It doesn’t take long to take in the sights of Peru’s rather dreary capital, leaving plenty of time to graze through a city that has rightfully earned a reputation as South America’s gastronomic epicenter.
Old Lima remains the city’s commercial hub and contains some spectacular Spanish architecture well worth a visit. When you decide it’s time for a break, Bar Cordano is a central Lima institution dating back to 1905 — its decor is a step deep into the city’s colonial past. Businessmen take their lunches there and the menu, like most places we visited, is as voluminous as a New England diner’s. But what Bar Cordano does superbly, and superbly cheap, is the jamon sandwich. In full view to all who enter through its faded wooden doors, there’s jamon de norte and jamon de pais, two hulks of ham from the country that sit atop the bar, alongside a mound of fresh rolls and a big slab of queso. A tall beer washes it all down and before you know it you’re back in the Plaza de Armas soaking in the palace and churches.
Of course Lima, nestled on cliffs overlooking the Pacific, is best known for its ceviches. Fresh fish is being chopped and marinated in a spicy blend of citrus at every moment and in every corner of this city. And while it may be hard to find a bad batch, finding a great one takes a little time and effort. Our favorite was Sonia, located in the working class seaside neighborhood of Barranco. Sonia has been making ceviche utilizing every possible ocean critter for 33 years. Peru’s national drink, the pisco sour, is a great accompaniment, but don’t overlook the leche de tigre (or “tiger juice”) — that’s the marinade from the ceviche itself and… maybe I should let you discover that one for yourself.
Shrimp ceviche at Sonia
Lima’s restaurant scene continues to go upscale, with brilliant chefs taking a stab at novo andino cuisine. One of them is Pedro Miguel Schiaffino, who recently opened Amaz in the upscale Miraflores neighborhood. Amaz has already been reviewed in the New York Times and featured on Anthony Bourdain’s Parts Unknown. Amaz was, well, amaz. The highlights were paiche, one of the largest freshwater fish in the world, served in a chorizo sauce, and a flawless lomo saltado, a traditional Peruvian steak stir-fry.
Before we departed for the airport, there was time for one last bite. It would be one of my favorites and a fitting end to two weeks in Peru. La Lucha is a hopping sandwich joint in the heart of Miraflores, and when we got there at 7 on a Friday night, a crowd of Limonites (or as I persisted on calling them: Limoncellos) were already queuing to place their orders and jostle for a table. On the advice of the guy behind me, who claimed he had been five times in three days, I ordered the chicharrón, a fried pork sparerib sandwich with sweet potatoes, red onions, and a ubiquitous Peruvian hot sauce called aji. Add fries — “las mejores del Peru” according to the menu; who am I to argue? — and a Pilsen and I knew I would sleep well on my red eye home.