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Saturday, July 20, 2013

Forget the fortune cookies, bring on the bunnies! More from Lima, Peru

Two of the most popular districts in Lima are Miraflores and Barranco. Miraflores is one the wealthiest districts, with perfectly manicured parks, shopping centers, cafes, and hotels within reach. Barranco, on the other hand, is a more subdued (at least during daytime) and bohemian district. The most popular attraction in Barranco is likely the Bridge of Sighs, a wooden bridge that hovers over Bajada de Baños (a stone walkway that cuts through Barranco, ending at the Pacific Ocean).

Along the Pacific side of Lima lies a long stretch of beaches that extend all the way from my hostel in the Barranco neighborhood to past Miraflores. A lot of it is currently under construction, but it's possible to walk along it. So, that's what I did. Although, the view wasn't as spectacular as one would think due to the haze and fog. 

There's a large highway that separates the beach from the city, which itself sits on top of a cliff. However, there are few pedestrian bridges that connect the two, so once you get started on the beach walk, it's a commitment (or risk running across a busy highway, which I only did once). I crossed over at the first pedestrian bridge, leading me eventually to Parque del Amor, where two giant sculptures demonstrate what PDA is all about.

Parque Kennedy (named after JFK), the central Miraflores park, was about a 15-20 minute walk from there. 

I stopped by Manola, a 45 year-old restaurant located a couple blocks from the park. Ordering an omelette and churros, I wasn't surprised when the waiter gave me the churros first. The omelette was standard, but the churros more than made up for it. 

An American couple had recommended going to the Museo de la Inquisición, the site of the Peruvian Inquisition. Unfortunately, it was located in the Historic Center of Lima, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and also a 2+ hour walk from my location. Taking a taxi wasn't a problem, but I had time, so I decided to walk. It was a long walk. 

The scenery started with the artisan markets, where you can buy various crafts to your heart's desire. Then, it turned into residential neighborhoods. Afterwards, it became a little dodgy. By then, I was already two hours in and apparently walking slower than Google Maps said I should be. As the streets became shadier and shadier, I hopped into a cab for the rest of the way there.

The museum provides free guided tours (mine was in Spanish, but I think they do it in English too - I just didn't want to wait). The guide took us on a walk through the museum, which used to be the home of the National Senate following the end of the Inquisition. Near the end of the tour, we were led into a room where wax figures were configured into the various torture positions (e.g., water boarding) that were once used.

After a quick stop at the Monastery of San Francisco (known for the catacombs that lie within and the hundred or so pigeons that surround the exterior), I was hungry again. I hailed 3-4 cabs to take me back to Barranco, but everyone of them refused! I guess no one wanted to drive through Lima's rush hour traffic. Instead, I got into the car of a maniac cab driver on the way to Parque Kennedy, from where I walked back to Barranco.

Chifa Union, touted as one of the best chifas in Barranco, is located a short walk from the Bridge of Sighs. The street names in Peru change constantly, and the street where Chifa Union is located wasn't an exception. After walking around the block a couple times, I finally spotted the joint.

It was around 7:15PM and Chifa Union had only just opened after its scheduled 90 minute afternoon closure. Nevertheless, people were coming in waves. Inside, there were private booths, each covered by curtains to entertain the idea of privacy and perhaps block the cold air from blowing in.

Cold and hungry, I ordered the sopa wantan and chaufa con pollo. The waiter came back to make sure I hadn't wanted to order the chaufa con pollo chico - I said no! Grande por favor!

The sopa wantan was a large bowl of a little bit of everything - broth with chicken wings, pork, beef, and wontons. It was like they took the leftovers from the afternoon and threw it all in a pot. Delicious.

Ever since I landed in Peru, I've been on the hunt for fried rice (yeah, yeah, yeah) that match the high standards my mom had set. Though I haven't found anything close to what she used to make, the chicken fried rice at Chifa Union was one of the best I've had in Peru. It was also at Chifa Union where I was asked, for the first time in Latin America, if I liked the food!

Best of all, at the end of the meal it wasn't fortune cookies that were handed out. The waiter brought over two small rectangular pieces of candy that I instantly recognized. The condensed milk candies in blue and white wrapping, with a bunny on the front, brought a big smile to my face. I used to eat these like, well candy, as a kid and haven't had them in a couple years. Incredible. 

Next up, more foodie adventures in Lima, including a cebiche that left me (almost) crying.


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