Lima is a famed culinary hot spot. Boasting three restaurants on the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list (on par with New York and Tokyo) and many several celebrity chefs, it’s known as the gastronomic heartland of South America. And it’s true. Almost everything I ate was considered and delicious. But I experienced two very different approaches to Limeño food.
The Lima that most travellers see revolves around the hip central areas of Miraflores and Barranco and has been finessed to perfection. These areas are clean, sophisticated and importantly safe. Of course that’s where travellers go. That’s exactly where I stayed over several weekends.
But Lima is a city of 9.7 million (30% of Peru’s population) and not everyone can afford these desirable suburbs. The city has sprawled extensively to cope with the population influx and the outskirts of Lima are an entirely different proposition to the centre. I came to appreciate this when I spent weeks volunteering at an NGO school for disadvantaged children in Saint Martin de Porres. It’s a mere 20km from central Lima but the difference in living conditions could not be more stark.
However it was the difference in eating which really fascinated me.
Think of Peru and you think ceviche and pisco sours, si? During my time in Saint Martin de Porres I didn’t come close to either. Yet in central Lima you can’t take two steps without tripping over a stylish venue that offers both.
Peru has an enviably long coastline and despite laying claim to just 0.1% of the world’s sea it produces 10% of the world’s seafood. But I found that people in Saint Martin de Porres rarely ate seafood. Partly because of the cost and partly because they are so enamoured with chicken that they have no time for seafood.
Chicken and carbs are what sustain most Peruvians day in and day out. Rice, potatoes, bread. Heaven help you if you’re celiac. And if you’re a vegetarian it’s huevos for you. One vegetarian volunteer found herself eating rice and eggs three times a day while at the school.
I marvelled at how many carbs could be amalgamated into one meal. Quinoa and potato stew with rice was the epitome of this approach. For lunch and dinner. With bread for breakfast. Salad and vegetables did not feature heavily. Or at all.
Peruvians are also extremely religious. They pray before every meal. They don’t really drink. And off topic slightly, because they live at home until marriage there are literally thousands of ‘hostals’ offering rooms by the hour for romantic dalliances that could never happen at home. Read More