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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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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1906 veggie buffet on a train: hola bland

I’ve talked A LOT about meat restaurants recently. There was the BBQ joint in Texas and then there was La Luche in Miraflores. In this post I’m going to go all out vegan and tell you about a meal I ate in an English train carriage dating from 1906 in Barranco, Lima.

We’d walked along the seafront from Miraflores to Barranco, mainly to stretch out legs after spending nine hours on the plane the day before. After visiting an art gallery, I saw a train carriage that was being used as a restaurant. “That’s cool,” I thought. Then I realised it was a vegetarian buffet, on a train. My three favourite things!

For 18 soles (£4) I could get all you can eat on a train. Ok, the food was leaning towards what I call “dull veggie offerings”, but I was swayed by the pickled radishes, the biggest purple olives I’ve ever set eyes on, and tiny knobbly potatoes baked in seasalt and garlic.

And it was on a train. I sat back with my bottle of cusqueno beer, wished it was ten degrees warmer (the city is like a foggy icebox) and dug into olives so large that I had to gnaw on them like an apple. Bliss. The rest of the food was a bit “meh”. A bowl of salad, a vat of steamed vegetables, grated radishes and tomatoes with no salsa or dressing, and a bowl of boiled potatoes.

But the quinoa salad with beetroot mixed with the pickles was heavenly. The olives were absolutely random, and didn’t complement any part of the meal at all, but they were delicious so who cares? There was also a mysterious tureen of sopa de vegetales. I avoided this because it was basically hot water with some vegetables in it. Why do vegetarians do this to ourselves? This is why veggie food has a reputation for blandness. Add some smoked chiles, sweet peppers, ANYTHING, but please stop serving weird bowls of overcooked vegetables in hot water, vegetarian restaurants. Please? Ok, let’s move on.

The pebbly potatoes were the stars of the show. They were earthy and tender, and every bite felt as though I was tasting the descendent of all the potatoes I’ve ever eaten. Here, in Peru, was the original. The mother of all root vegetables.

There were several bottles of sauce to accompany the plates. One was a fiery tomato salsa, another was an avocado cream (not vegan), and the third could well have been pineapple salsa. It was sweet and smelt like custard, so I kept it away from my quinoa.

Everything I ate was lovely, but it won’t set your palate on fire. Although as soon as I get home I’m going to start pickling everything, because why the hell haven’t I already?

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The extraordinary world of La Luche sandwiches

What’s the point of writing this for a blog that’s meant to be for vegans? Sorry, and I hope any regular readers will forgive me for my foray into the world of carne, but as a dairy-free vegetarian, I still get too darn excited about exciting culinary discoveries (see previous post on Inca Kola).

La Luche was recommended to me by about ten different people. I rarely ask for recommendations for vegetarian or vegan food when I’m abroad because unless you’re in the States or Australia, chances are you’re going to end up at somewhere that serves steamed veg and a side-salad. NOT my type of food. So I much prefer it when I find somewhere that’s rated by everyone, and see what vegans can eat there. The answer is usually not much, but I get so much excitement from just looking at all the cool foodie ideas that I’ll tolerate the hunger.
And then when I get home, try to replicate the whole meal but without the meat.

So today we went to La Luche for breakfast/lunch/god knows what time it was. It’s opposite Kennedy Park in Miraflores and is a hole in the wall with a room full of basic chairs and tables behind it. It’s a sandwich shop, so come here if you want sandwiches. The choice of fillings is enormous, with options like turkey or chicharron (pork belly).

Sam opted for the traditional chicharron and ordered the patatas fritas (“the best in the city” allegedly). The fresh orange juice that I’d ordered for £1 kept me entertained while Sam polished off his sandwich.

The soft bread was filled with tender pork belly, with crunchy skin and scattered with sweet red onions which complemented the meat. Lining the meat were thick slices of slow-baked sweet potato, which served as the apple in this pork scenario. They were so well baked (I stole a bit that was hanging out the end, covered with red onion-amazing) that they almost worked as a sandwich paste: an extra layer of moisture in the meal.

The fries (as far as I could make out, the only vegan item on the menu) were crunchy and came with non-vegan friendly aioli, which was excellent. They certainly weren’t the best I’ve ever eaten, but if they’re the best in Peru, I won’t argue with that. IMG_2336.JPG

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