At the border crossing from Bolivia to Peru I realised, a little late in the piece, that I was an over stayer. Apparently my visa was valid only for a month and I had been in the country 7 weeks. Fortunately Ines was still with me because, as well as being a lovely bloke, he had spare Boliviano and he spoke much better Spanish than me. We haggled over the fine, got it down and bit, only to discover that our other travelling companion, Flori, was having a few problems of her own. When she entered Bolivia an official had forgotten to give her an appropriate stamp and this was creating an issue. Eventually, the officer in charge said he could fix everything if Flori first bought him an Inca Kola. This is a level of bribery I can work with although why you would want to drink the stuff beats me – its radioactive yellow, super sweet but very popular in Peru and Bolivia. Depressingly it’s owned by Coco Cola.
My first stop in Peru was Arequipa and it could not have been more different from Lake Titicaca. The biting cold of the altiplano is replaced by a desert environment. When I visited it was hot, sunny, dry and the architecture could not feel more Spanish. After spending a few days walking in a canyon deeper than the Grand Canyon I headed to Lima to indulge in food.
Lima, or more precisely the posh bit of Lima, Miraflores, was the first modern city I had been in since Santiago, Chile, and I got very excited by the eating opportunities. I was fortunate to meet a fellow gourmand, Candy Azote, at the bus stop and the first thing we did was head to one of Lima’s top ceviche restaurants. As you’d expect the ceviche was spectacular and the dish we had was prepared in 4 different styles. I’m keen to learn how to make it, there is quite an art to it me thinks.
For my money, Peruvian cuisine is significantly better than the food from any other country I’ve visited on this trip. I was fortunate to be taken out to Lima’s best Don Mario (beef heart) restaurant by a local, Fiorella Conterno. Unlike other offal, beef heart is very mild in flavor. We had it grilled on skewers and it was beautiful – tender, juicy and tasting of strong beef.
Other delicious things I tried in Peru were chicha morata, a soft drink made of black corn. It;s the colour of raspberry juice, sweet and wonderfully refreshing. Paltas rellenas is decadent comfort food. It consists of half an avocado stuffed with a filling of potatoes, peas and shredded chicken – delicious.
The North of Peru is famous for its seafood and it was in the tiny seaside resort of Mancora that I discovered the most amazing restaurant tucked away off the tourist circuit. They serve probably the best parihuela (seafood soup) I have eaten in my life. It overflowed with crab, scallops, fish, octopus and was drawn together in a rich, red creamy sauce. It was so good I went back for more the following day.
No culinary tour of Peru would be complete without eating their most famous, and to westerners, controversial dish – guinea pig. While we might consider them furry pets they are a serious delicacy in Peru and bred to eat. The slightly disconcerting thing is that they are served whole, heads and claws attached. You can either have them roasted or kind of squished flat and fried. I opted for the latter and while I’m pleased I ate my furry friend, I think I will pass next time around. It was fatty, the meat was quite strong, there were too many bones for my likely and frankly, the claws were just disconcerting.