Posts Tagged ‘ceviche’

Machu Picchu as seen from Huayna Picchu

The ancient citadel of Machu Picchu, located high up in the Andes Mountains, has long been on my list of “must see” places on the planet, and I was finally able to fulfill this dream this past March, climbing both Machu Picchu and the lesser known Huayna Picchu (the rounded peak in the background of many classic Machu Picchu shots). But no matter how many photos you have seen of this popular site, it cannot compare to the experience of actually being there, surrounded by cloud covered peaks; breathing in the thin, crisp air; and being awestruck at the huge scale of the ruins and what it must have taken to build them in such a challenging location.

Of course, one of the main attractions of any trip abroad for me, is the food. Having never visited Peru before, I had no idea what to expect other than great ceviche and, of course, cuy or guinea pig. Arriving early in the morning in Lima, one of the first bites I had, however, was the familiar empanada–ground meat wrapped up in a pastry. So many cultures worldwide have something similar: In Jamaica and Sri Lanka, they call them “patties,” in Brasil, salgados.  In Peru, empanadas are as ubiquitous as Manhattan’s dirty water hot dogs, stuffed with all kinds of fillings from ham & cheese, to beef, chicken, as well as an amazing sweet variety made with guava and cheese.


a flaky pastry surrounds a moist, meaty filling--who doesn't like that?

the ultimate street food

Judging by the hotels in which I stayed, breakfast is not much of a meal in Peru. The most you’ll get is a white roll with butter and jam and maybe some fruit along with a concentrated coffee liquid to which you add hot milk. To see what average Peruvians start the day of with, however, I took a look at what’s cooking on the streets. Outside one of Lima’s old school mercados (markets), where you can by all manner of fresh meats and produce, I followed the noise of frying and the aroma of meat and eggs, to discover what’s really for breakfast here.

can't beat the streets...

...for a classic fry up!

Speaking of the mercado, it’s a great place to get a “lay of the land” and see which foods are available in a country as well as which foods people like to eat. In Peru, where the mighty Amazon begins, there are no shortage of exotic eats, many  of which I am still trying to at least put a name to.

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The meat section reminds me of a typical market in Sri Lanka (or any developing nation for that matter), where huge sides of beef hang on hooks sans refrigeration. As people waste  no part of the animal, plenty of offal (the nasty bits) is available as well, to be made into traditional dishes like cau-cau, or cow’s stomach (which I did not have the pleasure of trying this time around) .

In Lima, ceviche is king, and I tried all manner of this seafood-cooked-in-citrus specialty, from the 5 soles plate at the mercado to the more high-end offering at La Rosa Nautica Restaurant (see earlier blog post). What I love about ceviche here is that they serve it with so many sides–a boiled sweet potato, toasted corn kernals, rice, and even fried calamari–which make it a full meal, while also providing a textural counterpoint for the tender chunks of fish and seafood. I also love the marinating liquid–leche de tigre (milk of the tiger)–made of lime juice, cilantro, red onions, and salt.

my first ceviche: can't even see the fish swimming in the "leche de tigre" and topped with fried calamari and a chunk of sweet potato

freshwater ceviche

But while seafood is primarily the province of coastal areas, a plate of lomo saltado stands as more a contender for the national dish. A simple stir fry of (usually) beef with onions tomatoes and peas served with rice and french fries, lomo is a gut-buster that is guaranteed to keep you going all day (that is, if you are not inclined to take a nap after eating it).

lomo saltado

Of course, if beef is not your thing, there’s plenty of pork and chicken to go around, and for those on the more adventurous side, alpaca (a relative of the llama) provides a great lean alternative. With a taste akin to beef, alpaca, prized for its soft fur, which is used to make everything from sweaters to rugs, also makes a mean steak.

an alpaca

grilled alpaca

Another quintessentially Peruvian favorite is, of course, guinea pig or cuy. Though Americans might balk at the idea of eating an animal that many consider a household pet like dogs and cats, Peruvians also keep these animals as pets, yet relish their taste, regardless. No self-respecting gastronaut, could bypass such an opportunity, so I seized the cuy with both hands at a restaurant catering to locals in Cusco, the former Inca capital. Located almost 12,000 feet above sea level, Cusco has a decidedly rootsier feel compared to more cosmopolitan Lima. It’s also difficult to breathe here, and handful of coca leaves placed between the cheek and gums and alternately chewed and sucked on greatly helps deal with it. It doesn’t seem to bother the locals, however, mostly quechua-speaking Indians, who appear out of a different era.

cuy...or guinea pig to you

a typical resident of Cusco

The grilled guinea pig was served whole (or actually vivisected from head to tail) along with some pasta, sauteed vegetables, and a couple of large Andean potatoes. The crispy skin, much like chicken skin, was delicious and comprised most of the edible material here as this small animal does not have that much meat (and a lot of bones). In fact, what little flesh there was tasted a lot like chicken except for the ‘head cheese’ up in the well-baked cranial cavity which had its own unique flavor. I thought nothing of polishing off the little critter except when I stared at its tiny, rat-like claws, which elicited unwelcome visions of the New York subway. At 20 soles (about $7.50), cuy was also no bargain in comparison to other local food, so I didn’t have it again on the trip. However, I did see a much cheaper version of cuy at a street fair Cusco, served with bread, cheese, and topped with a kind of seaweed of all things, but having just polished off a hefty portion of lomo saltado, my appetite was satiated for the rest of the day.

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La Canta Rana -- currently undergoing renovations

When traveling, it is sometimes advisable to go by the guidebook and follow other peoples’ recommendations, while at other times, it is best to throw the book out the window, and follow your own instincts. I much prefer the latter because it gives you a sense of discovery and makes you feel like a true traveler as opposed to just a tourist. And believe me, there’s a great chasm between the two. A tourist goes places to take pictures of himself/herself in front of the popular sites; buy souvenirs; and get a tan, generally playing it pretty safe, and not straying to far from the herd of other tourists.  A gastronaut like myself, however, is always open to try something new; prefers street food over fine dining; and loves to go off the eaten path in search of his next meal.

Lima is a great city to explore, and after spending a couple of days getting oriented in the ritzy neighborhood of Miraflores, I decided to try out the more liveable, downtempo area known as Barranco. It reminded me Brooklyn, my home for 11 years, and I decided that if I ever moved to Lima, this would be the place. An eclectic mix of casual eateries, mom and pop shops, and run-down casonas (mansions),the neighborhood had a decidedly laid-back appeal, and a plethora of street art. I knew some good eating lay around the way.

Street art in Barranco











Since the Lonely Planet Guide only listed 3 restaurants for Barranco–2 of which were on the pricey side–we decided to go for the cheap option, La Canta Rana. “An unpretentious place that packs in the locals…” was all the description I needed, as the book said to look out for the green walls. Unfortunately, when we rolled up to the spot and peeked inside, the dust and scaffolding told us that the place was clearly not open for business. Luckily a man inside said that their sister restaurant was open just a few blocks away. He gestured this way and that, and we vaguely set off in the direction to which he had pointed. We soon stumbled into a small covered mercado with various little stalls, some serving food.  There was some nice chicken and rice going on at one spot, but the place that hooked me was serving huge plates of ceviche. I was almost going to suggest we give up our search and eat here as I reflexively took a seat and snagged a menu. When I saw the words, “La Canta Ranita,” however, I knew we had arrived.

a seafood broth (with a little surprise at the bottom) for starters

No sooner had we sat down, when a kid brought us a complimentary mug of soup–a basic, but delicious seafood broth, with a mussel tucked away at the bottom. I checked out the menu of some 20 offerings–mostly seafood, of course–and ordered the grilled pulpo (octopus). My friend Sue ordered something called Causa de Pescado arrebozado, which the table next door was having.  Despite our humble surroundings, what we got was worthy of a fine-dining establishment.

causa de pescado arrebozado

The Causa was actually pieces of fried fish atop a “pillow” of mashed sweet potato and avocado, all topped with a mayonnaise and tomato relish. Super good! And I loved the vertical presentation. Then, my octopus arrived–three long tentacles smothered in an aji (chili) sauce. Wow! This dish is tailor-made for me, I was thinking as I carved off a bite of tender tentacle, smoky from the grill.

pulpo a la parrilla

washed down with a cold one!

the kitchen at La Canta Ranita

Later that night, we decided to try another one of the book’s picks–this one a more upscale place called Chala. On an interesting ‘street’ (if  you could call it that), Bajada  de Banos, Chala served novoandina cusine, the nouvelle cuisine of Peru, and its prices reflected that. Luckily we arrived some 45 minutes before the restaurant opened, so we had the opportunity to check out the surrounding area, which we soon learned was chock full of interesting eateries. There seemed to be a lot of competition for customers, too, as restaurant hosts, approached us, menues in hand, trying to get us to have a seat inside their place. One place in particular caught my eye because of their colorful, mouth-watering menu, and the low prices of the food. They also offered us a free pisco sour as a pre-dinner cocktail, so who was I to argue? We took a seat overlooking the ocean at the homey Toto’s Restaurant.

Toto's restaurant, Barranco

There was one item on the menu that seemed to good to be true–especially at the low low price of 20 soles (about US $8)– so I had to ask them again about it, and this was the Specialty of the House, a seafood stew featuring crab, fish, octopus, squid, mussels, scallops,  and shrimp. It was indeed available, and though I expected it to look nothing like the picture on the menu, I ordered it anyway. When it arrived, to my surprise, it looked even better.

The Specialty of the House at Toto's ....before....

...and after

All of the seafood I mentioned before arrived swimming in a broth made of tomato and clam juice, and topped with chopped cilantro. There were even a couple long slices of yuca for good measure. I had just eaten a dish very similar in San Francisco, the famous cioppino, but Toto’s special blew it away on all counts.  The fact that I had practically stumbled into this place made it all the more satisfying because it really felt like a discovery worth telling others about.

return to La Canta Ranita

Just to make sure the whole day wasn’t a dream, we revisited La Canta Ranita and Toto’s the next day as well.  For lunch, my friend Susan had the Arroz con mariscos, a kind of Peruvian seafood paella, topped with a healthy dose of parmesano cheese.  I went for the Pescado frito con langostinos al ajillo, fried fish topped with shrimp in a chili sauce. Both dishes were fantastic and under 20 soles each.

Arroz con mariscos

pescado frito con langostinos al ajillo

For dinner that night at Toto’s we both went for traditional dishes. Susan had the Aji de Galina, chicken cooked in a thick walnut and cream sauce. I ate the Seco de cabrito con frijoles, stewed baby goat with white beans and rice.  While it would have been tough to top my previous nights’ meal, the baby goat was super tender and not gamey in the least, and the beans sang with a hint of cumin. Susan’s chicken was very rich, but tasty as well. All in all, second time around, we could not go wrong, and we didn’t

Aji de Galina

Seco de cabrito con frijoles












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Just got back from a trip to Peru, fulfilling a long-time dream of visiting the amazing site of Machu Picchu, but I also had a chance to spend a few days in Lima, and sample some fabulous food. This coastal capital is known for its fresh seafood, especially the ceviche, a dish of raw fish ‘cooked’ in citrus, cilantro and spices.

I had heard of this place called La Rosa Nautica, located at the end of a lone wharf jutting out into the Pacific, in the ritzy Miraflores neighborhood of Lima, and decided to check it out for dinner. But earlier in the day while poking around a local street market or mercado, I found a small unassuming stall selling this Peruvian specialty, and decided I couldn’t wait to try a plate of ceviche–especially for a mere 5 soles (less than US $2).

ceviche topped with fried calamari and a side of sweet potato -- less than 2 bucks at a local market

with a side of toasted corn kernels

I found chunks of white fish practically swimming in a marinating liquid of lime, cilantro, red onions, and a hint of chili, topped with fried calamari and a side of sweet potato. They also serve these toasted corn kernels (chulpi), which I observed people dumping onto their plates of ceviche to add a crunchy textural counterpoint to the tender fish. The marinating liquid, I discovered, is known as leche de tigre (“tiger’s milk”), and is a much prized part of the whole ceviche experience. With this little lunch lesson under my belt, I was ready for dinner.

But first, it took some serious walking to help work up an appetite, and while checking out the neighborhood of Miraflores, I was even able to visit some ruins. Huaca Pucllana, which lies smack in the middle of this very upscale urban district, is not of Inca origin, but the remnants of a much-earlier site built by the Lima, after whom the city is named. The huge, adobe-brick complex is is still being excavated and restored.










With the sight-seeing complete, and the sun sinking into the Pacific, it was time to settle down to some serious eating. Since much of Lima’s coastline are cliffs, in order to get down to the sea-level restaurant, it was necessary to take a cab, which drops you at the landward side of a long wharf. When you stroll its entire length, you finally arrive at the well-lit, two storey wooden structure known as La Rosa Nautica. Opened by Chef Eduardo Castanon, 28 years ago, one can tell that Nautica is obviously a Lima institution for even a Monday night found the place bustling and crowded. Luckily there were still some seats available outside, so we could eat with the lulling crash of the waves and a cool sea breeze.

ceviche colorado

For an appetizer I ordered the ceviche colorado, a mixture of raw flounder, shrimp, octopus and squid with a side of chili pepper and key lime, spicy cream, a shot glass of leche de tigre, and garnished with the fried corn kernels or chulpi, shredded carrots, and red onions. To be completely honest, the only difference between this plate and my lunch was the additional seafood.

tender duck stewed in black beer and cilantro

For my main course, I had to try another Peruvian specialty called Arroz con pato a la chiclayana (tender duck stewed in black beer and cilantro). Served over a bed of herbed rice, the duck was superb and practically melting in my mouth.  My friend Susan ordered the Rosa Nautica seafood rice, “creole style,” with stewed chilis, seafood, vegetables, and chopped cilantro. A kind of Peruvian paella, the dish came chock full of shrimp, squid, octopus, and scallops.

Peruvian paella

Both plates were well-presented with a substantial amount of food with the added benefit being the beautiful ocean view. I don’t mind paying more for such fine dining, but my only gripe with La Rosa Nautica is that when we looked at the bill, they actually charged us for the bread! I think this is first in my lifetime of dining out. Charging 16 soles (about US $5.87) for the 4 rolls we ate before dinner came to more than double what I had paid for my ceviche at lunch. Now you are forewarned. If you go to La Rosa Nautica, bypass the bread and go straight for the delicious food.

La Rosa Nautica

Circuito de Playas


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