KiChic vegetarian hotel, Mancora

There are many things you expect to find in Peru, but a vegetarian boutique hotel wasn’t one of them.

I’ve waxed lyrical about the hotel on my sister blog, but now it’s the time for the restaurant to receive some serious acclaim of it’s own.

Gosh, where to even start? I suppose it would be easy to say that with a setting such as a white sandy beach, Palm Trees and the Pacific Ocean, even a bin bag covered in salt would taste great.

KiChic is the opposite of everything we’ve eaten in Peru so far. It’s the Mondrian of food: clean lines, block colours and a fresh take on the traditional. On the first day we arrived we shared a vegan burger. It was enormous, but it wasn’t enough. Filled with layers of avocado, coconut vegan mayonnaise, a quinoa and shiitake mushroom burger, and a heap of other little delights like raw onions marinated in coriander and lime-juice, the burger took vegan food to the next level. It was served with some unpleasant little cardboard crisps, like the kind you might take on a family picnic for the fussy eater. They were bland; we ignored them, the only duff note in this symphony of a restaurant.

The next time we had the KiChic sandwich and Causa starter. The sandwich sounded dull but got my vote for the best sandwich I’ve ever eaten. Ever. It had layers of fresh spinach, marinated mushrooms, heavy, briney purple olives, caramelised onions, a hummus there for the texture rather than the flavour, and fresh from the tree avocados. A drizzle of Peruvian olive oil made it all sing.

Later that night, a green salad scattered with smoked sesame seed powder, crunchy tender stem broccoli, acidic green olives, arugula, and avocado was the star of the evening. A thin crisp pizza without cheese but scattered with those delicious purple olives popping with salt and fruity acidity complemented the salad.

For breakfast, miniature bowls of just-sweet granola came with jars of fresh yoghurt, or almond milk like mine. The next course, a glass of chilled fruit juice (piña), the best coffee you will drink in Peru (fact, because it’s not Nescafé), perfectly scrambled, poached or fried eggs, and then a miniature basket of bread served with homemade papaya jam. Ok, here’s the thing. I hate papaya, passionfruit, apricot and peach jam. As far as I can tell, any of these flavours are an abomination and the maker should just stick to a strawberry or tart blackcurrant. But if you happen to be a fan of papaya, you will dig this.

KiChic gets everything right. From the peaceful, chic, surroundings, to the incredible variety of vegan and veggie dishes served with unwavering politeness and friendliness from the staff. If I come back to Peru, this place will be a massive reason why.

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Japanese-Peruvian fusion: another, more authentic take two!

One of the last things I did before leaving the UK was to eat at Chotto Matte, a restaurant I disliked with venom and intensity which claimed to marry Peruvian and Japanese flavours. Considering that I was probably being a bitch to Peruvian/Japanese food in general, I made it my mission to try some Japanese/Peruvian food while I was here. I was recommended so many fabulous sounding places, including two which really stood out for me: Maido and Osaka. We’re going to try to get a reservation at Maido before our late flight to New York tomorrow, because sadly we weren’t able to go yesterday.

Instead we went to Edo Sushi Bar, a place in Miraflores that had been recommended to us by several people and confirmed in it’s superness by Tripadvisor.

We seemed to have stumbled into the Lima-version of Shoreditch. Lots of bars with exposed brickwork/stonework/unfinished furnishings lined the streets and we resisted holing up in one of then and having a few beers rather than feeling like we HAD to eat fusion.

I’m glad we pressed on, even though guiltily, at the end of the meal, I did say to Sam that Wasabi (a chain in the UK) would have been tastier. But yeh, yeh, I know-I’m a heathen.

I ordered off menu and got some pretty standard avocado maki rolls. A bowl of brown fried rice and vegetables with lime was 200 times more edible than a similar dish we got at Chotto Matte (and no lotus root-WIN!). A sesame cucumber salad lacked punch, and other than the crunch of the sesame seeds, didn’t taste like sesame at all.

Sam’s crab tsuke maki (crab rolls filled with tempura crab, seaweed and topped with Cerviche) was an interesting, if chewy combination. I loved the addition of the marinated, limey onions and coriander on top of the rolls and sneakily added it to my brown rice when Sam wasn’t looking .

My maracuya sour (pisco sour but flavoured with passionfruit instead) was laden with alcohol (fab) but also tasted a bit like jam.

Overall, hoping that Maido will be amazing, otherwise I feel as though I’m done trying to make this japan-fusion thing work. The Chinese fusion in Peru (Chifa) is fabulous and hopefully will come to England soon and replace all these weird, Japanese places. Looking at you, every other restaurant in Soho…

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What’s cooking on the streets of Lima?

So we’re back in Lima, and we’ve made great inroads into the street food again.

The first time we were here, we didn’t want to eat too much street food just in case it set us back for the whole vacation with a runny-tummy bug. But now, who cares? There’s only an epically long flight home, New York and work left this week!

Picarrones

I discovered that picarrones are not only delicious, but they’re also dairy free, so I had the time of my life yesterday after spotting a woman in a park stretching hoops of the pumpkin dough out and tossing them into a vat of boiling oil. She then skewered five out and threw them on a paper plate where her picarrones partner squirted a sticky black date syrup all over them. They’re heavier than doughnuts, but not as sickly because of the fruit syrup. Absolutely delicious for just 5 soles (£1) and I’ll be heading out to buy another portion later. Available on pretty much every street corner and every park in Peru.

Egg… and potato

Literally patatas com huevo. We’d just got off the nightbus from Mancora to Lima (also to be interpreted as from 30 degree sunshine to 18 degree fog), and we noticed a group of Limena’s huddled around this food cart. A fifty year old man or so had a tureen of soft, floury, potatoes which he put on a plate, mashed down a little, added a whole egg, then covered in salsa and a squirt of spicy green stuff. Wish I could tell you what the spicy green stuff was, but it was salty and sour and bitter and made the warming dish absolutely perfect as a quick hot water bottle for the stomach.

Cerviche

This isn’t a new one-everybody knows what this is! But I’ve never eaten Cerviche like they serve it on the street. In the UK and America Cerviche is all about fresh fish-little curls of miniature octopi, a chunk of fresh crab, raw onion and a stunning sauce. But here, for two soles (50p), you can get a whole plate either vegan or non-vegan. Firstly, the vendor squeezes a whole lime into a bowl, followed by a squirt of red chilli sauce. With a teaspoon he scrapes a bit of salt and a bit of sugar and throws them into the metal dish. A spoon of onions mixed with coriander, a spoon of (Andean beans or white, raw fish), a spoon of fresh, huge, sweet corn, a spoon of toasted, puffed corn and a choice of a deep fried bit of squid. I opted for the vegan option and he churned it all together with a spoon and tipped it onto the tray. Sam’s non-vegan dish is pictured.IMG_2747.JPG

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Why it’s been tough to update in the mountains

I haven’t updated my food blog in a few days, because honestly, we haven’t eaten anything that’s been remarkable. We’ve been carb-loading in Gringo cafés… (If you’ve missed my updates about travelling around Peru then check out my sister blog at http://www.exploreitmore.blogspot.com).

In Huaraz we ate a lot of Gringo fare: hummus, dips, tostadas… It was all pretty standard. We had a few portions of food unpleasant enough to forget and swiftly walk away from, and frankly, these foods were so disgusting, and throwupable, that blogging about them wasn’t worth the effort (see: Lucuma fruit, weird free breakfasts given out on Cruz del Sur bus journeys, frizzy yuca from DCO).

So I apologise for the neglect of sizeable updates, but genuinely, you don’t want to know. But now we’ve come to Mancora, there are a few places that are really worth blogging about.

Mancora is perhaps the most gringo-ey town in the whole of Northern Peru, so I wasn’t expecting the food offerings to be much good. Their specialities are unsurprisingly fresh fish and cerviche. But for some reason they also have a plethora of places that serve up vegan food.

Helen, a Canadian-Peruvian who works at KiChic, one of the boutique hotels along the coast, thinks that more people are starting to become Vegan in Peru: “It’s such a small number, but it’s a class thing. The wealthier people are starting to think about eating well, eating better. It’s also an educational thing. YOung children in most Peruvian schools aren’t taught about diets or nutrition. They get what they’re fed and it’s usually junk food.” Helen also volunteers in a local private school and notices that although the she believes the mood towards unhealthy view is changing in Peru, there are always people selling cookies and Oreos outside the school gates.

At the Mistura food festival I got chatting to a man who was running one of five vegan stalls at the festival. “Last year there were no vegan or vegetarian stalls, so to have five this year shows that there is growing industry.”

We chat about the rise of dairy free milks in Peru, and he points out that there is no fear from local milk companies because they are the ones also creating the milk alternatives. Interesting, huh? I wonder why Cravendale don’t start doing that in the UK?

Anyway, the next few food blogs are most likely going to be some food and restaurant reviews around Mancora. I keep meaning to try a vegetarian Cerviche so I can blog about it, but everytime I go to buy it, I get cold feet and order a more delicious sounding dish. And frankly, anything is more delicious sounding than the though of cold, marinated mushrooms in lime. But I promise, before I leave, to ty a vegan cerviche once. And then I’ll share how gross it is with you all. Lucky me. Urrghh.

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Lima’s Mistura food festival: a celebration of the world’s cuisine du jour

Every September, hundreds of stallholders decamp to a field next to Lima’s ocean road in S
the district of San Magdalena. This is Mistura, the two week food festival that celebrates Peruvian cuisine from all over the country, and I was lucky enough to be there (and get a ticket).

Like other massive countries, Peruvian cuisine differs across the region. In the Andes, potao dishes and hearty stews are most popular, whereas further north up the coastline near Mancora is fiery hot Cerviche. In the Amazon basin, fat river snails and river fish are used in dishes. This is slowly making inroads into Peruvian restaurants.

Mistura exhibits the whole of Peruvian cuisine, and the festival is absolutely massive. The tents, stages and stalls are exhibited over around land the size of three football pitches. I was given a map when I arrived, and was glad that the space was demarcated with signs like: The World of Cerviche and The World of Sweets. It made it far easier to explore. Dotted around the site were multiple stalls selling Peruvian favourites like anticuchos and picarones, so those needing a dose of comfort food would be able to rush to the nearest stand.

At first the site was completely overwhelming, especially for a vegetarian. And then we began to approach stalls, try free samples of honey-bread, dark chocolate, pisco, sausage (for Sam) and cheese (Sam). I was also surprised to see a vegan cake stall and a veggie burger stand. The burger was salty and had zero flavour or texture, but at least it was calorific.

Our first stop was a tamalitos from the Pienas region of Peru, where people consider themselves to be a slightly different nationality than Peruvians. The tamalitas verde was steamed in a leaf and was made of pressed corn and coriander. It tasted slightly like cake and was served with slices of raw onion and chilli, soaked in the most amazing spicy-lime dressing.

After this we grazed a bit more from the stalls, trying salsas and olives, and then headed towards the cerviche “world”. There were massive queues here, and we headed towards the most popular looking one and ordered something fried in bredcrumbs rather than the traditional cerviche dish that everybody else was going for. This was a massive error as the fish was cold, dry and had a texture of grit. There was also a random breaded claw that Sam avoided. Despite this the accompanying raw onion, potato, and dressing was delicious. I’ve eaten a lot of raw onion today.

A large part of the dulce del mundo tent was skewers of strawberries and marshmallows dipped in coconut and dark (vegan) chocolate, so we polished off a few of those. Thirsty, we got a beer and chicha murada which was the most horrific purple corn drink. I can’t pretend that it was nice for me, but if you like sugar and root beer then I imagine you’d quite like it.

Sam picked up some picarones (doughnut rings) drizzled in date syrup to finish off the day’s eatings. I dipped my finger into the date syrup and can confirm it tastes amazing-like a thin, almost drinkable molasses.

After having spent four hours grazing the festival, accidentally ending up on Peruvian TV, being asked to pose next to an old man in a family photograph, watching a cook-off in Spanish, and having walked two hours to get there from Miraflores, we started the long walk back along the Pacific Ocean seafront. A good day experiencing Peruvian food, and thankfully, no snails.

Panchita: Lima’s inside street dining

If Peru is one of the world’s culinary capitals, then it’s only fair to go to one of the best restaurants in the capital and sample some superlative cooking. And you’ll find it at Panchita.

One of the restaurants founded by Peruvian culinary heavyweight Gaston Acurio (he who kickstarted the Peruvian food revolution singlehandedly), Panchita pays homage to local streetfood. This place does more than pay homage to. It worships local streetfood. There’s no fussing around with edible flowers or spirulising zucchini, but there is well flavoured, well cooked food, and lots of it.

It’s also the first restaurant we looked at that had a main-course option for vegetarians, so it was a no-brainer to go there. One of the waitresses spoke english, so she was able to pinpoint and adapt dishes on the menu that were “sin mantequilla, queso, y leche”, or, without dairy. Ideal.

Although there was a gulf between Sam and I (there was a helluva lot of table-at least a squared metre), we were still able to chat and plan our trip. Traditional Peruvian music was turned low enough so we could drown it out.

A platter of breads and dips turned up unannounced: pockets of soft flatbread, loaf-like rolls and two soft white buns. Chimichanga, taramasalata, two spicy butters and an unidentifiable but very orange, very spicy, and very delicious dip accompanied the breadboard.

To balance out what Sam had ordered, which was basically a plate of fried offal, I had a mushroom and asparagus skewer. Ok, don’t get too excited guys. It wasn’t as tedious as it sounded by a long stretch. The mushrooms and asparagus had been marinated in a garlicky, tomato rub, and the crisp burnt onions and peppers added some texture to the dish. It was served with three enormous golden potatoes and a stack of (un)buttered corn. These kernels would put Cerviche in Soho to shame, they were so large and flavoursome. But it was the mushrooms that were the standout. They were almost crusty from being in the grill, yet still filled with juices that ran out and soaked the crispy potatoes, filling them with flavour.

We ordered deep fried yuca as a side and a portion of fried plantains. The meal would have been fine without either of these dishes, except that by ordering them I remembered how much I dislike stand-alone plantain, and how dry and unappetising yuca is. Even deep frying it (and God knows they tried) did nothing to improve the slightly chalky sweet texture and impenetrable dryness of these root vegetable. The only way to eat this (and enjoy it) would be to slather it in chipotle mayonnaise or provide some type of limey salsa to balance out the strange dryness. This is through no fault of Panchita (who did a remarkable job making it as edible as it was), and entirely the fault of the vegetable.

The pisco sour was beyond beautiful: it was alcoholic enough to burn slightly, but the thick layer of egg white soothed the throat immediately. God I love pisco sours. And I seem to be in the right place, seeing as I’m heading to Pisco the day after tomorrow.

The service was excellent, the food (apart from the yuca) was sublime, and, if I didn’t have to go and see some penguins tomorrow, I’d eat there again and again.IMG_2364.JPG

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Inca Kola – everyone’s favourite Peruvian drink

We were warned against it. Friends told us that it would lead to certain sugar rush/tooth decay. And yet Inca Kola is what you see in everyone’s hands across the city, swigging from the bottle like a normal bottle of Coca Cola.

Except this stuff messes with your mind. Everything, from the colour, to the smell to the taste, is the opposite of what you’d expect.

I picked up a bottle from a street vendor who inclined his head toward me. A nod of approval towards a fellow Inca Kola drinker.

Firstly, the colour is just so lurid you think it’s undrinkable. It’s like that hilarious time your joker friend pissed in a bottle of beer and then put it back on the shelf to drink. It’s THAT colour. The sort of colour you’d expect to at least have a flavour of limon or citrus. And then the smell hits you. It’s like the most chemical induced blue raspberry slush puppy you ever ordered from a bowling alley when you were twelve and you thought your tongue changing colour was the coolest thing ever. And then the taste. This is where your mind messes up. What could a drink the colour of lemons and the scent of chemical raspberry possibly taste like?

Sugar. It’s like candyfloss and bubblegum rolled into one, 410ml bottle (even though it’s produced by Coke, they probably know that any more than 410ml and you’re dead). The taste isn’t unpleasant and it’s not as sweet as you think it’s going to be. In fact, after half a bottle, you reckon you could take it all the way down. And then just as you go to tilt another swig into your mouth, you notice that each 250ml is more than a third of your daily recommended sugar allowance.

Perhaps it’s best to move back to the water.

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