La Lucha Sangucheria
Cost: 8 soles (chicken sandwich)
Where: Pasaje Champagnes 139
By my second evening in Lima I’ve given up looking for good cheap food, and so I pick a hole in the wall that gives to a pedestrianised street. From the hostel you could almost see it, tucked down an alleyway on the other side of the plaza. La Lucha Sangucheria is effectively a sandwich bar, a hole in the wall, made to feel like a fairground stall by its large spherical lamps. The workers wear quaint white hats and buttons done all the way up to the top, as if they were all real chefs and not just people required to place things between pieces of bread. I end up eating here twice, the second time is worse because I choose the cheapest thing: chicken put through a shredder which comes out tasting something like tuna.
The passageway is full of marble tables which serve as seating for those eating their basketed sandwiches, and also as the headquarters of the local chess club. As I write 4 matches are going on simultaneously. All the players have their special bag carrying the pieces and a timer. I am reminded of the women in the milongas (the tango clubs) of Buenos Aires, who would arrive in flat shoes and then remove from their bag glittering high-heeled tango shoes. Sometimes during the evenings you’d see a lady purposefully striding down the street with the telltale bag bouncing from their shoulder and you’d see them in a different light; suddenly they were holders of an intimidating and seductive power, about to pass through a nondescript door into that magical world of melancholy and passion in the gloom. The chess players did not quite have the power of the tangoing women, and yet there was something rather wonderful about seeing these – mostly old – men arrive and unpack these weapons, these physical manifestations of their intellect.
Other men stand around the players in silence watching and nodding. One player resigns and leaves his seat to be replaced by another, one of the watchers. They setup quickly, all in silence, and the winner peers over his glasses at the new challenger, makes his move, and sniffs his hand. An older man – white hair, glasses and over-wide brown corduroy trousers – comes and stands over the challenger’s right shoulder, stamps his feet against the cold, and when the challenger looks at him disapprovingly he goes and stands by another old man wearing a red baseball cap and thick square glasses that make his eyes large. They exchange a couple of short sentences and then return to silence.