Several cab drivers we speak with in our slowly improving Spanish tout the diversity and fame of Peruvian gastronomy. We're already fairly familiar with it, in a tip of the iceberg sort of way by virtue of living in
L.A. and having the benefit of nearby Peruvian restaurants. Folks in Lima were psyched to hear this. (I'm still curious, however, about what traditions are taught at the Le Cordon Bleu Perú, a frighteningly fortressed and secured building, much like many others in Lima we walked past.)
So one could imagine how stoked I was at the opportunity to sample ceviche, the raw marinated fish for which Perú is famous. With its coastal location, Lima is known for its many cevicheras. These close after lunch, since afternoon ceviche was once a necessity that's become tradition, much like kosher requirements.
Yet we do have some piquant tangy sea bass ceviche in the eve at La Costa Verde, a heavily touristed restaurant complete with flags of your nation propped on your table. This place comes rightly recommended by a friend who lived in Lima, mostly because it allows you to sample from a wide menu and sit perched above the sea in the Barranco neighborhood. Plus we get to witness one of the two high school dances we come across while in Lima.
In addition to the ceviche, I chow to the max on the arroz peruano: a saffron-laded rice piled with mollusks and crustaceans (pictured at right). I forget how filling ceviche is; we should've slowed down to make room for the second round.
Not being an expert, I have little criticism of the ceviche vis--vis freshness or flavor. It's got it goin' on. The hunks of sea bass gently resist the bite and then relent, the meaty interior releasing all its soaked-up citrus. And this best-of-the-trip ceviche is ... quite similar to what we have a Los Balcones del Perú on Vine Street, where I don't have to worry about whether or not I should eat the lettuce, and they serve it
O.G. style with Andean corn and hunks of boiled sweet potato. (Predictably, I never met a potato in Perú that I didn't like.)
It's always a simultaneously depressing and exciting fact when something from its authentic source isn't all that noticeably better than what you find within a two mile radius of your house. (This globalized phenomenon will totally go out the window once we get to Brazil.)
Anyway, once we get into the Andean interior of the country we still manage to find some ceviches, but more commonly based on local river King Fish (pictured above). At the Sanctuary Lodge, the spice is much mellower than what we had at Costa Verde, perhaps toned down to sate the hungry gringo palates after their respective Machu Picchu treks.
On our last day while stranded at the Lima Sheraton, we resort to a last minute hotel meal because we're too pooped to venture out into funk of the Centro again. Plus it's not the wisest thing to do so. I hate myself for doing it, but after making our way through this space (Hello, Jeremy Bentham) we use our LAN-issued vouchers and head into the buffet at the Sheraton, only to find Vegas-style faux blue sky ceiling murals below which lies a shockingly good ceviche spread.
Octopus, mussels (skipped those), ceviche mixto, squid, and other kinds of fish get their own place. I'm most into the spry fava bean and queso fresco salad. And to pile onto the surprises of the evening, the crowd is almost exclusively Peruvian.
We miss the corny coronation of the Inca performance, but we've got a plane to Buenos Aires to catch.