The travelers we’ve encountered on this trip haven’t had too many positive things to say about Lima, Peru– so much so that we initially had the impression that it was a potentially skippable city. After a bit of research, though, we were reminded of a few key points: 1) Many of the travelers we meet are more traditional backpackers, who: a) tend to be more interested in the party scene than we are; and b) don’t tend to be quite so into eating (at least not in the “will splurge when worth it” sense, although I also maintain that B is more interested in food than pretty much anyone on Earth, backpacker or no). Peruvian food is incredible, and the food available in Lima is the best we’ve had on our trip so far. We spent four days there in mid-April and came away having eaten our collective weight in ceviche.
We also wandered the city and its coastline, visited the impressive and quirky Larco museum (featuring 3,000 years’ worth of ceramic, precious metal and textile artifacts, access to the museum’s enormous storeroom, and a strange and wide-ranging collection of ancient erotic pottery), screwed up our courage and obtained fairly successful haircuts, and did some shopping. Mostly, though, we ate, so in a page out of Brian’s book, I’ll focus on that.
Highlights included not one but two meals at the appropriately well-known Astrid y Gaston– we started with a more casual lunch in the bar area and had such a lovely time that we persuaded them to squeeze us in two nights later for the full 29-course tasting menu (that’s not typo– really, 29 courses). We loved the delicious Nikkei-style (Peruvian / Japanese fusion) tasting at Maido, although I was ready to throw in the towel after course ten or so. We had a very nice, fortunately somewhat lighter lunch at Central (although if you have the choice, opt for la Barra at Astrid y Gaston if only for the lovely atmosphere and the waiter who will suggest cocktails based on your demeanor). We also took a fun cooking class (our first on this trip) with Sky Kitchen, focused on several Peruvian favorites including ceviche, lomo saltado (beef stir fry– a lot of Peruvian food has delicious Asian elements) and pumpkin donuts. I feel slightly sick to my stomach just typing all of that.
Fancy foods aside, my favorite experience overall was at a much more casual spot. To get any of the 20 available seats for lunch at Chez Wong, you email the chef and cross your fingers. When you show up at his house in an utterly nondescript neighborhood, the choices are quite limited. He primarily cooks with Dover Sole and, at least when we were there, octopus. The fish is unbelievably fresh and the whole experience is (I imagine) a bit like being at some kind of religious revival: Everyone in the restaurant (locals and the few tourists alike) is mesmerized by the work that’s going on in front. Without acknowledging the attention, Chef Wong manages to skin, debone, and dice fish the size of his torso in no time. Approximately a minute later with the addition of lime juice, salt, and onion, the ceviche is good to go. This was followed eventually by a seemingly improvised stir-fry cooked in the tiny kitchen. Other than a few beers, that was it. It was one of the best meals that we had in Lima. Like all of the places we went, we were pleasantly surprised at the cost– another reason that Lima wins in the food department.
Although there are many more restaurants in Lima that would be worth a try, perhaps it’s a good thing that we left after four days, while we still fit into our clothes. We headed off to Las Pocitas beach in northern Peru on April 17.
Brian’s note: while the food in Lima was truly amazing, let’s not forget about the steak houses of Buenos Aires. Comparing the two experiences isn’t really possible, but, as far as food experiences go, I’d say Lima and Buenos Aires are tied. Because, let’s face it, steak is good, damn good.