Peru – Part 1
Peru, a place unlike any other I have been before, a place full of extremities and little in between, but a place full of many unique and beautiful experiences.
From when we arrive the love and hospitality was evident. Our plane was an hour late so we flew in at 1:30am, that did not deter Mama Celes who at 87 insisted to meet us at the airport, flowers and hugs ready for our first meeting. The joy on her face spoke the emotions I am sure she had, seeing her Grandson and new wife for the first time after their wedding. The last time Chris had seen Mama Celes was in 2010, but that four year gap was insignificant as he picked up right where he left off. Papa Raoul waited patiently at home for us to return, again with the same excitement and arms wide open.
Lots of sleep was necessary due to the large time difference, 15 hours behind Sydney! Day 1 we spend locally,walking around the suburb, markets and of course to change money from the guy standing on the corner of the intersection with a calculator, I am told this is the completely normal. A simple lunch with the family of grilled chicken, vegetables and rice showcased how flavoursome the ingredients are in Peru, something we are not so exposed to in Sydney with an array of bland flavoured produce. Dinner was test one for me, will I like the infamous Jamon del pais sandwich from the Japanese guy from around the corner. Waiting patiently in line we watched as he used his chopsticks to assemble the roll. Soft white bread rolls are filled with a smear of mustard, chunks of specially cooked pork, a mound of Spanish onions which are almost pickled in lime (lemon) juice, then to finish a slice of fresh aji (chilli). Due to the fact that I cannot eat onions I think there is no point even trying the sandwich as the onions are such a huge component of this sandwich, they add crunch and also the liquidy juices of lime break down the rich meat. I added some more aji verde paste when we got back to the house so that MY sandwich was not as dry and boring……..the verdict, its OK. Chris was horrified as we now cannot share one of his true loves. Test one, fail.
After our local dinner we decided to head off for a drink and try one of Gaston Acurio’s restaurants, Panchita. So from one extreme of walking around the local suburb at night, without handbags or cameras just in case we got mugged, we set of for Miraflores, the Double Bay of Lima where a different class of people live. Fancy cars zoomed past, jewellery was out for show and handbags were hanging off all the women. The restaurant was full of chatter, full of laughter and it is obvious that jokes are welcome. We sat up at the bar to have ‘a drink’ and ended up consuming a mixed platter and picarones, how could we not. I did need to try as many traditional Peruvian foods as possible so the mixed plate went without question as it featured Tamale verde, Papa rellena, Chicharron, Choclo y Papates con huancaina, Causa and Anticuchos. Tick, tick, tick, my list instantly got a lot smaller, then add Picarones and I am almost ready to leave after day one. Unfortunately the picarones, which are rinds of sweet potato donut were slightly undercooked. This Greek girl knows a thing of two about donut cooking after cooking many locomathes (greek donuts) in my time. Disappointing but that is ok, I kept dreaming about the tamale verde which were stuffed with cheese that had melted through th already rich corn surroundings. Test two for me was Chicha morada, purple corn juice which in Australia you can really only get in the form of a cordial. Freshly made it normally has a twist of lime (lemon) in it to lift the strong flavour. OH noooo, yuck, eeek not to my taste at all. Chris’ Sister looked on unable to comprehend how I did not enjoy it. Test two, fail.
We retired that night for to catch up on our sleep until 5am when the phone rang right next to my head, prank calls apparently were common, not a welcome start to my morning. After breakfast we headed over to Lince to visit one of my Mother in law’s friends. Since we did not have a car we decided to catch a micro today, as opposed to a taxi. A micro is a vehicle of any sort like a small van, mini bus, old school bus etc, that locals have painted a route on, drive around without any concern for rules, actually PARDON there are no road rules in Peru at all, and even if there were, no one follows them. These micros are private and basically do not have a timetable. They just race each other around the place to pick up people and fares, so you need to be prepared to jump on and off very quickly so you don’t slow them down. Well we arrived in Lince in one piece but had to be weary on the streets as it is not the safest suburb. People were on the street fighting, many homeless people were trying to sell the little items they could to raise some money too. Suburbs like this do however have their little glimmers of beauty. The apartment we were going to was in an old Spanish building made out of mud brick and still had the original timber staircase up to the first floor. Due to the tremors in Lima the staircase had sunk into the floor so that the treads were no longer at a 90 degree angle, but rather sloping down like mini ramps. As an architect you can admire buildings like this, especially standing on the solid timber balcony overlooking the streets. I wish I had photos but this was a no handbag, no camera type of place. It was even a place that I was nudged to remind me ‘no english’ as we do not want to draw attention to ourselves.
Lunch was a la Mama Celes, Quinoa and queso, a delicious and simple meal with the trio of Peruvian ingredients, garlic, aji and cumin. Tio Augus came to visit and took us to Jockey Plaza for coffee and a sneaky shop. I must say for me this was a little bit of a sanctuary, a place I was comfortable with after being exposed to ‘the reality of Peru’ as Chris’ Mother puts it. It had Zara, which I did enjoy some retail therapy in, and we had a coffee, my first since arriving, and what joy it brought coffee addicted me. Chris ordered Lucuma Ice Cream, another favourite of his. Test number 3. Bah-bow. No go. This was disguising. It was like a rough melon cream that had an odd tart flavour too…..well things aren’t really going to plan to enjoy Peru like Chris does when I dislike every ‘memory food’ he gives me.
Siesta tick, now time to eat again. Dinner was Pollo a la brasa (BBQ Chicken) which is a favourite of Chris and mine, a la Lebanese from Charcoal Kingdom back home, so this was something I was very much looking forward to comparing. The chicken was delicious, skin crispy as required, but what makes the dish is the generally the sauce, today we had yellow spicy aji sauce. Like toum which I can eat by the tubful, this aji sauce would be a welcomed permanent condiment to my fridge, but of course it is very hard to find these sauces in Australia unless you make it yourself with dried aji or aji paste, probably not the same. As you can see from the photo, no one drinks water except me. It is almost as if water is not required in your body, but instead your body cannot survive without Inka Kola. I am so astounded at the amount of sugar Peruvians consume on a daily basis and surprised more do not have diabetes.
After dinner I met the lovely Tia Rosa who took us to the central park where there is a nightly water and lights show. The light show is projected off water fountains and showcased different cultural dances, all of which I was to see at Brissas, the local dance show. We ran around like kids, playing with the water, ooing and aahing at the colours and tried not to get wet as we followed the processions under the arch of water. What a contrast to suburban streets only two blocks away. Going to the bathroom is an interesting experience too. You pay 50c and get given a wad of toilet paper to use, and you even get a receipt!
Day 3 we had a private tour around the city, first stop the statue of The Unknown Soldier which is one of the highest points of Lima perfect for a 360 degree look. It only strengthened the idea of extremities being just streets away. In a suburb called Chorillos there is a hill where people just find space and build a small house. It looks almost like favelas of Brazil and if you move your head slightly to the left we have San Borja which is like the ‘old spanish town’ and a very touristy and pretty area to visit, not a slum at all.
We then visited the Parke de Amor which is dedicated to love. Love is all around and I think it is impossible to miss the point with a giant statue of two people kissing and an organic wall with seats fully mosaicked in love quotes and names. It is a very beautiful park and adds some colour into the grim and sombre colours of Lima. It occurred to me that there is never sunlight in Lima due to a layer of smog above the city that cannot make it over the Andes. This smog acts like permanent cloud cover and is what I think London looks like for most of the year, grey and dismal.
Our last stop was La Rosa Nautica, an iconic restaurant that overlooks the sea and I would call it that signature restaurant every city has with the best view in town. It was lucky for us that one of the family’s uncles, Tio Pedro worked there so we went past to say hello, and of course have a drink and snack. The bar has around 48 different piscos and does all kinds of variations on the classic pisco sour. Since we were looking out at the sea we decided to try a small ceviche, another tick off my list. It was perfect in my eyes, fresh and soft fish with the perfect balance of acidity from the lime (lemon) juice and strong chilli. I enjoyed the leche de tigre very much without the need to order it as a separate item off the menu.
We were picked up for lunch by Tio Augus who due to the culture of long lunches was able to take us out for a couple of hours to try Cuy (guinea pig), another tick off my list. The restaurant/eatery we went to specialised in food from Arequipa which is a country region from the south. The cuy was deep fried and served with choclo, fried potatoes and onion salad, obviously to break down the large proportion of fat in the meat. Once we cut off the head it was not unlike other small animals we are accustomed to such as quail or wild hare, slightly gamey, but some might just say “tastes like chicken”. We then went on a hunt for a café so I could enjoy a coffee after my meal. For a coffee lover like me I am blown away that in a region that contributes so much to the coffee scene of Australia with high quality beans, there is not more café’s or a coffee scene at all, I actually started looking up Starbucks to add to the list of destinations we had daily as I knew there would at least be quality control and would satisfy my needs. I realise this is sad but what do you do when you are used to drinking two long blacks a day?
Dinner was another Gaston Acurio restaurant, Tanta. A bit more casual than Panchita but no less impressive, and yes we still have to line up for half an hour for a seat. I had a bit of a food coma all afternoon due to so much frita frita frita. Everything is fried here too, so chicken salad for me went down very well! The others of course had to try the Lomo Saltado, as they do in nearly every restaurant, clearly a favourite, unfortunately I cannot have it as it is made with onions and soy sauce and it really would not be possible without these key ingredients, so I get a pass from this test. We were all so full after dinner we had to walk to digest so we walked down to Larco Mar, the big shopping centre on the water in Ritzy Mira Flores. It was funny watching the young line up to enter the night clubs, and it is not an unfamiliar scene to Sydney with girls barely wearing anything, having to change out of ‘normal’ clothes in the bathrooms into their outfits packed in backpacks. Ahhh how glad I am to be married and not go through such a scene.
Day 4 we visited Gamarra, a large central markets which yes was an experience, not all good though. Basically if I knew it was going to be that chaotic, that crazy, that scattered I would have said no, please take me to the shopping centre where people are calm, things are easy to find and there is no chance of getting mugged. For an outsider or someone who is not used to things like that, it is not all fun, especially when my hand was getting squeezed and I was getting nudged left, right and centre as a reminder not to speak English. Yes things were cheap and yes we needed to buy some items ahead of Cusco, but at the end of the day I would be happy to pay more for sanity than go back there and fight the crowds. For those who have not seen it, I would liken it to walking through Town Hall at 11am on Boxing Day to go to the sales in Sydney…. A nightmare.
By the end of the day we planned to get our hair done ahead of the big family lunch tomorrow, but as we arrived at the hairdresser, which you cannot book, we were advised that there were people waiting ahead of us. An hour later we left, another example for me of un-organization, something I am told Peruvians are not famous for, and as a Project Manager, something that is foreign to me.
Day 5 we rose bright an early to prepare for our wedding blessing and lunch with the family. This included doing my own hair and make up as shops do not open until quite late in the morning. Family rolled in from 8am we greeted and took photos with then left for the church around the corner.
The ceremony was lovely and our blessing I know was appreciated by all that were there. Back at the house Chris and I even did a first dance and then continued to dance with many family members, like a mini reception. The day was not only for us, it was also the 88th birthday of Mama Celes. We seemed to do things in reverse as we cut a cake at the house then left for lunch at Gaston’s new restaurant La Barra at Casa Moreyra. The restaurant itself, Casa Moreyra is an old Spanish style house which was to be sold only to Gaston or not sold at all, we are told. La Barra or The Bar is like an semi indoor/outdoor space with plenty of natural light and a casual atmosphere about it.
There was nothing casual about the service though, they were on top of every request we could possibly have had, none more annoying I am sure than the kitchen preparing an individual menu for me without gluten, onion or lactose. I had my own bread which was delicious, stretchy (i.e. did not fall apart like normal gluten free bread) and was actually soft and fresh (not frozen). I also had an individual portion of every dish of the menu as I know the others did not want to share my intolerances with me. Here is the food that we enjoyed on the day.
LA BIENVENIDA (The Welcome)
Aceitunas olivar de San Isidro, maní acaramelado con curry, aceite de oliva, pan campesino, pan chapla, pan para Celiacos
San Isidro olives, caramelized peanuts with curry powder, olive oil with an assortment of breads
DEL MAR (From the Sea)
ALMEJAS, chalaca, semillas de tomate confitadas, flores de cilantro
Clams with corn, tomato seeds and coriander flowers
CAUSA, bonito ahumado, aceite de escabeche, mostaza y piel de limón
Causa with cured tuna, pickled olive, mustard and lemon peel
TIRADITO, salsa nikkei, nabo, frejol chino, sésamo blanco, ají limo
Tiradito with salsa Nikkei, turnip, chinese beans, white sesame and lime chilli
CEBICHE, pesca del día, leche de tigre al rocoto, chicharrón de calamari
DEL CAMPO (From the Country)
SALTADO DE QUINUA, langostinos cristal, verduras crujientes, naranja
Sautee of quinoa, lobster, green vegetable crudités and orange
ALCACHOFAS FRITAS, arvejas, jamón, huevo frito, hojas de menta
Fried artichoke with peas, ham, fried poached egg and mint leaves
DE LA CIUDAD (From the City)
YUCAS ESCABECHE, jamón del país, alcaparras, cebolla, aji y hierba buena
Pickled yuccas with roasted pork, capers, onion and herbed chilli
AEROPUERTO, de pulpo y papada, pecanas, fideos fritos, huevo, frejolito
Stir fry with octopus, pecans, fried noodles and egg
LAS FUENTES DEL DIA (Large dishes of the Day)
Stir fry of beef with fried potatoes, onions and tomatoes
POLLO ENRROLLADO, de hongos y hierbas, papa huamantanga con crema acida y ajíes dulces
Rolled Chicken with mushrooms, herbs, potatoes with cream and sweet chilli
POSTRES DEL DIA (Desserts of the Day)
TORTA DE LÚCUMA
Lucuma cake, one without gluten or lactose (I am boring, but I was the only one who had a piece so at least everyone else got to taste the real cake, which I was told was delicious. Surprisingly my not so fun cake was soft, flavoursome and also ‘ricisimo’)
We were all so full before we even got to the large plates that we had to take home quite a few doggy bags which we shared around with some of the guests. It was such a great lunch, not only due to the relaxing atmosphere, live music and sunlight streaming in but the great company. For me restaurants like this are quite the norm but for a lot of these people they would not dream to dine like we did. You could see how appreciative and just excited they were. Their faces beamed when we met Astrid, one of the owners of Astrid & Gaston and Casa Moreyra. A lot of the guests raced towards her hoping for a photo which she was more than happy to pose for. She gave us her time and best wishes and was such a pleasure to talk to. Like many of the guests meeting Astrid made my day too.
We left all with food babies, probably twins, and retired for the rest of the afternoon…..but our rest was short lived as we had to pack for our next adventure, Cusco, which we were to leave bright and early the following day. That is a whole other story!