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Sunday, July 21, 2013

Cebiche, picarones, caramel, lucuma, and ABBA? More from Lima, Peru

If Lima's known for one thing in my book, it is it's culinary scene. If Lima's culinary scene is known for one thing in my book, it is it's cebiche.

Just a block from Chifa Union is Canta Rana, a restaurant whose walls are decorated by frames upon frames of various pictures that I currently have no recollection of. With too many choices to choose from, I went the easy route and got the cebiche mixto and a glass of chicha morada. Rather than being given bread, I got a small bowl of deliciously roasted corn and one of warm beans soaked in some type of clear liquid (some type of oil).

Used to the appetizer size plates of cebiche in the States, I was surprised at the large plate of cebiche that landed before me. On it were bits of corn whose kernels were easily triple the size of what we get in the U.S., a portion of sweet potato, and a mixture of fish, octopus, and meats of what I don't know. From the first bite I could taste the fresh lime. It was spicy, bordering between bearable continuous consumption and not. I loved it. Then, just as I was about to clear my plate of the last few bites, I ate a pepper or chili that set my mouth on fire. Starting in my mouth, the flame went down my throat and up my nose. The word spicy doesn't do it justice. I slowly chugged my glass of chica morada, knowing full well I needed to make it last. When the last drop was gone, the fire was hardly diminished. Yet, for some masochist reason, I still wanted to finish the rest of the plate. It was that good!

Later that day, I headed back out of Barranco with Liana, a crazy Aussie traveler I met at the hostel, to El Circuito Magico del Agua. The taxi ride was borderline unbearable - not because of my Aussie company, but because of the toxic car pollution and cigarette smoke from our driver. Luckily, there was little traffic, so we made it there relatively quickly. 

For 4 soles (~$1.5 USD), we each gained entrance to a dozen fountains spread about an area probably the size of two football fields. Though most of the fountains were your standard what I call bundt cakes fountains, there were a couple that elicited an "wow, that's a cool effect." Most fountains have Peruvian and ABBA (no, not a typo) music playing in the background. At night, the fountains light up and a laser show commences over one of the fountains. Unfortunately, that particular fountain was out for maintenance and there would be no laser show.

Afterwards, we tried several times to hail a cab to take us to Chinatown, but it didn't appear any taxi drivers wanted to head in that direction at that time of night. Instead, we hopscotched over to Parque Kennedy. After surveying our options, we sat down in a nondescript looking chifa next to the most popular sandwich shop on the block. I'll keep it short - the food there was terrible. As a result, we had to make up for it with a great dessert. Back in Barranco, El Tio Mario had a line out the door, so we went to Songoro Cosongo right next door. We both got the picarones as fried dough with honey fig is irresistible. And that, is how you make a bad meal good. 

The next afternoon, I stopped by Rustica - a Lima chain that serves gringo food in the evening, but a Peruvian buffet in the afternoon. My hunger has been rapacious recently, so it was a good way to feed the greed while getting a taste of various Peruvian dishes. The food was mediocre, but I stuffed myself silly - three plates and three bowls of dessert (sweeten rice with milk and some sort of caramel like half jello).

I was still full that evening, and was looking for a "light" dinner. Liana and I went back to Songoro Cosongo. I got the causa de pollo - chunks of chicken and a whole lot of mayo sandwiched in between two layers of potatoes. So much for light. 

For dessert, I got a slice of cake made from the Peruvian fruit lucuma, which sort of looks like an avocado but is orange / yellow on the inside. When the dessert came, it turned out to be multiple alternating layers of chocolate cake and cream. Where the lucuma fruit came in was a mystery. So much for light.

Afterwards, we made our way to a pastry shop a couple blocks away. Inside, everything looked like they deserved to be tried at least once. One common ingredient across pretty much all the pastries was caramel - Peruvians apparently live and die by this stuff (it tastes a little different from what we get in the U.S.). I got a pizza slice shaped pastry that consisted of two layers of dough, in between which was a thick layer of caramel covered in coconut shavings. So much for light.

At least I was full for the 9 hour overnight bus that night at 11:30PM. Speaking of that, the bus attendant passed out a sandwich and cookies as soon as we boarded. It was near midnight and we were being fed dinner. The attendant went on to pop in a movie and cranked up the volume, because, who actually wants to sleep on an overnight bus?

Next up, a couple hours in Trujillo and a day in Huanchaco, with Chan Chan in between. 


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