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Published: August 27th 2012
Novoandino fusion by Gaston Acurio
Kiwicha roll filled with Amazonian nut paste, served with aji amarillo chili ice cream
By the time we're ready to leave Huaraz for the bright lights of Lima our legs are about to pack up - the Cordillera Blanca has been a stupendously beautiful backdrop to the last few days, but there are limits to how much our feet can take...
Although most people travel the eight or nine hours between Huaraz and Lima by night, Peruvian bus companies' persistent and infuriating habit of timetabling overnight departures to arrive at ungodly morning hours firmly puts us off the idea. Given that the first three or four hours of the journey are a stomach-churningly twisty descent from the heights of the Cordillera, it's just as well. Sleeping while being rolled from one side of your seat to the other is no easy task!
The bus reaches the outskirts of Lima by early evening, and the last two frustrating hours of this dull journey are spent crawling through the huge city's grey, dirty, dusty, gritty and seemingly endless suburbs. It's a most uninspiring start to our visit of Peru's capital city. Lima's geographical location and climate don't help matters much: the city is built slap bang in the middle of a featureless coastal desert, and
August really isn't the best time to visit. It's the middle of winter here - the city languishes for weeks on end under a thick cloak of low, dirty grey cloud. The weather is dominated by a persistent, fine drizzle known by locals as garúa
. The Sun doesn't shine for days, if not weeks at a time. After the resplendent blue skies and handsome mountain vistas of Huaraz, Lima at first glance is frankly awful. The bus finally pulls in to the terminal after dark, having inched its way through the late evening traffic. To say we're feeling positive about Lima right now would be quite an overstatement...
Lima is something of a higgledy-piggledy place, a jumble of old colonial-era buldings - Peru's frequent and powerful coastal earthquakes ensuring that there are far fewer of these than you would expect - and ugly concrete sprawl. While the old heart of the city retains some attractive features- such as its attractive and distinctive Plaza de Armas - it feels worn, down-at-heel and forlorn: indeed, Lima's commercial and social action has been comprehensively usurped by trendier neighbourhoods to the south, the biggest and best-known being Miraflores and San Isidro. These areas,
a few kilometres south of downtown, have the lion's share of Lima's chic restaurants, posh homes and exclusive shops. It feels a bit strange to wander around the streets of the city "centre" and realise that all the action upped sticks and moved out years ago - despite the government offices and a handful of architectural highlights, central Lima feels practically like a ghost town.
Miraflores, on the other hand, is like a breath of fresh air. While not particularly attractive aesthetically, Miraflores positively overflows with energy: centred around a couple of grassy parks teeming with friendly cats - always guaranteed to be a hit with us - the neighbourhood offers an almost endless selection of cafés, eateries, department stores, cinemas and fancy bookshops (the latter having been a real rarity in South America so far). It's our first taste of cosmopolitan city life for quite some time, and it is most, most welcome. Such is the selection of tempting places to eat that timetabling meals becomes our main concern for the next few days: the most pressing question being "how many meals can we justifiably fit into one day?". For a few days at least, the answer is
"as many as possible". From avant-garde chocolate shops - we have been utterly dismayed by the lack of good chocolate on this continent, despite the vast quantity of cocoa it produces - to pavement cafes where a plate of freshly-fried churros
can be munched on contentedly while watching Miraflores' smart resident go about their business, not to mention boring old breakfast-lunch-and-dinner, there is something to keep your jaws busy all day long.
Lima has a reputation for being South America's gastronomic capital city - after four days of almost non-stop eating we can vouch for the fact that this reputation is most thoroughly deserved. For many weeks before arriving in Lima, and even before arriving in Peru itself, we'd made a promise to treat ourselves to some of the city's best food. Not ones to renege on pledges made, we took our tastebuds on the ride of their lives. Highlights included causas a la limeña
, positively sculptural dishes concocted from mashed potato and assembled into architectural creations with Peruvian chilis, vegetables, fish and seafood; pulpo al olivo
, a delicious and typically Peruvian dish of octopus in a delicious sauce of liquefied purple olives; suspiro a la limeña
, an achingly
sweet but achingly delicious concoction of manjarblanco
milk caramel topped with gooey meringue...the list goes on and on.
The crowning glory of Lima's culinary scene, however, has to be its now world-famous fusion cuisine. Be it a geographical mix of east-meets-west or, intriguingly, a temporal novoandina
blend of precolumbian and modern - the undisputed king of both being Peruvian super-chef Gastón Acurio - Lima really does
fusion, and it does it really well. Japanese sushi rolls made with ceviche
-marinated fish...Lacquered guinea-pig served with purple corn pancakes in a mind-bending twist on Peking duck...Quinua and kiwicha, ancient precolumbian grains, fashioned into spectacular desserts...all I can say is, if only we had more time. A lot
All we have, sadly, is a few days: they pass by in a blur of shameless epicurean decadence. And, my goodness, does it feel good.
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