For a city founded in the 16th century, the capital of Peru, on the Pacific coast, is large and modern, though its colonial core remains. Along with New York, London, and Mexico City, it is one of the food capitals of the world, with three restaurants on the prestigious 50 World’s Best Restaurants list and a gastronomy reflecting Andean, coastal, and Amazonian influences. Come with me as we explore. (This is the first of a three-part series on Peru.)
Name that fruit. It’s not so easy, is it? Lima’s Surquillo mercado gathers the bounty of the desert, the highlands, and the jungle. Peru.
Nature’s pharmacy: Many Peruvians prefer natural remedies over pharmaceuticals, the knowledge passed from generation to generation. Mothers give the juice of the granadilla to babies to help them thrive. The juicy fruit with the edible seeds tastes a little like a pomegranate, orange, and passion fruit combo. More medicine, por favor. Surquillo market, Lima.
Hot tamale: Weekends are for eating tamales, declares Olga, who makes and sells up to 100 a day at Lima’s Surquillo mercado for about 60 cents each. They’re all made with corn and stuffed with cheese and/or meats, some wrapped in corn husks and steamed; others wrapped in banana leaves and boiled. My Peruvian friend Mirna gives it a thumbs up.
Ocean view: The Pacific as seen from an overlook in Lima’s Barranco neighborhood. Peru.
At the rooftop of the tony Hotel B in Lima’s Barranco neighborhood, bartender Jose Luis reveals the secret of making the perfect pisco sour. Shaken, not blended, he says. The egg-white layer should be thin, “just a few millimeters,” and since some people can smell the egg whites, add a touch of bitters as an aromatic. There you have it. Peru.
Taste the jungle: Amaz uses the Amazon jungle as its pantry, highlighting (tastily and tastefully) the promise and the plight of world’s most biodiverse region. Miraflores, Lima.
A heavenly rice pudding with mango sorbet at Amaz, Miraflores, Lima, Peru.
What’s art, anyway? You can decide for yourself at MAC, the Museum of Contemporary Art. Barranco, Lima, Peru.
The famous fashion photographer Mario Testino, a Peruvian, has a small museum, called MATE, in Lima’s Barrancos neighborhood. Find all your celebs here. There’s even a room devoted to Princess Di, as he took the last portraits of the tragic royal before her death.
Cusco couture: I wish I could say I took this picture; Mario Testino did. After a career training his lens on celebrities and models, he focused on the indigenous peoples in his native Peru. This stunning series of photos is to me his greatest work. MATE, Barranco, Lima, Peru.
Many museums, shops, and restaurants in Barranco are housed in historical early 20th century homes, once the weekend residences of the Lima elite. This is the courtyard of the MATE museum. I can’t get enough of these climbing foliage. Lima, Peru.
Barranco, Lima, Peru.
Not grumpy old men: Shooting the breeze outside the Church of San Agustin, established in the 16th century. Downtown Lima, Peru.
One of the most interesting sites in downtown Lima, the church and convent of Santo Domingo was built on land granted to the Dominicans by the Spanish monarchy. It’s a beautifully ornate complex, full of tiles and bones and paintings and saints’ relics.
The walls of the courtyard of the Santo Domingo church and convent are lined with Spanish tiles; some are stamped with the year 1620. Downtown Lima, Peru.
These things on the shelves are called books; before smartphones, they held all the world’s information. The library in Lima’s Santo Domingo church and convent is filled with them--wall to wall, floor to ceiling. There are some extremely rare texts in the collection. The church needs funds for preservation; luckily the dry climate at least keeps the bookworms away. Peru.
A convergence of science and religion: The Santo Domingo church houses the remains, in particular the skulls, of three Roman Catholic saints--Peruvian St. Martin de Porres (the first black saint), St. Rose of Lima (patron saint of South America and the Philippines), and the Spanish-born San Juan Macias (who evangelized in Peru in 1620). 3-D printing copies of the saintly skulls allowed for a scientific recreation of their faces. So now we have a pretty good idea of what they actually looked like. Every inch of this church and convent is fascinating, if a touch morbid. (Not even showing you the reliquary of bones in the basement.) Lima, Peru.
This one’s for you, Mom: The patron saint of the Philippines (as well as South America and the Caribbean), Rose of Lima is also the patroness of gardeners, florists, and embroiderers. And, perhaps far more useful to people the world over, the patron saint of those with family problems (she famously fought against her family’s wishes for her to marry, preferring the nun’s life). Santo Domingo church, Lima, Peru.
We’re arguably in the world’s best food city, so we eat. This visual marvel is a seafood omelette from the tasting menu at Fiesta, which fuses the culinary traditions and bounty of northern Peru with modern artistry and presentation. I’m a little allergic to lobster and crabs and shrimp so I only had a couple of bites but they were good ones. Miraflores.
Pretty in pink: The Miraflores neighborhood is a choice spot to live; it’s also the best spot for travelers to base themselves in. Narrow streets lined with flower-bedecked homes and stores emanate from two commercial avenues. We’re with friend and local resident Annelies Hamerlinck, who takes us to one of her favorite breakfast spots, Homemade, for organic coffee and egg dishes. Great meal, great company. Lima, Peru.
The houses in Miraflores are so cute if they had cheeks I’d be pinching them. Can’t we just adopt this one?
Here’s a fixer upper, complete with the Peruvian flag. While some houses (large ones or fancy modern ones with an ocean view) in this neighborhood can sell for $1 million or more, this one can’t be too expensive. Miraflores, Lima, Peru.
What’s not to love about El Parque del Amor, perched at the edge of the Pacific Ocean? Aside from the Seussian shrubbery, there’s a massive sculpture of a kissing couple and tiled structures marked with love poetry. I’m told they hold a kissing contest here and the winners held their kiss for more than eight hours. Miraflores, Lima.
Probably not the best venue for a first date. At el Parque del Amor along Lima’s malecon. Miraflores.
Not just for lovers, kids like it too. El Parque del Amor, Miraflores, Lima.
Is it time to eat again? Amazingly, Lima has three restaurants on the respected World’s 50 Best Restaurants list in 2017. Only three other cities (New York, London, and Mexico City) have as many. For a final Lima meal, how about we go to one of them? Astrid & Gastón is run by the famed Gastón Acurio, who first put Peru on the list in 2011 with his haute cuisine sourced from all corners of Peru. The restaurant has outgrown its original space and recently moved to this renovated colonial-era hacienda in the upscale neighborhood of San Isidro. Lima, Peru.
There are ten courses on the tasting menu, including lovely breads with exotic butters and a final “surprise.” I won’t go through all of them, but here’s one. A scallop, a little pisco, some coriander, pistachio, vanilla, and a magic dusting of apple “snow.” A treat for the eye and the tongue at Astrid & Gastón. Lima, Peru.
Peking duck with an Andean twist: Chinese laborers arrived in the 19th century and transformed Peruvian cuisine. Today there are Chinese-Peruvian restaurants, called chifas, everywhere. Here, chef Acurio elevates the Andean staple cuy, or guinea pig, with the flavors of Peking duck, complete with hoisin sauce and wonton wrapper. The result: Inspired.
Chef Gaston Acurio conveniently married a pastry chef, Astrid Gutsche. I don’t even know what this heavenly confection was because it was gone in an instant. Astrid & Gastón, San Isidro, Lima.
We are stuffed, but we can always make room for chocolate. There’s a long history of chocolate in Peru (some say it's the birthplace of cacao) and the country produces some of the most interesting varietals, so it would be downright irresponsible not to sample one, or three. Some are filled with traditional liquors, others infused with local fruits, and still others dusted in Peruvian herbs and spices, including coca leaf. How to choose, how to choose? Lima, Peru.
Photos © Norie Quintos