow Chili Oil

we could (and more) in one day. You might call it a marathon of eating:

Stop 1:  Breakfast.  At our hotel, I ordered a corn pancake with bacon on the side.  Brandon had a chicken tamale.  Both were impressive and left us wanting for more. Fortunately (?), we would eat more (much more) throughout the day.

Stop 2:  Lunch #1.  After a tour of the monastery, we stopped at Domus for a 3-course lunch.  I had a caesar salad, chicken breast, and chocolate pudding, but the star of the meal was Brandon’s tacu tacu, a mixture of rice and beans pan-fried with steak.  Because of its traditional Peruvian origin, our waiter was impressed with Brandon’s choice, and in turn, Brandon was quite impressed with the dish.  It was full of good flavor and extremely filling. Good thing he kept some room open for . . .

El Chinito

Stop 3:  Lunch #2.  Immediately after our 3-course lunch, we strolled 20 minutes through a somewhat sketchy block to El Chinito.  There, we thoroughly enjoyed sharing a chicharron (fried pork) sandwich topped with pickled red onions.  This might have been my favorite stop of the day had Stop 5 never happened.

Stop 4:  Cocktails.  For a brief intermission from food, we moseyed over to El Bolivarcito, “La Catedral del Pisco,” for a couple pisco sours.  A pisco sour is made up of pisco (Peruvian grape brandy), lemon, sugar, an egg white, and bitters.  Similar to the taste of a margarita, the egg white adds extra body and some foam.  These drinks certainly are a treat.

Stop 5:  Dinner #1.  La Mar.  Before leaving for Peru, several people we know who have been to Peru e-mailed us with restaurant recommendations. La Mar was recommended by all.  Owned by famous Peruvian chef Gaston Acurio, La Mar now has eight locations in both North and South America. We had the degustacion of five ceviches along with a duo of octopus (and a mean coca leaf sour), and everything was perfection.

Churros and Chocolate

Stop 6:  Evening snack.  To give our bodies a little break from the onslaught of food, we stopped by Manolo for a cup of coffee.  Well, what is a cup of coffee without some churros?  So much for the break from food . . .

Stop 7:  Dinner #2.  At this point, to be quite honest, I just couldn’t keep up.  For most of the day, I was a solid participant in this “eating marathon,” but at Panchita, another of Gaston Acurio’s restaurants, I had to throw in the towel.  At this celebration of Peruvian street food, Brandon ordered anticuchos (beef heart skewers) and a chicken dish served on rice with potatoes and hard-boiled eggs.  Everything looked and smelled delicious, but I just couldn’t help.  This was probably one stop too many.

Stop 8:  Airport.  We literally had to roll ourselves onto the airplane.

All in all, Peru was a feast for the eyes and for the stomach.  The food was great, and the scenery was better.  We had a terrific time and hope to return someday.  And most likely, when we do, we’ll do a better job of spacing out our meals.

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