On my last trip to Peru, I went to the Amazonian jungle city of Iquitos for the first time. It was the most relaxing place I had ever been to in Peru. In fact, I think people in Iquitos have elevated relaxation to a high art.
People in Iquitos also enjoy good food, in particular their own Amazonian cuisine.
When I asked around where would be a good place to eat the Amazonian fish paiche, the largest fresh-water fish in the world, I was told to head to El Mijano in Punchana.
Iquitos is the largest city in the world without road access to any other place. You can only get there by river or air. Unless you walk, of course.
As a result of its vehicular isolation, there aren't many automobiles in Iquitos, but there sure are a lot of moto-taxis.
They are the best way to get around, and a good way to catch a breeze in the hot and humid Amazonian climate.
This is the view of your driver when you are sitting in the back of a mototaxi. Within 30 minutes of landing in Iquitos, I was told it was the noisiest city in Peru, thanks to the din of the moto-taxis. Nonetheless, they grow on you.
The moto-taxi driver knew exactly where El Mijano, and from the center of Iquitos we took off to the the neighboring district of Punchana, about 20 minutes away.In Iquitos, I became addicted to the ice cold camu camu drink, made from a tart Amazonian fruit. It was the perfect way to cool off in the heat.
I also learned that when entering a restaurant and deciding where to sit, look for the ceiling fans and sit under them.
For some reason coastal Peruvian ceviche is popular in Iquitos, but this ceviche was made with paiche. I think I prefer coastal ceviche on the coast.
This was a dish of breaded and fried paiche served with a creamy garlic sauce. I had heard that paiche was a very delicious fish, and truth be told, it is absolutely wonderful. I can't describe the exact flavor except to say that it is very good and unlike any other type of fish I've tried.
Restaurant Cebichería El Mijano
Amazonas 829, Punchana, Iquitos
This may be old news, but just in case you hadn't heard, the November edition (Year 5, Number 42) of Peru's highly-regarded Etiqueta Negra magazine featured four unique upscale Lima restaurants: Poissonnerie, Restaurant San Isidro, Kintaro, and Scena.
Each one offers a unique dining experience.Poissonnerie
Avenida Malecón de la Reserva 1035
610-4000, extensions 121 and 224
Lunch: Monday to Saturday, 12:30 to 3:30
Dinner: Monday to Saturday 6:00 to 11:00
Located in the five-star Miraflores Park Hotel, this restaurant is sophisticated seafood simplicity, with superb service and attention to detail. Chef Marco Albán, a native of Italy, recommends the Turkish-influenced jumbo prawns Kadaif with mango mayonnaise, and a plam heart and avocado salad.Restaurant San Isidro
Prolongación Arenales 206, corner of Avenida Dos de Mayo,
Lunch: Sunday to Monday, 12:00 to 4:00
Dinner: Monday to Saturday, 7:00 to 11:00
Website: Restaurant San Isidro
An exclusive shrimp restaurant that retains the feeling of eating in a private home (albeit, a very elegant one.) The chef is Eladio Espinoza Jr. and the most famous dish is shrimp grilled in a whisky, wine, and Wostercheshire sauce.Kintaro
Avenida La Molina 1111
349-0116 and 348-7432
Lunch: Tuesday to Sunday, 12:00 to 4:00
Dinner: Tuesday to Sunday, 7:00 to 11:00
Kintaro is a luxurious Japanese restaurant that aims to disprove the Peruvian notion that sushi is the only Japanese cuisine. Chef Juan Cuestas recommends prime beef steak grilled in a mirin and shiitake sauce, and yume maki, a riceless maki with fish wrapped within other fish, served hot.Scena
Francisco de Paula Camino 280
445-9688 and 241-8184
Lunch: Monday to Friday, 12:30 to 6:00Dinner: Monday to Saturday, 7:30 to 12:30
Scena is where haute cuisine meets Cirque de Soleil; aside from solidly good food, the restaurant offers a dinner show evocative of the cabarets of yore. The owner is Elías Sabas and the chef recommends Thai chicken curry in a peanut sauce, served with coconut rice. Peru.Food@gmail.com
A recent article by Reuters, which appeared at CNN and other media worldwide, is adding to the buzz about Peruvian cuisine, calling Peru 'a magnet for culinary tourists'.
The article explains that for years, many travelers (mostly backpackers eager to head to the Andes) regarded Lima as a place in which to land whilst one headed elsewhere. But increasingly, Lima is attracting high-end visitors and one of the key baits to bring those well-heeled tourists is Peruvian cuisine.
This new type of culinary tourist enjoys visiting the local markets as well as fine restaurants in the city.
Interestingly, the unnamed author echoes something Javier Wong mentioned to me, about how recent Japanese influence on ceviche means that now, the fish is marinated in lime juice for just a few minutes, while in the past, it used to be marinated for much longer. Other classic Peruvian dishes mentioned are carapulcra, and anticuchos.
The new boom of gastronomic tourists also means a boom in gastronomic tours, such as Culinary Tour Peru run by Patricia La Rosa (also recently mentioned in El Comercio). Coltur, one of the big tour operators in Lima, offers the Culinary Tour, a day-long event, and their spokesperson believes this 'discovery' of Peruvian cuisine will lead to increased tourism to Peru.
As Fernando Pacheco, of Caplina Restaurants states, "Peru with its food has been like a pauper sitting on a bench of gold."
To read the complete article click here.
UPDATE August 2008: The above link is broken, to read this Reuters article in its entirety, follow this link.
Ever since I translated María Elena Cornejo's review of Pescados Capitales, from her Mucho Gusto Perú blog, I had been wanting to go there.
One overcast weekday in early December, we got to do just that, and meet María Elena in person for the first time.
We had a great lunch. The place was packed, very noisy, and very lively. There were a lot of suits enjoying a long lunch. This is not a cheap restaurant but well worth the price.
I was so happy to be there, and so engrossed in the conversation, I didn't start taking pictures until well into the meal and a bottle of very good Argentine wine.
Upon arrival, we were promptly given conchas al bloody mary, a type of shellfish swimming in a bloody mary sauce. It was an excellent way to start off our own long and leisurely lunch.
Read more about Pescados Capitales at this earlier post.
Avenida La Mar 1337, Miraflores
While there are many cafés in Lima, perhaps none is as emblematic as the Café Haiti, which first opened its doors on February 23, 1962.
Overlooking the main park in Miraflores, the Café Haiti has welcomed politicians, writers, artists, tourists, and local residents who have been flocking there for almost half a century in search of quality coffee and good food and drinks, served in a welcoming atmosphere.
I'm sure it would be hard to find anyone who is someone in Lima who has not been to the Café Haiti at least once.
I have my own ritual related to the Café Haiti. During the last ten years I have been traveling regularly to Lima, my first stop after settling into my hotel is this cozy café, where I always eat my first meal in Peru: lomo saltado (which I wash down with one of their excellent pisco sours).
This is where I go to people watch and catch up on the latest local news.
The Café Haiti might not be the cheapest place in town, nor the most trendy or fashionable café, yet there is something familiar and inviting about the place. The service is always impeccable. The location is superb. Simply put, the Café Haiti is the grande dame of Lima cafés.
Most of the waiters have worked there a lifetime, and they've seen it all.
Discretion is a must in their profession.
During the the darkest of the Sendero Luminoso years, a bomb exploded in what had been a Chinese restaurant above the Café Haiti. And during the days of rampant street crime, a type of harness had to be installed on the chairs at the sidewalk tables so visitors could lock in their purses and backpacks.
Fortunately, those days are gone, and despite those difficult times, the Café Haiti survived, an oasis of sorts, welcoming visitors, and tempting them with their good food, good coffee, great service, and even better drinks.
The last time I was in Lima, I learned the current owner is Italian, and doing research for this post, I learned that Lima's Café Haiti was originally an off-shoot of a similarly-named café in Santiago.
Up till now, all I've needed to know about the Café Haiti is that it is always a place where I can simply relax, enjoy my food and drink, and watch the world go by. It is one of my favorite places in Lima.
Javier Wong's restaurant has been called a type of speakeasy for ceviche. Located in the front room of his home, you have to knock on the door to get in. An eye peers out and examines you before you are let inside.
After reading this post, to watch a recently posted
video of Javier Wong at work, click on this link.
There is no sign outside; no clue that within the nondescript house off a busy main avenue in the La Victoria district of Lima and far from the usual tourist trail, is a restaurant run by one of the finest ceviche masters in Peru.
Gourmets, gourmands, cognoscenti and foodies of every ilk have all beaten a path to Javier Wong's idiosyncratic ceviche temple to sample the most fresh, most pure ceviche imaginable.
To prepare his ceviche, Chef Wong requires only the bare essentials: perfectly-sharpened knives, a cutting board, and a bowl. In seconds, he pulls a fresh flounder from a refrigerator that has kept it perfectly chilled and flavorful, expertly filets a slice, and quickly dices it into bite-sized morsels.
He adds only the most essential ingredients: tart Peruvian lime juice, salt, pepper, fiery rocoto, and if he feels like it, for good measure, some chopped octopus.
He serves his ceviche simply: there is no boiled sweet potato, no corn, no lettuce or any of other usual accompaniments to distract from Javier Wong's ceviche. It is perfection as is.To add to the mystique of the restaurant, commonly known as Chef Wong although its formal name is Sankuay, there are less than a dozen tables and no menu.
Chef Wong prepares both classic ceviches as well as stir-fry flounder dishes. His best creations are those he invents on the spot.
He told me he sometimes dreams of new dishes to try out; when he wakes, he heads to his kitchen to try them out.
Javier Wong is a type of Chinese-Peruvian ceviche visionary.All of the dishes appear on the table in minutes, and everything is prepared in view of diners. The restaurant, open only for lunch, is always full, so reservations are required.
There is nothing fancy or pretentious about the restaurant although fellow guests might include Lima's movers and shakers. Everyone at Chef Wong's is united in one sole quest: to sample some of his exquisite dishes.
This is one of Chef Wong's creations we sampled: a flounder, black bean, baby bok choy and red pepper stir fry.
Javier Wong also made us a quite improbable yet surprisingly tasty dish: almond ceviche.He combined flounder, rocoto, lime juice, chopped almonds, salt, pepper, and sesame oil to create this exotic and surprisingly delicious dish.If in Lima, this restaurant is a must. Once again, reservations are required. The neighborhood where the restaurant is located is right off Avenida Canadá near Paseo de la República, in the Santa Catalina neighborhood of La Victoria.Chef Wong
García Leon 114,
between block 3 and block 4 of Avenida Canadá
In Peru, this kind of place is called a huarique, a hole-in-the-wall; but, unlike (or perhaps, like) hole-in-the-walls in other countries, in Peru many huariques are quite famous for specializing in one certain dish or a certain type of cuisine, and while not the most glamorous of eateries, are quite popular with those in search of quality home-style Peruvian cuisine.
Isabel Quispe Aquino's restaurants are like that: simple yet complex; humble but well-worth visiting.Isabel Quispe Aquino, doña Isabel, is well-known in Chorrillos, the seaside district just south of Barranco, that encompasses both wealthy and poor residents.
For years, she ran a small restaurant, really just a counter and a couple of tables in the aisle, inside the main Chorrillos market.
By birth and marriage, doña Isabel has been perpetually linked to the sea; and, her cuisine reflects it.
As the story goes, one fine day, doña Isabel was 'discovered' by leading Peruvian chef, Gastón Acurio; needless to say, her life, and her culinary adventure, has not been the same since. Now, she runs three restaurants: the original one inside the market, another on its periphery, and a third a block away.
Gastón called her seafood stew, parihuela, the best in the world, and she now dubs it El Campeón, the Champ.
During our recent trip to Lima, we had the opportunity to visit one of doña Isabel's restaurants and sample her cuisine. These are our pictures of the feast we had.
¡Buen provecho! Happy eating!
As in most traditional seafood restaurants in Peru, there is always lots of cancha, the crunchy toasted corn, and ají on the table.
This is doña Isabel's parihuela, her seafood stew known as El Campeón, the Champ. Unlike other parihuelas, hers is thickened with chuño, a potato-based starch.
Something we fished out of the Champ, which probably explains its name.
The guys who help put it all together. They insisted we photograph them.
Doña Isabel posing proudly inside one of her restaurants.
A wonderful leche de tigre, tiger's milk (made from fish, lemon, ají, and a prawn to top it off).
Isabel's version of the sashimi-like tiradito, garnished with fried yuca.
A fried fish extravaganza.
Doña Isabel posing in front of her original stand inside the Chorrillos marketplace.To read more about doña Isabel's restaurants at this blog, you can click here.Peru.Food@gmail.com