Lima is not just a paradox, but a collision of many different worlds. Old and new. Asian and Spanish. Barrio and modern. Eclectic and traditional. It was what we expected, and in many ways, nothing like we expected all at once.
On the surface, Lima can be an unpleasant place. The air is so heavily polluted, you can smell and taste it. The manner in which street addresses are designated were thought up by a drunkard. We found ourselves lost in bewilderment searching for a restaurant that did not seem to exist a number of times. English is practically non-existent. Granted, it is every Peruvian’s right not to speak English. However, when the predominant way to get around is a taxi with a non-English speaking driver, it can be quite challenging to get where you need to go.
Pedestrians are merely seen as targets. There are very few crosswalks, and absolutely NO crosswalk lights. You simply wait until there are no cars, then run for your life. No one obeys red lights or stop signs, they are merely a suggestion. Honking seems to be a national pastime, and a suitable replacement for turn signals, traffic lights, and taxi solicitation.
Many people wondered, and hassled me, about why I wanted to come to Peru. Macchu Picchu is the obvious answer (and will be saved for another post, mind you), but food was an incredibly close second. It wasn’t until after arrival, that we realized how gastronomically valuable this trip was going to be. And it’s only Day 2.
The cuisine of Lima carries the influence of African, French, Spanish, Chinese, and Japanese. Peruvian-Chinese, or ‘Chifa’, is actually spicier than the Chinese dishes we are accustom to. Chiles are used widely in Peruvian cooking. Sometimes they sneak up on you unexpectedly, blasting you with heat that lingers for a while before letting you go.
One of the best vessels for the chile is ceviche, or ‘cebiche’, as it is called in Peru. Cebiche is what brought us here, and will probably bring us back. Traditionally, it is a dish of raw fish marinated in fragrant lime juice, onions, chiles and salt. It’s sashimi taken up a notch. Along side it, roasted sweet potato and corn. But this isn’t corn from middle America. It’s humongo Peruvian corn, which has been planted here since 1200BC. The kernels are large, sweet, meaty and super delicious.
A very close relative to cebiche is Tiradito. Silimar to it’s cousin as it is also raw fish marinated in a limey concoction. The main difference is cebiche always has onions and Tiradito does not. Also, the sauce can be much spicier, and sometimes creamier than cebiche.
Here are my favorite spots
Cosy, corner cafe just a few steps away from the tourist traps and casinos of Ave. Benevidas, but 100% local. Fantastic Tiradito (pictured above), rich and creamy and uber-cheap. Full meal costs less than $3. (Calle Porta 292, Miraflores District)
Superb for all types of ceviche, Tiradito, and traditional Peruvian fare. The calamari ceviche is a must, if you can take the heat. (Corner of Geneva & Alfonso Ugarte, Barranco District)
Stay tuned for more, straight from Peru.