Lima boasts three of the world’s Top 100 restaurants, and for good reason.
Top chefs have discovered Perú’s wide and distinctive selection of native fruits and vegetables, and fresh seafood, and are whipping up stunning menus with them.
During my 13 days in Perú, I’ve run already run across some tasty and intriguing local delicacies, first among which is the ubiquitous quinoa, which appears in everything from soups and salads to crusted meats and even beer.
I’ve also had a chance to try alpaca steak, Andes mountain trout, and the refreshing chicha morada beverage.
Today, though, is a foodie fantasy that takes us through the markets and kitchens of Lima to see, make, and taste some of their most popular offerings.
The tour is operated by the Lima Gourmet Company, and its foodie tour groups are restricted size to no more than eight persons in order to afford ample time to chat with vendors and chefs.
Our Lima Gourmet guide for the day is David Candia, who’s also studying to be a sommelier
The day begins with coffee at Cafe Bisetti back in the Barranco District.
The dining room is done in a sleek Euro style, but there’s a quaint Spanish colonial courtyard out back, and on the way to it we pass the room where nothing but organic coffee beans are being hand-sorted.
The latte looks almost too good to drink.
This morning we’re drinking breakfast nearby at La Bodega Verde, which is well known for its lúcuma smoothies and shakes. They may look like plain vanilla, but the flavor is a delicate blend often described as maple +sweet potato.
This nectar comes from Perú’s native lúcuma fruit, also known by the English name “eggfruit” because its flesh resembles a hard-boiled egg yolk in texture and color. Its use in Perú pre-dates the Incas, and is today is so popular that Starbucks has added it to the menu here. It turns out that lúcuma is not just about a great taste. It also packs high levels of B-vitamins and carotene.
The San Ysidro Market is where the pickiest of chefs go each morning for the best and freshest produce and seafood.
David walks us first through the stalls of the produce vendors, introducing us to tropical fruits and vegetables and giving us an opportunity to taste each one.
Next we visit the fishmonger, who shows us fresh fish and shellfish, explaining what to look for in the best seafood. A photo on the back wall of his stall shows him at the same work more than twenty years ago.
We arrive at the Embarcadero 41 restaurant well before the lunch so that the staff can give full attention to explaining and demonstrating their preparations, then guiding foodies through a hands-on preparation of their own.
First we stop by the bar and the restaurant’s cocktail artist for the secrets if Peru’s Pisco Sour.
Pisco is a grape brandy that reminds me a lot of grappa, but it’s made without the skin of the grape and packs a seductively smooth the punch.
We taste some aged and infused varieties of pisco, but it’s the crystal clear version that’s the star ingredient in Perú’s national drink, the Pisco Sour, which combines pisco, fresh lime juice, simple syrup, and egg white, shaken and chilled into a frothy concoction.
The star attraction at Embarcadero 41, though, is the ceviche.
This restaurant is so fanatic about the using the freshest fish in its ceviche that it closes after lunch rather than serve the morning’s catch for dinner!
The chef walks us through the preparation before we get to make our own.
I’ve had ceviche all up and down the Pacific coast, and Lima’s ceviche indisputably puts them all to shame.
They use only white fish, and it’s served along with Perúvian corn and yam, and garnished with red pepper.
Ceviche, though, is only the appetizer.
Today we return to the Huaca Pucclana ruins visited yesterday, but this time to the restaurant of the same name which sits at its doorstep, where the food is as incomparable as the setting.
The waiter presents us with sampler portions of more items than we could otherwise possibly eat.
It’s almost impossible to pick a favorite from among the entrees (although the Beef Heart may have been the first among equals!).
Pictured here, they are – clockwise from top left:
- Causa Rolls, made of yellow mashed potato stuffed with avocado and salmon.
- Beef heart with fried corn.
- Broiled scallops with parmesan cheese and lemon butter.
- Barbecued octopus on native potatoes, fava beans and corn.
We chat with the sommelier about Perúvian wines, but I can’t resist asking about craft beers, and I’m glad I did.
I end up ordering one of each and inviting everyone at the table to join me in a beer tasting.
Two uniquely Perúvian twists on the brew were most memorable. One is made from toasted quinoa, and the other is infused with the flavor of the chicha-morada which I had a chance to try in Ollantaytambo.
The dessert samplers are served up in shotglasses as “dessert shooters,” but if the portions were modest, the tastes were not.
Pictured here, they are, from left to right:
- Warm rice pudding mille feuille and algarrobina ice cream.
- Lucuma mousse, crunchy quinoa, double chocolate.
- Suspiro de Limeña with port, cookies, and meringue.
- “Doña Pepa” cheesecake with sweet molasses and honey
It’s been a food-filled day that may have trashed any appetite for dinner, but for anyone who experiences cravings later, here are four restaurants worth considering (see TripAdvisor for ratings and details):
- Astrid y Gaston (plan ahead, the reservation wait list here is weeks long!)
Beer afficionados can find more on Peru’s craft brewers here:
- Cerveza Cumbres has no website, more info is available on its Facebook page.
- Sierra Andina is another Perúvian microbrewery that produces a good product in more traditional flavor profiles.