Food, food, food, I’m obsessed with food. When it comes to great food cities, many people think of Paris, New York, Rome, Bangkok, New Orleans, Hong Kong, Madrid, Tokyo, etc….where’s South America in this? Yes, there’s Buenos Aires but there’s also LIMA!
In fact, Bon Appetit named Lima as the Next Great Food City back in 2009 and it’s often referred to as the gastronomic capital of South America. As someone who loves to eat out, I had a fabulous time in Lima. Restaurants one after another line street after street. It seems that everyone goes out to eat, whether for lunch, dinner or just a snack. Practically every person we talked to suggested where we should go eat without us asking. People who think about food as much as me? It was a match made in heaven! Peru has both abundant sources of food, thanks to its position next to the ocean, rivers that supply water from the Andes to the flat lands and agreeable weather. This combined with the culinary influences of its many groups of immigrants, notably the Chinese, Italians and Japanese has given rise to a great cuisine.
Besides the salads we had at Mangoes, here are some of the dishes we tried:
Quinoa risotto with alpaca: hubby and I love eating quinoa, a grain-like crop that has been grown in Peru since before the time of the Incas. Packed with protein and fiber, we use it as a substitute for rice and pasta often. Unfortunately, hubby’s dish contained more rice and less quinoa than he would’ve liked but I guess you can’t really have rice not dominate risotto. He thought the alpaca (looks like a llama) was good although I spit it out after taking one taste. It was too gamey to me, which is surprising since I usually love lamb.
Tacu Tacu: tacu tacu is an African-inspired dish of beans and rice that is fried together. The one I had was accompanied with steak and onion salsa. Oh and notice the mango juice next to the dish? We practically had fresh-made juice every day at every meal. Almost all restaurants we went to had a long list of juices that you could order: mango, papaya, strawberry, banana…as well as fruits not really known outside of Peru, such as chirimoya and lucuma.
Chicharron sandwich: On a tour-escorted bus trip to ruins a few hours away from Lima, we stopped by a breakfast place that pretty much served only chicharron sandwiches, tea and coffee. In Peru, chicharron sandwiches are slices of pork and sweet potato stuffed between bread.
Ceviche (cebiche): One of Peru’s most famous dishes, it’s raw seafood marinated in citrus juices, onions and other seasonings. Ceviche is eaten for lunch so you won’t find most cevicherias open for dinner. Hubby ordered one order and it was HUGE. He ate as much as he could but even by then it looked like he didn’t even make a dent. He said that he was starting to feel like a pelican. Cancha are kernels of corn that’s tossed with oil and toasted, with a healthy sprinkling of salt.
Aji de Gallina: chicken smothered in a spicy creamy yellow sauce, served with rice, potatoes and a hard-boiled egg. I had this at Tanta, a chain started by Gaston Acurio, one of Peru’s most famous chefs. His two most famous restaurants in Lima is Astrid & Gaston and La Mar, a location of which is found right here in San Francisco. We checked out Astrid & Gaston one day, located behind heavy doors and protected by a scary-looking doorman, but we didn’t have enough money with us and were severely under dressed. We also walked by La Mar one day but the wait was toooo long. Tanta is his more casual business. It’s still very nice though and we found the food to be excellent.
Unknown dish: hubby ordered this. Also from Tanta. Slow cooked pork with tomatoes and onions, with the ubiquitous rice. He can’t remember if there is a Peruvian name for this dish.
Huevos de Gaston: a dish created by chef Gaston. Yes, we loved Tanta so much we went to another location of it on another day. It’s scrambled eggs with yuca and salchicha de huacha, a Peruvian crumbled sausage. The bread is actually potato bread. Hubby scarfed this dish down.
Chocolates from Chocolates Helena: okay, not exactly typically Peruvian but so good. At the end of our rental’s block was Chocolates Helena. It was oh so good. Definitely dangerous to stay a few steps away from a gourmet chocolate shop. The company is most famous for its tejas, which are dulce de leche and dried fruits/nuts dipped in white chocolate or fondant.
As you can see, a lot of traditional Peruvian food is very filling, with lots of rice, potatoes, and french fries, sometimes all in one dish.
Of course, we had many other foods that we didn’t take pictures of. Sometimes I just didn’t feel like breaking out the camera for yet another food pic. We went to a chifa, which is a Chinese-Peruvian restaurant, one night but it was not really to my liking. Chinese-Peruvian food is heavier, saucier, more fried and with less vegetables. By the way, Lima has a huge Chinese population so you’ll see chifas everywhere throughout the city. They’re not just relegated to Chinatown. Some of Peru’s national dishes are Chinese in origin, such as lomo saltado (stir fried beef) and arroz chaufa (fried rich). Chinese food has mixed with Peruvian food so much that it has become part of Peru’s national cuisine, not separate. It was certainly an experience though, trying to order Chinese Peruvian food as a Chinese person without knowing any Spanish. The non Chinese waiters (or perhaps they were mixed) at the chifa we went to looked at us like idiots LOL.
We also had lovely corvina a la chorrillana, (corvina in a spicy tomato / onion sauce) one day in the fishing village of Lagunillas after visiting the Paracas National Reserve. One night we went to an Italian restaurant and had fettuccine alfredo and lasagna. We also ate a lot at Madre Natura, a natural / health food cafe, next to our rental. After eating too much starch and heavy foods, it was great to go there and eat light meals like small salads and small fresh pizzas, accompanied with fresh juices with added power boosts such as maca powder.
That’s all the food I can remember now. Whether you want high-end or are on a backpacker’s budget; whether you want traditional Peruvian or global cuisine, you’ll find plenty of food to love in Lima.