Spicy ceviche in the city of Kings

By | Category: Travel destinations, Travel tips & opinions

Peru is a dream destination for food lovers. Travel experts, DK Publishing, take us on taste-bud led tour of Lima –  the coastal capital of South America’s third largest country

Lima may not have the immediate allure of other Latin cities, but this coastal capital isn’t lacking in culture, history or cuisine. It boasts pre-Inca sites and colonial mansions, and some real gastronomic delights. An amazing assortment of ingredients alights in Lima from the Andes and the Amazon, but it’s the fresh Pacific fish that everyone wants, transformed into ceviche.

More than 100 years ago culinary revolutionary Auguste Escoffier ranked Peruvian cuisine third-best in the world, behind only French and Chinese. Some might scoff at the claim, but Peru has a rich cooking tradition and the proof is in the pudding, or in this case, the fish.

Ask a Peruvian what their national dish is and more often than not the answer will be ceviche, small pieces of raw fish marinated, or “cooked”, in lime juice mingled with sliced hot chillies (ají limo) and red onions. It’s served up as soon as the fish has become firm and opaque on the outside (about five minutes), with a wedge of cooked sweet potato, a chunk of fresh-cooked corn cob and a frill of lettuce. The spicy juice from the ceviche marinade, called leche de tigre (tiger’s milk), is, locals say, the best hangover cure around.

The secret to a good ceviche is the combination of Peruvian lime, which has an unusually high acid content, with the freshest of fish. Limeños (the inhabitants of the city) insist, in fact, that ceviche be eaten only at lunch time, when the fish is guaranteed to have come straight off the morning’s boats.

Peruvian ceviche

There is a long tradition of eating marinated fish in Peru. The Incas were fond of fish steeped in home- made corn beer and fruit juices, and cultures before them marinated fish with a fruit known as “tumbo”, a type of passion fruit. Later, the Spanish brought limes, lemons and onions to the table, and Japanese immigrants introduced the sashimi sensibility. And it all comes together on the plate in Lima, the coastal city created by conquistadors in 1535.

Lima was the capital of the Spanish dominion in Latin America for almost 200 years. Remnants of this cultural boom-time remain in the centuries-old streets and buildings of the centre, especially around Plaza Mayor, where it is obvious in the lavish carvings of enclosed wooden balconies, the ornate doorways and the tranquil inner courtyards of the city’s mansions. Further afield, buzzing Barranco is dotted with the holiday villas of wealthy 19th-century Europeans, who flocked to the beaches here in summer. Peruvians have long had a love affair with the waters of the Pacific Ocean, and tourists can witness this both in the friezes of antique ruins and in the restaurants, where ceviche still reigns supreme.

What else to eat
Lima’s cuisine and restaurants are gaining a worldwide reputation for freshness and creativity, embracing Chinese, Italian, Japanese, African and Andean influences. This is especially evident in lomo saltado, a stir-fry with a distinct Peruvian twist: alongside strips of beef, onion, tomatoes, chillies and garlic come fried potatoes and rice. Try it at José Antonio (www.joseantonio. com.pe). Another favourite is causa: cool, yellow mashed potato mixed with lime juice and chilli paste and layered with avocado, mayonnaise, and tuna; Astrid & Gaston (www.astridygaston. com) does a good one. Papas rellenas, potato croquettes stuffed with minced meat, hard-boiled egg and olives are a Creole favourite. Brujas de Cachiche (www.brujasdecachiche.com.pe) serves them with a tangy, lime-infused salsa criolla.

A day in Lima
Lima is a cosmopolitan city that has embraced its varied past with gusto. Andean and Spanish influences abound in city neighbourhoods, peppered with traces of Africa and Asia, all united by an unmistakeable Peruvian vibe.

Plaza Saint Martin


MORNING Take a jaunt around the city’s colonial centre, visiting San Francisco Monastery with its religious art collection and bone-packed crypt. Loiter in front of the Presidential Palace around 11:45am to see the changing of the guard, then walk down Jirón de la Unión to French-influenced Plaza Saint Martín.

AFTERNOON Hightail it to Miraflores to walk the clifftop parks, past the black- and-white lighthouse to the Parque del Amor (“Love Park”), which has sinuous mosaic walls inlaid with love adages and a colossal sculpture of a couple kissing. Finish up in smart-bohemian Barranco at the showy Museo Pedro de Osma.

EVENING Catch a taxi down to Cala, the beachfront lounge bar-restaurant below the Barranco cliffs, and order a pisco sour – a cocktail of Peruvian brandy, lemon juice, egg white and sugar syrup – and a ceviche scallop roll, then sit back and watch the Pacific waves ebb and flow.


Lima’s Jorge Chavez International Airport lies 16 km (10 miles) northwest of the city. Take an official, registered taxi from the airport to the city.

Hotel Country Club

Hostal El Patio (inexpensive) is a basic but comfortable hotel in central Miraflores with a cool, leafy courtyard. (www.hostalelpatio.net). Second Home Peru (moderate) is the Barranco home of Peruvian sculptor Victor Delfin, and now a stylish guesthouse with sea views and five airy bedrooms. www.secondhomeperu.com Hotel Country Club (expensive) in upmarket San Isidro is a deluxe 1920s hacienda-style hotel. www.hotelcountry.com


The best places to eat ceviche

La Mar (moderate)
Part of the expanding empire of restaurants run by Peru’s culinary ambassador and cordon-bleu-trained chef Gastón Acurio, La Mar is a lunch-only, seafood-focused destination, a cebicheria peruano (Peruvian ceviche restaurant). The restaurant doesn’t take bookings and the best way to secure a table is to arrive around noon, otherwise you’re likely to have a lengthy wait at the bar. Not that this is a bad thing, as they produce a great version of the pisco sour cocktail – fluffy, icy and just that little bit addictive – as well as tempting snacks while you wait. There’s a whole list of ceviche on the menu, from clásico with hot chilli, tiger’s milk and fresh fish, to tumbes – black scallops from the north of Peru, with octopus, mussels, calamari and clams. Try the degustación: a selection of five ceviche to share, including clásico, tumbes, nikei (tuna), elegante (mixed fish) and mistura (shellfish, salmon and fiercely hot green rocoto chilli). There’s also tiradito, which is like a cross between carpaccio and sashimi: paper-fine slices of raw fish dressed with lime and chilli.
Avenida La Mar 770, Miraflores, Lima; open noon–5pm Mon–Thu, noon–5:30pm Fri, 11:45am–5:30pm Sat–Sun; www.lamarcebicheria.com

Also in Lima
Just down the road from La Mar, Pescados Capitales (www.pescadoscapitales.com; moderate) is another lunch-only seafood destination. The name is a pun on pescados (fish) and pecados (sins) and the menu plays up the “deadly fins” theme: ceviche comes under the heading pecado original (original sin), while main courses carry names such as “vanity”, “envy” and “infidelity”. Ceviche at the restaurant features lenguado (sole), octopus, mixed fish and shellfish and deep-sea cachema fish.


Also in Peru
The improbably named Big Ben (www. bigbenhuanchaco.com; inexpensive) is the oldest restaurant in the beach resort-fishing village of Huanchaco on Peru’s northern coast. Pick a table on the umbrella-covered terrace upstairs with a view over the ocean and order a fresh-off-the-boat ceviche.

Around the world
Not content with conquering Mexico, Chile, Brazil, Panama, Colombia and Peru, chef Gastón Acurio has opened a La Mar (www. lamarcebicheria.com; expensive) in San Francisco. Located at the Embarcadero waterfront, it serves up ceviche with a local flavour: mahi-mahi, calamari and octopus with coriander and yellow chilli marinade; Californian halibut in a classic marinade; and ahi tuna with Japanese cucumber, daikon and avocado in tamarind-flavoured tiger’s milk.

Extract taken from Ultimate Food Journeys, published by DK Eyewitness Travel (£19.99) www.dk.com





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