As Peru takes its place on the global stage as a can’t-miss destination, one facet of the diverse country still draws the most interest: the unique Peruvian gastronomy. If you’re looking for a foodie destination to break your diet in, we suggest Peru and, more specifically, the capital city of Lima.
One thing we insisted upon doing while in Lima was venturing out for a real Peruvian meal. Sure, the food on the cruise is free and we should probably be taking more advantage of that, but why the hell would you eat a steak cooked in the belly of a boat when you could venture out on your own in an unfamiliar place to rustle up some grub? Food poisoning be damned!
Anyway, during a city tour of Lima we broke away from our guide to find some lunch. We waltzed into a hole in the wall in the Barranco neighborhood and immediately sucked down some beer and corn nuts. Corn is an extremely important crop in Peru, and you’ll find huge, pearly white kernels of the Peruvian variety in most dishes – or just fried on your table as a salty appetizer.
Of course, that wasn’t enough to satiate us. For the bulk of our lunch we consumed a calamari ceviche served on scallop shells. Peruvian citizens consider ceviche to be something of a national treasure, and the dish of raw seafood, onions, corn, and citric acid (used to “cook” the seafood and kill bacteria) is the traditional dish of the coastal region. Needless to say, this meal of ceviche on the half shell was enjoyed quickly yet thoroughly.
For dinner we opted to pay a little more and try out one of the famous beachfront restaurants in Lima that attract a crowd of young, beautiful people on a nightly basis. There are a few to chose from, but we opted for Cala in the Miraflores district because it looked the most modern and had an open air club attached to it.
Cala did not disappoint. After a round of Pisco Sours and some fresh rolls with hot pepper infused butter, we dug into another plate of ceviche. This version of the classic Peruvian dish was vastly different from our earlier sample, however. The ceviche mixta at Cala contains all the usual ceviche staples – scallops, octopus, sea bass, corn, and sweet potato – but the whole thing is marinated in a bright yellow sauce made from aji amarillo, the yellow pepper found most frequently in Peruvian cooking. It was spicy, vinegary, and delicious enough for us to inappropriately eat the leftover sauce as if it were a hearty soup.
For the main course we continued with seafood because, duh, it’s a seafood restaurant right next to the Pacific Ocean. To choose a land dwelling animal to eat at Cala would be almost sacrilegious. This dish was a fillet of red snapper served over a hefty pile of creamy shrimp risotto and doused in a spicy corn broth (again with the corn). I ate it and felt obese afterward but not a care was given that day.
My travel companion ordered grilled grouper served with something called “aphrodisiac sauce,” the ingredients of which we couldn’t really translate. Seeing as we are nothing more than platonic, however, the sauce’s mystical horniness powers were lost on both of us. It was still damn good, though.
I can honestly say that the food at Cala (and all the food I’ve consumed in Peru thus far, really) is some of the best seafood I’ve ever eaten. I recommend a trip to Lima for several reasons (all of which I’ll get into when I have more time to digest the full Peruvian experience), but the food alone is enough to get me booked on a return trip. If you’re a seafood lover – or you just like putting really pretty/tasty things in your mouth – you’ll feel the same.