Skip directly to the components of 10K Steps Lima Food Drink.
- Central Market
- Dumpling in the Barrio de Chino
- Street Food
- Ceviche and a Pisco Sour at a Classic Downtown Spot
- Peruvian Coffee and Dessert
- A Bookstore and Bar
- A Speakeasy
OK, a more normal day, steps achieved courtesy of our two excellent guides.
At long last, I decided to succumb to AirBnB’s constant emails—not spam, just enthusiastic reminders—to do some local “experiences.” I also wanted to give With Locals a shot, and our first excursion of the day was to meet Claudia, courtesy of that very excellent organization. (Our second was through AirBnB, so that wasn’t a complete tangent.
10K Steps Lima Food and Drink: Central Market
Claudia and I started chatting through the AirBnB app, which is ridiculously handy until you connect on WhatsApp. We were scheduled to meet at a particular bus stop on our friend the Metropolitano, the bus that speeds one long line through Lima. I wrote, we’re very tall and relatively slender. Tall, by the way, is a pretty easy marker in Peru. She said, I am not tall or particularly slender, but I will find you!
Claudia, clearly, was going to be delightful.
We met without a hitch, then headed on back to Central Market. Giant markets are so overwhelming to me in the best of circumstances, which include my native language, a clue as to what I’m looking for, and knowledge of the terrain. None of these things were present. I did not want to be some clumsy interloper amongst a bunch of real shoppers, like these sisters.
Claudia to the rescue! Right off the bat, she led us to this amazing cheese and olive shop. She bought a chunk of queso fresco, a kinda dry cheese that I’m crazy about anyway—I buy the packaged Mexican version back in the US all the time. Then she bought a softer queso de cabra, or goat cheese. Sigh. From now on, when I get my packaged Mexican version, I shall dream of Lima and quietly weep.
Well, when, on top of that, you’re faced with these olives—I mean, how can I say no? Oh man, I love olives so much. And these purple ones…well, my nephew used to take canned black olives and stick them on his fingers and then eat them one by one. These guys would have easily covered about 3/4 of each finger. They were monsters.
Claudia had this fabulous little cheese board, and she cut everything up for us and we sampled right there, happily chomping away in the middle of Central Market.
OK, next up: fruit. Now we know my tales of granadilla addiction (scroll down to the picture of fruit). I may need some sort of granadilla clinic when I come home to kick my new habit. We passed a bunch of vendors, like this woman and her equally majestic profile and vegetables.
Claudia gateway’d us to a new fruit, the pitahaya. It looks like a bright yellow hand grenade, and then the woman at the fruit stand cut it open for us and…oh my. It tastes like a cross between an apple, a kiwi, and heaven. So just try to imagine that. Or watch the video. Stick around to the end to see my cute Huzbando!
All right, it was time for liquid fruit. It’s a bit strange to me, but fruit mixed with milk is the usual way to do a smoothie around the Caribbean. I’ve had them like this a few times. And far be it from me to buck local custom. Claudia ordered a lucuma smoothie for me, although we had already told her she had to do half portions. Man, Peruvians are Italian grandmothers on steroids, or Mrs. Claus in Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. “No one likes a skinny Santa!” Remember that? Well, come to Peru and you will feel like that every time you eat, like, anywhere. Steve just had a drink of mine and I could barely finish it.
“Do you want some sugar with it?” asked Claudia.
“No, no!” says I. Yeah, me. The one my husband accuses of “loving my sugar.” Honestly.
“Really?” Claudia is raising one eyebrow like I’m being polite and don’t want to be a sugar hog. Or am just a really bizarre gringa.
I loved the lucuma smoothie, though I failed to snap a pic of it. It was tall and orange and in a mug. It didn’t look like much. It was sold at a stand that sold these jellos. They are a really big deal in Peru. They push them like they solve absolutely every possible problem: sleeplessness, asthma, low energy. If you can read Spanish, just squint your way through those signs at the top. Diabetes! Gout! All sorts of stuff. I seriously bet there will be a jello “cure” for Covid in some Peruvian market, and I’m not saying that to make light of the situation. Also, it’s really weird and stressful to be traveling while all this is going on. Just so you know.
They absolutely do not try to sell this to anyone but locals by the way.
10K Steps Lima Food: Dumplings in the Barrio de Chino
From Central Market, it’s just a block or two to Lima’s Chinatown, the Barrio de Chino. We had not had great luck there the day before, eating serviceable but uninteresting fried rice. Claudia just sort of sidled through all sorts of back streets into some alley. “This is where all the Chinese restaurants go to get their food,” she told us. This woman was outside a restaurant that had not only no English or Spanish menu but not even one of those picture menus. You know, the ones that basically mean “Tourists, Eat Here! You Are Our Only Hope!” You can see some pictures, but all the writing is in Chinese.
We each had one pork dumpling. They were delicious, super tender. And I think Claudia wanted us to each eat 3. She didn’t eat, but like I said, in Peru, you are absolutely not going to go hungry if your host has anything to say about it.
10K Steps Lima Food and Drink: Street Food
We tramped back out of the alley. All over Lima, you see these folks at stands with monster corn and giant steaming thermos-esque containers. What’s in those things? Boiled potatoes, that’s what! Because Peru has 300 or 800 or 2000 or 8000 (we have seriously heard every single one of those numbers, recited as gospel) varieties of potato. Well, even if it’s just like 50, that’s a lot. And they are really fine potatoes. And I oughtta know, because my dad farmed the damned things in Idaho, where the license plates still proudly proclaim “Famous Potatoes.”
So one of the women gives you this little cardboard holder that she puts about 3 boiled and skinned potatoes in. And then the other woman quarters a hard-boiled egg and about half an ear of this crazy corn, the kind with the big Osmond teeth kernels.
And then Claudia puts on a couple of pico de gallos, one red, one green. Then she adds Huancaina, a yellow sauce that the Peruvians we’ve met call “Peruvian mayonaisse.” And there was another, which I think was Ocopa, which looks like Huancaina but tastes really different, super sassy where Huancaina is pure comfort.
“This costs 2 soles (about 80 cents US), so people can eat this and be full the whole day,” said Claudia. That’s the thing with street food. It’s for hard-working people who of necessity are super cagey with a buck. Or, in this case, with 2 soles.
Our last street stop was a big drink of purple chicha, or chicha morada. This was the thing I really wanted to try more than almost any other Peruvian edible/potable, but I was afraid of it. Because in the olden days, the way they got the corn to a liquid consistency was that women would chew on it for a while, then spit it out and let it ferment. That doesn’t happen now. We’re modern. We have more sophisticated ways of adding the Ew Factor.
This young guy poured us a big old cup of chicha morada. Of course it has sugar in it, but it does feel healthy, and it does give you a nice lift. It’s not fermented, but the corn is good carbs. That’s my story, which I think is an awesome one.
10K Steps Lima Food: Our First (But Not Last) Ceviche
We were now pretty close to the Plaza des Armas, where we’d been the day before. Now I’d seen a restaurant called El Cordano recommended, and Steve and I sort of looked for in a completely half-assed way on our Plaza des Armas day. Claudia led us right to it. It’s a beautiful, classic bar, reminding both S and me of places like it in Buenos Aires. It was only natural that they’d bring us two of Lima’s most iconic offerings: ceviche and Pisco Sours.
Oh, man, Pisco Sours are really, really good. Pisco on its own tastes a little like grappa (Steve disagrees, but he likes a lot more kinds of booze than I do, because in general, I almost only ever drink chardonnay, sometimes Way Too Much. Ahem). Also, it tastes a lot like fire. So in a sour, you throw in some magical combo of lime juice and sugar syrup and an egg white and bitters, and voila. You have a super yummy drink. The thing is, you drink one, and you’re all, well, that was a tasty drink. I feel all summery.
Then you get up from the table, and you’re like, shit. I just had a Drink.
Anyway, the Pisco Sour at El Cordano rocks. As does the ceviche. We would soon learn the difference between Peruvian ceviche and every other kind. Though of course, it starts with absolutely superb fish. So yeah, this was amazing. I love that they always add seaweed and corn and these sort of corn nut things and sweet potato. Peruvian ceviche is the essence of people saying, this is the freshest, most wonderful bounty of the place we call home, and we’re going to honor it, because we really love it here. I mean, you feel that with so many Peruvians. It seems to go way beyond reactionary patriotism and into a true connection with the land.
By the way, we had to convince Claudia to just order us one. I totally want to have whatever the Peruvian equivalent of Thanksgiving is with her. And I also will fast for approximately a week prior to it.
10K Steps Lima Food and Drink: Peruvian Coffee and Dessert
Yes. We needed coffee. This delightful little spot URQU, just around the corner from El Cordano served us a lovely organic cup.
Organic coffee has been a real boon in Peru, particularly for female growers (who you can read about at this link). Super smooth, the right amount of strong, we really liked the package we bought for the Italian espresso pot we had at the AirBnB.
Finally, we had to finish with a sweet. Because, well, we just hadn’t eaten enough. We saw churros galore offered at Los Circuitos de Magicos the night before. They were the kind I’ve seen everywhere, kind of a roll of puff pastry, fried, with some sort of cream in the middle. Claudia showed us “real Peruvian churros.” Which means, they’re more like a croissant. Not a rough puff dough, but the same crescent shape. That gets filled with dulce de leche (for me) and, from Mr. Who Me? Sugar?, vanilla pastry creme. How lovely is this woman?
We ate our tasty churro. Here is Steve. The light in this picture is so bad, but look at that face! A happy man.
We waddled back onto the bus, gave our goodbye hugs to Claudia. And as if she hadn’t been completely amazing the entire day, she gave us this souvenir. She’s in the opening stages of a hand lettering business. (To check out, go to her insta: @letrasbonis.) There was no way I was going to forget Claudia before, but now I’m going to think of her every time I see this. See you next year, Claudia!
10K Steps Lima Drinks: Meeting a Local Artist
Well, clearly, after that little jaunt, we needed a siesta. Especially since I had arranged yet another date with a woman who advertised a night in Barranco hanging at her favorite bars. Before meeting her, we went to the bookstore that is part of a complex on the street of our AirBnB. I didn’t see the name of it anywhere, but apparently it’s called Books and Co.
Oh man, I LOVE South American bookstores. I have yet to find one that was anything less than wonderful. For one thing, they’re arranged and designed with so much care. Just look at this particular display. They don’t call attention to it with a big sign or anything. But, well, you know where you are.
Then there’s the cover design.
So I don’t care what South American city you end up in. Just find the book store and go there. Books here are expensive, and they’re also heavy souvenirs. But I’ve never met anyone who minded if I just browsed.
Outside the bookstore is this lovely bar. We kept me to get to it, but, well, we didn’t do so good with the night life. I mean, c’mon, look at that step count. People gotta sleep.
Anyway, we were supposed to meet Maria-Eugenia, a local artist. We met her outside the main church in Barranco, along with two young women spring breaking from Yale in Lima because they are awesome, one from Jamaica (where Steve lived for 2 years) and one from Ann Arbor, and, well, you all know that connection. How cool was that? Also a Russian guy met us.
Maria-Eugenia—”You can call me Mau, that’s easier,” she said—took us to her Barranco go-to, La Noche. It was early, about 8, so really nothing was going on yet. But it was a cool bar, even though the Russian guy said, “This is not really beer.” I asked him if he liked German beer, and he said, “I like IPA.” So, okay.
“Free jazz on Mondays,” said Claudia “And tonight is a Pink Floyd tribute band.” Something tells me that a Peruvian Pink Floyd tribute band would be worth every penny. Still, we had more places to go. Steve and I vowed to give La Noche free jazz night a try. Apparently, a lot of Cuban bands swing through. The definition of cool. Next to “Peruvian Pink Floyd cover band.”
10K Steps Lima Food and Drink: Secret Bar!
OK, time for….a secret bar!! Oh man, do I LOVE a secret bar. We go to them in Buenos Aires (watch this space for more word). Mau whisked us through the portal of this old mansion on San Martin. While I didn’t get the name of it at the time, I looked it up. It’s called Dada. I dunno how you get the password, though a lot of times it’s just knowing it’s there. So if you’re in Barranco, look up Dada.
When Mau was little—she grew up in Barranco—she would walk by this old, boarded up dilapidated mansion and really want to go inside. Well, now she can, because it’s Dada. We got a really great pizza and just chilled in the lush outdoor space.
It seems like when we find stuff like this in South America, there’s zero attitude. We don’t feel stared at, like who are the weird old people? They’re not cool enough! Maybe because we were with Mau and everybody knows her. Anyway, overall, I do not feel insecure in South American bars, even when they seem to be super cool.
10K Steps Lima Drinks: The Microteatro Movement
This was my absolute favorite thing of the night. Now over drinks and pizza at Dada, we found out that Mau and her friend are working on a pilot. It’s two women looking for love and having all the accompanying disasters in which their pain makes us laugh. Because when it comes to entertainment, we can all be dicks. She showed us the trailer, and it looked like the Peruvian version of Broad City. And what can I say, how cool is it to be bopping around Barranco having drinks with this woman?
So we walk down to a theater, and there are posters for something like 15 shows and they’re ALL playing. It turns out this is the headquarters of the Microtheater Movement, or Microteatro in Lima. The movement started in Spain and is now going gangbusters in South America. The plays are 15 minutes long. What happens is, you buy your ticket for 1 or 5, or, I dunno, maybe all of them. The plays go in 5 show series; we happened to have come at Hora Golfa, “the slutty hour,” Mau told us. She’s such a kick in the head.
So once you have your ticket, you go to this bar and wait for a little green “GO” sign that tells you it’s time for your play. And if you want to see multiple shows, you just come back to the bar and you make a whole night between the bar and the shows.
Our show was called “Laik,” which, if you can sound out phonetic Spanish, is “like.”
We filed into this tiny room, and the actors are close enough that if one of them yawns, you can count their fillings. And they’re both sort of intensely clicking away on these clicker things in their hands, like when people count how many people are coming in a stadium. With my limited Spanish, I figured out that they were monitoring social media likes of other accounts, but they weren’t allowed to follow each other. But then there was a brief blackout, and it turned out they were kind of hot for each other. That doesn’t sound like much. But these actors were so good, so committed. We laughed through the language barrier. Best 15 play I’ve ever seen. And what a truly brilliant way to update theater, which, God knows, could use some serious updating beyond Hamilton.
Mau told us afterward that the theater had provided her with her debut, so it was close to her heart. They were lucky to have her. She’s awesome. And Lima is lucky to have the microtheater, because that thing is about the coolest application of live theater I’ve seen a while.
10K Steps Lima Food Drink: Home Again
We had one final bar to go to. It was loud. We were tired. We were two blocks from a comfy bed. We loved Mau, and we hugged her goodbye. I took a selfie but it sucks so I’m not going to post it. I wouldn’t mind that I look pretty bad, but it’s fuzzy beyond retouching. When her show takes off, I’ll post a link and you can see how insanely vibrant she is.
On the way home, the street was quiet. I saw this beautiful graffiti.