One of my personal goals is to spend the next few years exploring more of South America and all that it has to offer. My time in Ecuador first introduced me to South American cuisine, however it wasn’t until I went to Peru that I developed a true appreciation and understanding of it. My Peruvian journey began in Lima, the capital city of Peru and also a gastronomic hub which has exploded in the last few years.
I believe that the best way to really experience a new city is with a local, so whenever I travel, I like to get a little more off the beaten path and explore it with someone who has long called the city their home. After many years of trial and error, I finally found a travel company by the name of Urban Adventures which offers day tours to various cities around the world. I’ve experienced over 8 of their tours across the globe and have yet to be disappointed by any of them. Quite simply put, they get it.
When planning my recent trip to Peru, I immediately went to their website where I was pleased to discover that they offered various different tours in Lima. Since I had a couple of days to kill before I began my journey to Cusco, I signed up for their Gastronomic tour called Night Bites & Sites and their Coastal Bike tour (to work off all that food of course).
I wasted no time and hopped on their Gastronomic tour the same night I arrived into Lima where I met up with my guide Georgio who was born and bred in Lima. This intimate tour (consisting of just one other person and I) was anything but a tour. It honestly felt like I was meeting up with an old friend and we wandered through the city having a casual conversation the whole time. We began in Barranco, which is a bohemian neighbourhood within Lima; home to many artists, poets, singers and songwriters. It is also home to some of the best food you will ever experience in your life (bold statement I know).
Georgio started walking us through the main square and went into detail about Lima’s political history, as well as some of the cuisine this city is known for. Located right along the coastline, Lima has traditionally been a Fishermans town, so seafood is one of it’s main specialities. Although this city is best known for ceviche and pisco sours, it has far more to offer, and luckily Georgio would help us experience some of it. I’ve been told a Pisco Sour packs a mean punch, so it’s a good thing we began the night with eating lots of food to help soak up what we would be drinking later.
Diving Right in with Anticuchos
As we entered our first restaurant of the night, I had no idea what to expect. Georgio started talking about beef and how Peruvians would use most (if not all) parts of an animal when cooking it. This soon led to a plate of anticuchos (beef hearts) being placed right in front of me. I’m going to be honest when I say, this is not something I would normally chose to order off the menu, but when in Peru… eat like the locals do right?
I loaded up on their delicious yellow pepper hot sauce and went for it. The taste was rather ‘interesting’ and definitely not something I could compare to anything I’ve had before. But I couldn’t get over the size of the corn on my plate… the kernels were huge! Georgio assured me that none of the food in Peru is genetically modified because in 2012, the country launched a 10 year ban on GMO foods. The law is aimed at safeguarding the country’s agricultural diversity and preventing cross-pollination with non-GMO crops. It also helps protect Peruvian exports of organic products and quite frankly I think it’s genius! The Peruvian corn on my plate also known as Choclo, was just one of more than 55 varieties of corn grown by farmers along the Peruvian coast, highlands and jungle (that’s more corn varieties than anywhere else on Earth!).
Shots of Ceviche
The next stop on our culinary adventure would take us to experience the national dish that Lima is known for… Ceviche! Quite simply, this dish consists of a fresh raw fish cured in citrus (traditionally lemon and lime) and spiced with aji or chili peppers. There are of course variants of recipes that different chefs have created over the years, however the key to a good ceviche is the cut of fish and the freshness of the ingredients included in it.
I could have easily eaten 2 more plates of this, however I had to save room for dessert and piscos, so we made our way onwards through the streets of Barranco.
After filling our stomachs with delicious Peruvian food, it was time for dessert! Within 5 minutes of ordering, a plate full of what looked like donuts was placed down before me called ‘Picarones’. This Peruvian dessert originated in the colonial period and its main ingredients are squash and sweet potato. It is served in a doughnut form and covered with syrup, made from chancaca. (Imagine a syrup reminiscent of Maple Syrup smothered over a donut-like dish).
The Pisco Sour
Ask anyone what you need to experience in Lima, and one of the top answers will surely be to learn how to make a Pisco Sour and try one for yourself. So that’s exactly what we did at the end of the night. Made out of grape wine, Pisco packs a serious punch at 40% (80 proof) so I would recommend drinking this later in the day as it will put you to bed in no time (jetlag cure?).
A standard Pisco Sour is made with Peruvian pisco as the base liquor and has Key lime (or lemon) juice, simple syrup, ice, egg white, and Angostura bitters to garnish it. There are however many bars which make their own incredble pisco mixes by combining various fruits in jars and infuse their flavours with the pisco. I highly recommend the Maracuyá Sour which is made with passionfruit and offers a sweet but not overpowering alternative to this classic cocktail.
As the night came to a close, we ended up sitting and chatting with Georgio for about another hour talking about a number of things, and I was immediately reminded the power of travel and how the simple act of socializing with a local can affect your trip and what you take from it. So often we travel from site to site, taking photos and learning about history, but rarely do we take the time to sit and have a decent conversation with someone we’ve just met. This is exactly the reason why I love embarking on Urban Adventures all over the world because the experiences they provide me are consistent, and I end up taking so much more away from the experience. If you ever find yourself in Lima, I encourage you to consider an Urban Adventure tour and experience a new city through the eyes of a local. You’ll thank me later ;)