Unpeeled Sancayo fruit is in the basket. Peeled Sancayo is on the tranparent plate.
A Colca Sour is the Arequipeña version of the Pisco Sour, the difference being that instead of lime juice you use Sancayo juice. Sancayo is an incredibly sour local cactus fruit. On day 2 of the Colca Canyon tour you can try it.
Part of my ‘menu economico’ on Calle Berlin: Cabrito.
Cost: 9.50 soles (menu economico)
Where: Berlin (cuadra 2) and Libertad
I head from the coast back up through Miraflores, past colourful houses protected with rolls of barbed wire and thorny gates, to calle Berlin. A few blocks from the park, beyond the restaurants and bars where the waiters accost you on the street, there’s a small alcove of four or five restaurants. They are all thin and spill out onto the street with pleasing little setups of tables and chairs. Here I find, for the first time in Miraflores, a ‘menu economico’ – a full meal in Miraflores on the cheap! I rejoice silently and sit down at the high square wooden tables.
The starter is Ocopa Arequipeña, which involves cold sliced and boiled potatoes in a greenish cheesy peanutty sauce. A hard-boiled egg sits on top. This is followed by a soup with rice, celery, carrot shavings and suspicious shreds of meat. Despite the relative diversity of its ingredients it contrives to taste exactly like every other soup in Peru and Bolivia. Finally the main course: Cabrito. I assumed, quite reasonably, that this was kid (as in young goat) since ‘cabrito’ means ‘little goat’. But the waitress assured me it was alpaca, which made me view the plate in an entirely new, exotic light. The meat was dense but tender, a little like lamb, and came with rice, red onions, a leaf of lettuce and light skin-coloured frijoles that tasted a bit like baked beans.
A soft warm luxurious churro filled with vanilla cream…
Cost: 4 soles per churro relleno
Where: Av. Larco 608
My favourite thing about Lima was the churros. These are fried doughy tubes of heaven that, if done well, should be soft and warm and luscious in the mouth. My love of churros is such that I have vivid memories of almost every experience of eating them: as a child with my family at the funfair in Arecife, Lanzarote; as a first-year University student with my friends in Madrid at 4am; as a young man in Argentina trying to woo my now-girlfriend through the churro’s tasty persuasion.
In Buenos Aires I found that the churros were generally overcooked. Sometimes I’d have to get out the pick axe and crack my way through them. Now once I’d broken through and found the hidden golden brown seam of dulce de leche I’d mostly forgiven the churro for its distressingly solid outside, and if the outer surface was covered in chocolate I would be even quicker to forgive. But they just weren’t right. Probably the best place for churros in Buenos Aires was La Giralda, on Corrientes, where ancient waiters would bring you a plate of them accompanied by superior hot chocolate. These ones tasted pretty similar to the churros in Madrid, which would likewise be served with (better) hot chocolate. And the advantage of Madrid was that you could buy churros in the early hours of the morning. Surely the sign of a civilised city is that they choose to eat churros with hot chocolate at 4 in the morning rather than a hotdog or a kebab filled with dog meat and raw onion.
While in Lima, after every single meal I would go, almost unconsciously, my stomach guiding me, to Manolo’s on Avenida Lorca. There I would order a single churro relleno for 4 soles. The choice of filling was between chocolate, dulce de leche and vanilla, the latter being my favourite. After receiving the churro in a paper bag I would bear it like a fragile baby to the Central Miraflores park, trying to protect its head so that the warmth didn’t escape. And there I would sit and savour every small ambrosial morsel.
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.
Cost: 16 soles (fettucine with mushrooms) + 2 soles (sprite)
Where: Calle Bellavista and Calle Jose Galvez
I spend the evening conducting an exhaustive search for a restaurant with a cheap menu. For some reason I want pasta. Unfortunately the so-called cheap street, Berlin, is not cheap, not in the evening at least, and it’s impossible to find a typical Peruvian ‘menu economico’, so I end up in a cute German-themed café called Kulka Café which looks like it’s been transplanted from Palermo Soho, Buenos Aires. I know it’s German because the man at the till is a tall, white, dreadlocked German and the menu contains various plates based on ‘German Sausage’. I get the not-very-German fettucine with mushrooms for 16 Soles – it’s a bit crap.
Bad or bland food is a common disease of cute cafes. They believe that if the café is attractive and inviting then there’s no need to bother with the food. It could be down to economics: if the space is nice then people will come, whatever the quality of food, so there’s no need to splash out on good ingredients or quality chefs. Or it could be down to laziness: they can’t be expected to make an effort with the décor and the food! It is a rare and beautiful thing to find a café that is both beautiful and tasty.
After Max left I met up with an old friend and we headed up to Santa Teresa for lunch. Being in Rio, we of course had to eat ‘feijoada’, a Brazilian dish made of refried beans, rice, and a curious selection of animal cuts including ears, tail, hooves, sausage and more. It comes in a smoking cauldron-like thing, which all adds to the magic of it.
This was my second feijoada, and it was better than the first, mainly because the first was more authentic. That may sound strange, that the more authentic version tastes worse, but it’s true. This is because authentic feijoada contains all kinds of disgusting (to my taste) cuts of animal. Why? Because in the past it would have been unthinkable to waste the animal’s ear, or its hooves, or any part of it for that matter. So they threw them into a cauldron to see what came out. In the feijoada you buy in the tourist restaurants they will probably use high-quality meat, and when I say ‘meat’ I mean just that; no tongues nor balls nor eyeballs.
The restaurant in Santa Teresa where I had my less authentic feijoada.