A Feast for the Senses

Anyone who knows me, knows how much I love to travel. How I believe travel feeds the mind, body and soul. But sometimes travel, meeting new people, having new experiences, isn’t enough. Sometimes I need real food to feed me too.

Traveling with coeliac disease can be difficult. It can be downright impossible to find gluten free food at airports or bus stations. And when I don’t eat, I can get angry which is unfortunate for whomever is traveling with me.

For the most part, Zoë and I have gotten on well on this trip, but yesterday was difficult. We were both suffering from an overall lack of sleep and I had the added issue of not having enough food. A 5am start from the Tambopata Research Centre meant breakfast was a small bowl of fruit on the boat. Then no gluten free food at the Puerto Moldanado airport, a frantic run through the Cusco airport as our plane to Lima departed 5 minutes after our plane from Puerto Moldanado arrived, and a late arrival into Lima turned me into an angry bear.

Our taxi in Lima dropped us off at our B&B I had booked online. Except I had screwed up the dates. We weren’t booked there until the following evening. The B&B was full. We didn’t have anywhere to stay. Thank goodness for Booking.com. Within seconds I found a hotel room in a hotel about 5 minutes walk away. We were in a safe area to walk, but by this time I was hangry and very snappy with Zoë. My bowl of fruit more than 12 hours earlier was wearing thin.

We dropped our bags at our new hotel and headed out. Lima is known as the Food Capital of the World and we quickly could see why. There were restaurants everywhere serving all kinds of food. We ended up in a trendy open air food market — a very upscale food court – where there were probably 25 different cuisines on offer. This was the real Lima. No tourist menus in English. Just amazing food prepared in flash and trendy stalls. We chose our food and sat at a communal table. We both felt like we were in Melbourne or London, except that everyone around us was speaking Spanish.

I had a quinoa burger. I know, I know, you are turning up your nose. Quinoa. Yuck, right? Nope. Peruvians know quinoa. I’ve had some outstanding quinoa dishes while I’ve been here. They know how to make it super tasty. In fact, my quinoa burger (on a soft, delicious gluten free bun which also shocked me) was as good or tastier than any beef burger I’ve ever had. Truly.

Fed well and absolutely exhausted, we slept well. Which was fortunate because today (Tuesday) has been another long day.

When we were at the Tambopata Research Centre, we mentioned to our friends there that we had a day in Lima before we flew out. Hans and Helmie told us to do a Gourmet Lima tour. Dan, Sam and Josh told us to swim with sea lions. Zoë and I chose the Gourmet Lima tour and I’m so glad we did.

We were scooped up from our accommodation at 9.30am by Lourdes our tour guide. Then we picked up various other people from their hotels around Miraflores before heading to Barranco, a trendy suburb of Lima.

The tour started in one of Lima’s famous parks near the Bridge of Sighs. Lourdes explained the area is one full of artists, composers, writers and other creative types. It used to be very run down, but the Lima government provided incentives for people to buy the old houses in the area and turn them into businesses. The only condition is that the outside of the building must remain looking like the original house but the inside can be renovated however the owner wishes. It means you get some interesting designs and places to eat and drink.

Lovers come to the Bridge of Sighs. Local lore has it that if a couple holds hands and can walk the length of the bridge holding their breath, then they will find true love in each other.

Local street artists come to the area to display their talent.

Our first foodie stop was a coffee roaster. They roast their beans on site and we all had different types of coffee. Zoë and I both had a mochacchino – espresso, milk and Peruvian chocolate. Delicious! They had a couple of coffee trees in the back courtyard so we were able to see coffee beans growing too. And of course, the inside of the cafe was decorated with fun artwork.

After coffee, we wandered a bit around Barranco and ended up at a cafe known for milkshakes. We all had lucuma milkshakes which I loved and thought tasted very nutty. Others in the group weren’t so keen. I liked the feel of this cafe. One of the windows had been turned into a door, but Zoë was just too big for it.

We moved on to the Miraflores market. Lourdes showed us a number of different types of fruit grown in Peru and then we were given samples to try. Peruvian passionfruit, mango, custard apple, cactus fruit and lucuma.

She also showed us a number of potatoes and chilies grown in Peru. In this country alone there are more than 4000 types of potatoes, half of them are sweet potatoes, 52 types of corn and 300 types of chilies. I asked if I could buy ‘little fish eye’ chilies there but Lourdes said they are only available in the rainforest and not in Lima.

Zoë loved the flowers and all the colour.

We had a quick trip down the meat and fish aisle and the fishmonger showed us his wares.

I was more interested in the woman sitting behind him at the stall. It turned out she was his mother. She used to work at the largest fish market in Lima but a few years ago decided she was getting too old, so she moved to this smaller market in Miraflores. Just looking at her, I felt that she had many stories to tell.

Lourdes and I talked about this as we drove to our next stop. I explained the work I do with palliative care clients to help them write their stories. I told her I would love to hear the fish stall woman’s stories, but the barrier of language would be in the way. Lourdes suggested I come back to Peru, and she and I could work on a project together to record some Peruvian stories from around the markets. It would make a great book.

Embarcodero 41 was the next restaurant stop. First we lined up at the bar to learn how to make Pisco sours. The bar makes their own different flavoured Piscos using many native fruits and herbs.

After a quick demonstration of how a classic Pisco sour was made, we paired up to make our own. Zoë and I had fun making ours.

Then we were taught how to make ceviche. Raw white fish cooked in lime juice, chili, fish stock and then mixed with a special sauce of garlic, ginger, celery and a bit of mayonnaise for balance. It’s piled on a plate, served with sliced red onions, chilis, corn and sweet potato. Not only was it fun to make our own drinks and ceviche, by the time we’d finished, we were fairly full.

But then it was on to our final stop, Huaca Pucllana. This famous restaurant in Lima sits amongst pre-Incan ruins in the middle of the city. What are now ruins was originally a large pyramid temple complex where they would sacrifice a virgin princess between the ages of 17 and 25. This offering to the gods would make it rain.

The restaurant put on a tasting menu for us of four different dishes and four different desserts.

I’m glad we signed up for the tour as it showed us some areas of Lima that we wouldn’t have seen on our own. And we all left the tour very full of delicious food. It’s easy to see why Lima has been voted the food capital of the world. Their food is a fusion of Peruvian traditional dishes with Japanese, Chinese, French, Italian and Spanish flavours mixed in. Lima boasts six of the top restaurants in the world’s top 50.

It was the perfect way to end our time in Peru. Good food, good drinks, good conversation with some interesting people from around the world. All three of these combined have been highlights from the trip wherever we’ve been in Peru. I head home hoping I will come back to see more of this amazing country. My appetite has only just been whet and I want more.

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