Once the City of Kings, Peru’s capital still rules ceviche
No one’s final destination is ever Lima. Instead, Peru’s slightly schizophrenic capital — part glamour, part grime — is generally a hub through which travellers beeline it south to the region of Cusco, home to a little 15th-century thing called Machu Picchu. But Lima should make visitors stop. It’s this year’s Top Destination for Food and Drink according to the Frommer’s guidebook series and there’s no denying that the city’s signature dish has everything to do with it.
And ceviche isn’t even cooked! Fresh fish and/or shellfish is marinated in lime juice, the citric acid of which denatures the proteins making the flesh firm and opaque. Throw in a lil’ salt, red onions and ajíes (or hot peppers) and you’ve got the classic leche de tigre or tiger's milk marinade. The leftover liquid serves double-duty as a beverage/appetizer, said to be an aphrodisiac by some, a hangover cure by others.
It sounds simple, but mastering it is not. Over marinate the seafood and it’ll fall apart. Under marinate and you’ll get a raw deal. Step one, though, is knowing the perfect Peruvian proportion of fish to citric acid. Our suggestion? Let the chefs do the culinary magic, and the culinary math.
Like Limeños bigwig Gastón Acurio. His chic La Mar Cebichería (Avenida La Mar 770, Miraflores; lamarcebicheria.com) in the Miraflores district, is a 15-minute taxi ride from the Westin Hotel in neighbouring San Isidro. In true cevicheria fashion, it’s only open for lunch, albeit a late one; the popular, no-reservation resto opens at 12pm and closes at 5pm Mondays to Thursdays, 12pm to 5:30pm Fridays to Sundays. The ceviche starts at $15.
Alternatively, there’s Pescados Capitales (Avenida La Mar 1337, Miraflores; pescadoscapitales.com), six blocks north. It’s equally trendy, and open for lunch (daily 12:30pm until 5pm) and dinner (every day except Sunday 7pm until 11pm). Its menu includes a Gandhi-inspired ceviche: curry, mango chutney, onions, prawns and squid.
Or there’s chef Rafael Osterling’s El Mercado (Avenida Hipólito Unanue 203, Miraflores; rafaelosterling.com). Its lunch menu (Tuesdays to Sundays 12:30pm until 5pm) includes a ceviche of tuna and octopus with avocado, Japanese turnip and yuzu, soy sauce and sesame seeds ($14).
At the end, don’t forget to have a Pisco sour. After all, what better to follow Lima’s signature dish then Peru’s signature drink, of course.
Diamonds in the rough
Chaotic, gritty and loud, today’s Lima isn’t likely to be love at first sight, but that doesn’t mean the city won’t charm you. Its classic colonial mansions are finally getting some TLC — an 8.6 earthquake left little standing in 1746 — and its Renaissance and Baroque churches are putting on their Sunday best.
The Museo Larco (Avenida Bolívar 1515, Pueblo Libre; adults $12; 9am to 10pm daily; museolarco.org) has always put its best foot forward. Founded in 1926 in an 18th-century mansion, the archeology museum, 20 minutes east of conference central, is home to 45,000 pieces covering 3000 years of pre-Columbian Peruvian magnificence. The ceramics and jewellery will wow you, but it’s the 200 to 700 CE Moche Dynasty erotic gallery that gets jaws to drop. Its vessels depict the sexual practices of ancient Peruvian men, women and animals — in all combos of the above.
If this is a late-night, post-symposia visit, dine at the Café del Museo (cafedelmuseo.com); its Peruvian-fusion menu was the brainchild of Gastón Acurio himself.
The Convento de San Francisco de Asis (Plaza San Francisco Lima at Ancash and Lampa, El Centro; adults $3; 9:30am to 5:30pm daily; museocatacumbas.com) is another oldie, but goodie. The 17th-century, canary yellow, Baroque cathedral, 15 minutes north of the Westin and two blocks east of the city’s main square, the Plaza Mayor, is as eye-popping inside as it is out. Its walls feature glazed ceramic (azulejo) tiles from Spain, its overhead a spectacular, Moorish-style Mudéjar cupola. Underground, its catacombs date to 1546 and house the skulls and femurs of some 75,000 bodies artfully arranged in a seemingly bottomless well. The skittish might want to browse the library of 20,000-plus antique texts instead.
Or, explore the huacas, ancient adobe pyramids, nestled among the city’s modern digs. The archeological sites don’t compare to those outside of Lima, but if this is a one-city visit, you’ll do well to take a look. The Huaca Huallamarca (at Avenida Nicolás de Rivera and El Rosario, San Isidro; adults $2; Tuesdays to Sundays 9am to 5pm), aka Pan de Azúcar or Sugar Loaf, features a small, on-site museum, mummy included. There’s also the 4th-century Huaca Pucllana (at Calles General Borgoño, Block 8 and Tarapacá, Miraflores; adults $5; Wednesdays to Mondays 9am to 5pm), with a good on-site resto (reservations: www.resthuacapucllana.com).
A breath of Barranco air
The New York Times said it best: “If Miraflores is Lima’s Upper West Side, then Barranco is Greenwich Village.” Indeed, the small, southern, seaside barrio is arguably Lima’s coolest. It’s the kind of easygoing neighbourhood, in fact, that a conferencing MD would visit to restore his/her sanity. It’s also where well-heeled Limeños built their summer homes in the early 1900s. When the city started to spread into the resort, they left and squatters moved in.
Today, Barranco’s laidback, village-like vibe is a magnet for artists who hawk their wares in the Parque Municipal just after sunset and young locals who crowd the watering holes and live-music nightclubs on weekends. The mansions on the cliffs above the sea are slowly being renoed and where they can’t be, new artist-collective properties are popping up. There are a dozen or so galleries in the ‘hood and some decent restos too. The barrio is even home to its own “Bridge of Sighs,” the Puente de los Suspiros, a copycat of Venice’s, albeit smaller and made of wood. Somehow, though, it’s just as romantic.
For more on travel to the region: peru.travel/en.
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