Wednesday, August 27, 2008

On The Blogs: Lima Cafés @ Professor Zero

Photo: etringita
Professor Zero is the nom de plume of an academic living and working in Peru, who explains: "I blog pseudonymously because I want to write in a voice other than my academic one, because I secretly want to be a journalist and memoirist, and because 'journaling' has always seemed solipsistic to me."

Her blog, also named Professor Zero, reads like a collection of essays examining life in Peru, culture, race, literature, among other topics. Her posts are sometimes scholarly, other times more practical, always thoughtful and captivating.

She has kindly allowed us to republish a recent post about cafés in Lima, and between her post and her reader's comments, emerges a good list of places to visit, some with Wi-Fi, others without, where amidst the hubbub of the city, a good cup of coffee and solitude can be had. (For an older post about Lima cafés, click here.)

Feel free to continue to add to this list by leaving a comment, either here or at the original post at Professor Zero.

Note: When Professor Zero mentions Lima 1, she is referring to historic Central Lima.

We already know that of things one can have done to oneself at low prices in Lima, I prefer acupuncture over beauty services. We also know that I almost never go to restaurants, and that when I do, they are cheap ones, that I like Lima 1, and that I shop in the central market although the rest of my household is afraid to go in.

I have also nearly given up on the bus system, in favor of cabs, until further notice (i.e. until they finish the current obras [construction projects] which cause so many main arteries to be torn up and incapacitated) - because it just takes too long to ride buses around all the detours and through the congestion, because I am too lazy to re-learn all the road maps so that I can be an efficient taker of buses in these circumstances, because I can, or am willing to walk further than people from Lima can or are, and because, when faced with the choice of taking two buses at 1 nuevo sol apiece or one cab for 5 nuevos soles, I go for the cab, saying, “It is just a dollar” (really it is a little more, and over time these dollars add up, but still [and notice, I think in dollars because it is in dollars that I am paid]).

The other extremely bourgeois thing I do is sit in fancy cafés, the topic of this post.

I want to know about more of them since I currently only go to three and a half on a regular basis. (I used to go to various others in Lima 1, but I do not live there now. There are other cafés I go to occasionally, but which I think of more as bars or restaurants and suspect it would be invasive of me to use as offices). Because I only go to three a half and want to go to more, we are having an open thread on fancy cafés of Lima (good and bad).

Disqualified from the outset are Starbuck’s, the McDonald’s café (yes, it serves espresso), any café in a mall, and the café of the bookstore CRISOL. This last café looks good but is ultimately too flashy, and the wait staff appears never to have been customers in a café, so they do not know what they are doing. Now I will review the cafés I like.

Photo: Steve Burt
The HAITI on the Parque Kennedy is the most traditional and is probably everyone’s first choice. It’s an old fashioned café like those in Spain, with a professional wait staff and a varied restaurant menu too (expensive). Café con leche is currently $2.25 here and, give or take a few cents, in all other cafés of this level. This café is good for conversation and for reading, for study groups, and for writing in notebooks. I do not think it would look right there to set up a laptop, and I have not seen people do it; for me it is too noisy and busy there to be writing on a laptop, anyway. Maybe one could at a back table, late at night. It might be possible to hook into the wi-fi hot spot that is the park. The HAITI always gives change in brand new coins, which is fun.

A friend always goes to the CAFE DE LA PAZ on the other side of the Parque Kennedy. Having obviously been named after the CAFE DE LA PAIX in Paris, which is somewhat right bank, shall we say, this café appeared too expensive to me for years. However, it is superior to the HAITI in that its infusions ($1.85) are made of real herbs and grasses, not tea bags. It has a lot of tables outdoors that are well enough covered with umbrellas so that you can really sit there in the rain, and these tables are pleasant at night with candles. To go by myself or to read or work, though, I still strongly recommend the HAITI. The CAFE DE LA PAZ, although good for what it is, is the least useful to me of the cafés under review here, although perhaps the inside seats, during the day, could be useful for my purposes. I am rating it third, and its neighbor right next door whose name I forget but which is very similar, fourth. Both, I am assuming, are able to catch the public wi-fi.

The HAVANNA, on Miguel Dasso in San Isidro, has the very great advantage of being next to the LIBRERIA VIRREY bookstore. This, in addition to its wi-fi and its comfortable chairs, place it second, as a marvelous place to study, read and write, despite (or perhaps because of) the overly bourgeois aspect of the neighborhood which truly forces one to concentrate on one’s book (although they also have a good set of current newspapers and magazines on a rack for you to read). This café, however, is part of an Argentine chain and shows worrisome signs of Starbucksification. The wait staff is semi professional, trained by HAVANNA to push the addition of caramel syrup and other things like that to your coffee, or to supersize it. They want you to order their pastries and chocolates, or a four dollar tray of chocolates, juice, and coffee. Unlike the other cafés reviewed here, they do not have a full restaurant waiting behind the scenes, but they do have expensive breakfast and merienda [tea time] sandwiches, and they want to sell them. Whenever you order, numerous suggestions for additions to your plan will be made. You have to negotiate and insist, no, I really only want an espresso (or whatever it is you want).

Because of the areas they are in (RITZY), a lot of foreigners go to all of these cafés, but most of the clientele is still local. I may be overly suspicious but I think I have seen some rendezvous related to discreet, very high class sex tourism take place at the HAVANNA. And as I say, I used to have various haunts in Lima 1, but I have lost them (and wish to restore them). Perhaps I should buy an old building, restore it as a marvelous café, and live upstairs.


Jon, August 18, 2008 at 2:20 pm:

I like all the three you mention, for different reasons. The Café de la Paz is the place for a pisco sour, I reckon. (At least in Miraflores.) The Haiti is the place for people-watching. And Havanna is the place to look over the books you’ve just bought at the Virrey.

You’ve missed out the ritziest of all: The Tiendecita Blanca, opposite the Haiti.

The good thing about the Haiti is that you can snag the free Wifi from the McDonalds next door.

The place I like most to work (and I sometimes spend hours and hours there) is Café XXI, on Larco (I think it’s called… a few blocks away from the Haiti). This is quiet, the waitstaff don’t bother you. The only thing is that it doesn’t have wifi.

There’s a new, trendy place further towards the sea, the Café Zeta.

And don’t forget Café Café.

In San Isidro, the News Café.

I made a habit of doing a tour of the fancy cafés once a week, book and/or laptop in hand.

profacero, August 18, 2008 at 10:30 pm:

Jon, thanks a million!!! Café Café, I keep forgetting, Tiendecita Blanca, I walk by constantly and never figured it out, News Café, I keep hearing about but never go, Zeta, I’ve never even seen … obviously there are reasons to hang out more in Miraflores and S.I. !!! I’m obviously bourgeoise BUT not the type of bourgeoise for my current neighborhood, I need to get café busy!!! XXI, that sounds like the #1 best - there are good reasons to exile oneself from wi-fi part of the time.

Peruvian food seems to be everywhere these days. On The Blogs is a feature here at Peru Food in which I comment and link to what other bloggers are writing and posting about Peruvian food.

Click here for the Peru Food main page.

TAGS: Peru, Peruvian, food, cooking, cuisine, cocina, comida, gastronomía, peruana


Z said...

Hi Alejandro! School started so I am back in the U.S., unfortunately (except it is sunny here, unlike Lima at this time of year). I came back hungry, strangely enough, because I got out of the habit of eating dinner in Peru - the regime in my house is to eat a mandarina at night, and tea, because we have decided it is unhealthy to eat at night. Now I've decided U.S. food, even when correct, is a protein and fat overload big time. I need quinua!!! Sopa de mote and ceviche rule ... although now I am about to make a LITE version of sopa a la minuta! Cheers.

::Alejandro:: said...

Hi Professor Z! Ah yes, the US, where one entrée at most restaurants could probably feed two or three people in Peru. BTW, you were wondering about La Tiendecita Blanca, I actually posted about it, slightly explaining its history and raison d'être at this link.

Cero said...

Oh yes! And it explains why I never went in - it has such an aged and bourgeois clientele, at least as you look in from the street. It also seems to be more for socializing than for reading, although I could be wrong on this ... I need to try it.

::Alejandro:: said...

They have great pastries there, and it's fascinating to watch the ladies having lonche in the afternoon, it's a whole sociological study...

Anonymous said...

Hola Alejadro, bueno yo hace mucho que le perdí un poco el rastro al tema de los cafés en Lima, es más, cuando yo me vine a Bs As a fines del 99 recién habían comenzado a aparecer los cafés en Lima.
El Haití, uno de los mas clásicos y cosmopolita de Lima, punto de encuentro de empresarios por las mañanas antes de ir a trabajar, turistas, alguno que otro de levante jaja, y donde increíblemente he comido unas conchitas a la parmesana muy interesantes...igual creo que ha bajado un poco la atención por algunos por comentarios que he leído.
La Tiendecita Blanca mmmm no sé...a lo mejor solo para tomar café con algo dulce, la última vez pedimos goulash con spaetzle y no estaba hecho como correspondía y el mozo no tenía ni idea del plato.
Por último Havanna, acá consideran que tiene los mejores alfajores, yo la verdad, con paladar peruano, no me gustan para nada, demasiada masa y relleno escaso y seco, será cuestión de costumbres. Eso sí, las galletitas de limón son muy ricas. El café es aceptable y los locales suelen ser cálidos.

::Alejandro:: said...

Gracias Katia por el comentario y tu punto de vista, tan interesante como siempre. Confieso ser asiduo del Haiti cuando estoy en Lima, sobre todo el primer día que llego, me gusta ir ahí, tomarme un pisco sour, comer un aceptable lomo saltado, y ver a la gente pasando. Nunca he comido en La Tiendecita Blanca, pero los postres sí que son buenos. Saludos!

Barbara said...

Hi, Profesora Z. --
I agree that Haiti is a top choice among Lima cafes, esp. for people watching.

Did you mention San Antonio at 28 de julio, in Miraflores? They do have good coffee, excellent hot chocolate, god-awful croissants.

Renzo Flores said...


Con tu blog de paso que me entretengo desempolvo mis conocimientos de inglés.

Muy completos tus comentarios de los cafés, tendré que contrastarlos con la realidad porque soy asiduo concurrente al San Antonio.
Quizá le corro al ambiente "burgués" donde si no eres blanquito o tu ropa no se ve de marca como que el "nivel" de atención no es el mismo.
(eso es un tema social más que gatronómico)

Al Havanna sólo he entrado a comprar alfajores pero he visto que los precios son muy elevados.

Saludos y felicitaciones por estar entre los tres finalistas.

::Alejandro:: said...

@ Barbara: I like the waiters at the Haiti, they're so old-school, and if you get them talking you can find out a wealth of information from them. Did you know during the Sendero years, a bomb exploded at a chifa that was located right above the Haiti? Horrifying to think about.

@ Renzo: Gracias por tu visita, tu comentario, y tus amables palabras. En la sección On The Blogs, como en este caso, recopilo información de otros bloggeros referente a la cocina peruana, en este caso el texto proviene del blog Professor Zero, cuyo enlace se encuentra en el texto. Y es cierto lo que comentas, en nuestro querido Perú existe una relación, a veces muy estrecha, entre lo gastronómico y lo social. Saludos.

Canelita said...

I no longer live in Lima, and coffee shops were not trendy back when I did, but I do have a couple of comments for this post. I know Starbucks is not supposed to be included in this list, and it isn't a favorite of mine either, but I found the branch in Urbanización Córpac to be very nice and in an extremely quiet area. There is a section towards the back side of the shop that overlooks a small park. It's a really nice spot if you want to get work done, although I imagine wifi is not free there (at least it isn't here in the US).
Also, Café Altomayo has opened a new shop in Lima's Zona Norte, more specifically in the Mega Plaza mall (another no-no for the list, but oh well). I've seen some pictures and the place looks gorgeous, spacious and I think it is a good alternative for customers living in that area of Lima. I've heard their coffee is good as well as their pastries.

::Alejandro:: said...

Canelita, thanks for adding to the list of cafés in Lima.