Peru, Oh, how you moved me.
My dear friend, Javier, is Peruvian. We became fast friends. In fact, I love him like a brother. He spent time with me teaching me his go-to authentic recipes. Lomo saltado, ceviche, and seco de pollo, just to name a few. He stressed the importance of the aji amarillo, which he always shleped back in his suitcase each time he went and came back. It was like gold to him. A piece of his home.
We can all relate on some level. While I didn't leave the only life I knew in 1990 in search of better opportunities, I'm almost certain that the sight, the smell, and the taste of these home cooked dishes bring him right back to his country and the comfort of his mother -- even on another mundane Monday in America. I get it. It's why I cook. Dishes that from first bite take you right back to childhood. Dishes that inspire you to take the second, the third, and fourth bites -- begging you to lick plates. Dishes that hug you, comfort you, and sooth whatever temporary mental or medical ailment that you might be suffering from at that time. How beautiful.
It was from that point on that I grew an appreciation for the culture and a deeper love for the food. He reminded me that no matter where you end up in life, you always bring a piece of home with you. This time, though, I had to see what he was missing -- what I was missing. So, I decided to take the hike. Not only for the culture and food, but also to see my beloved friend and the many nostalgias he often misses.
We visited Lima, Miraflores, Barranco, Ollantaytambo, Pisac, Cusco, and Aguas Calientes. I ate my way through all of em. Below are some of the dishes I dream about, long after I've eaten them.
Choritos a la Chalaca
A typical Peruvian appetizer. Choritos are mussels, and “a la chalaca” means “Callao-style“. They're simple and absolutely delicious. Basically, they're steamed mussels topped with an onion, pepper, tomato and lime mixture (with a kick of rocoto pepper). Usually they are served with cold beer before lunch, to get your palate in the mood for the next offering.
While in Barranco, Peru, we knew we had to visit the Ayahuasca Resto Bar for their pisco sours. It's an old mansion named after the traditional medicine. We ordered several appetizers consisting of empanadas, a pizza of sorts, the pulpo (octopus), and loads of "medicine". The pulpo was the most impressive. It came out on a sizzle platter. Sweet fantasy, baby.
Spaghetti - Garlic, clams & Rocoto
This was by far my favorite dish, but I'm a total pasta whore. Feeling the effects of the ten too many different versions of the pisco sour the night prior, we plopped down at La Mar. It was buzzing.
There was a long wait and we contemplated leaving. I'm glad we didn't. We ordered a coke (my go-to hangover cure) and sat in their lovely waiting area -- just staring at one another. They sat us shortly thereafter. My travel buddy ended up calling a cab before lunch arrived due to her unsettled stomach and I ate. Literally everything. It was a dirty job, but somebody had to do it.
Definitely don't miss this spot if you're ever in the area.