Mark Russell takes us on a whistle-stop tour of Lima, home of his Peruvian family.
Arriving at Lima’s Jorge Chavez airport, if you really want a taste of Lima ASAP – or you’re hungry after a long flight – there’s only one place for it. Next to the usual culprits like McDonalds, KFC and China Wok, you’ll find La Lucha Sangucheria Criolla, a place for a traditional Peruvian sandwich and drink. This place is so good. They make some of the best chicha morada (purple corn juice) and their pavo a la leña is a solid, foundational introduction to Peruvian gastronomy. A fast food restaurant by any means – but with that slow food appreciation all over it.
As you travel from the airport, it’s likely to be in a taxi, as public transport from the airport isn’t great. There are no trains and buses – ‘killer combis’, as they’re known – aren’t fit for suitcases and backpacks. So this is a perfect chance to practice your Spanish! Speak to a local maybe?
I have fond memories whenever I’m travelling from the airport – the huge billboards dominated by our well-known brands, including Coca-Cola, Nescafé; cars beeping; cramming into spaces, passing built-up areas and small five-a-side concrete pitches. Doesn’t sound like a place to have fond memories, but it brings back the memories of the last time I saw that and what amazing experiences lie ahead.
As you’re making your way to the south of the city, the tourist hotspots of Miraflores, Barranco and San Isidro are popular places to stay and enjoy the cosmopolitan side of Lima.
Usually, people arrive in Peru via Lima, with the plan to go straight to Cusco. It makes sense. Cusco is something completely unique, not like any other place, whereas a capital city is a capital city right?
"The dishes are a taste of Peru from every microclimate, respecting the indigenous cuisines and biodiversity of each area.”
Now, I’m not going to tell you that Lima is like a city you’ve never been to before, because it’s similar to quite a few. The downtown is very much like another Latin American downtown – not that touristy; heavy on the politics, palaces, plazas and the most prestigious museums. But, there are a few gems when it comes to eating out and experiencing a taste of Peru. Chez Wong will serve you seafood hot or cold. Simple as that. No fixed menu, however, this comes with its good and bad reviews. It’s a place steeped in history and is folkloric to many Limeños.
From the traditional, we head for the avant garde and Virgillio Martinez and Pia Leon. Husband and wife, one with the restaurant downstairs (Central, which regularly tops the list of Latin America’s 50 Best Restaurants) and one upstairs (Kjolle – not far behind!), in the heart of Barranco, the artist neighbourhood.
You can find the total terrain of Peru in a number of their dishes – you start at sea level and gradually move your way up through Peru, on to everything from lower slopes of the Andean valleys to the far away jungle. The dishes are a taste of Peru from every microclimate, respecting the indigenous cuisines and biodiversity of each area.
The final arm to their gastronomic adventures is their research initiative, Mater Iniciativa, based in the same building as the two restaurants and led by Malena Martinez, Virgillio’s sister. They have travelled throughout Peru finding the ingredients and the people who grow this food, learning about their cultures and ancestral knowledge.
An example of this is the coffee they serve at Central and Kjolle. Outside of Cusco, there is no place where you can taste the delights of Three Monkeys Coffee. An innovative and boundary-pushing coffee collective, it is growing and working with coffee farmers, improving quality and putting Peruvian coffee on the map. This relationship shows the depths and determination involved by the whole team at Mater Iniciativa to find, learn and share the gifts from nature that Peru provides.
Talking of coffee…
There’s a couple of great spots for coffee in Barranco – just up the road from Central you’ll find one of the first specialty coffee shops, Tostaduria Bisetti. A roastery and coffee shop, this place is a coffee experience. From the owners to the baristas, everyone involved with these coffee shops knows where the coffee is from, how it was processed, for how long and in what type of climate. To learn more about where coffee comes from and taste it in its most complimentary form, you have to go here.
Wandering around Barranco and watching the sunset would be a just way to spend the rest of the day. As you wander the streets you’ll find murals and street art symbolic of Peru’s indigenous culture and its heroes and heroines.
Coffee and archaeology? Lima has you covered for that too. Pachacamac is a not-very-well-known archaeological site, filled with temples and ruins created by a civilisation more than 1,000 years before the Incas.
It’s a little way out from Lima – 30 miles south of the city – but a half day tour with pick up and drop off will take care of all that. And while you’re there, it’s the perfect time to grab yourself your coffee fix, a nice sandwich or salad at the Mama Quilla (Mother Moon) roastery. Here, you can be served by Peru’s best barista – Renzo Ruiz Roman, will be representing Peru in Australia’s Barista World Championships later in the year.
Gracia Briceno from Mama Quilla is responsible for sourcing the coffee they roast and serve. She travels to many of the nine coffee regions in Peru, creating and cultivating personal relationships with many of the best coffee growers in Peru. Her knowledge and experience of roasting coffee helps her communicate with the coffee growers how the roasting process works and the impact it can have on the flavour of their green beans. Gracia works tirelessly to educate and support coffee growers in Peru, this effort has been rewarded many times too, it’s why Mama Quilla is one of the best roasters in Peru and a household name when it comes to Peruvian coffee.