Peru has been an amazing whirlwind of outdoor adventures and some cool cities, too. We also both got sick, which put a bit of a damper on things for a few days, but we still managed to make the best of our time here. Two and a half weeks certainly doesn’t feel like long enough to explore this country. We’ve seen and done so much but it feels like there’s way more to explore. I guess we’ll just have to come back ;).
Our first stop in Peru was Lima. We’d heard very few good things about Peru’s capital, and many people told us they’d only stayed for a night or skipped it altogether. I was keen to go, though, because I’d heard that Lima has a pretty amazing food scene, and you know that that’s what it’s all about for me.
After staying in hostel that was so social, our Lima guesthouse was a bit of a shock, as it was very quiet and small. We stayed in the neighbourhood of Miraflores, which is one of the wealthier Lima suburbs filled with American fast food chains and big shopping malls. It also holds a huge number of Lima’s best restaurants, which is obviously why we chose to stay there.
Many of the award-winning restaurants in the city were a stretch for our backpacker budget, but there was one highly touted restaurant I thought our wallets could handle. La Mar Cebicheria, part of Gaston Acurio’s empire that spans Peru and beyond, was first on my list and I didn’t want to waste any time, so on our first afternoon in Lima we walked a few blocks from our hotel and arrived at this very hip spot. We weren’t the only ones excited for some great ceviche – the restaurant was packed when we got there and we were told that it would be an hour before we could be seated. We’d been expecting to wait a while so that wasn’t a problem, especially since we were able to order some pisco sours and snack on cancha salada. I can thank La Mar for bringing my addiction to those crunchy, salty pieces of corn.
We got lucky and snagged a table after only half an hour, which was probably a good thing because I might have eaten my weight in cancha salada otherwise. There were more free snacks waiting for us when we sat down, so we munched on sweet potato and plantain chips with a bunch of dips while we decided what to order. As we discovered that day and have witnessed since, Peru’s restaurants aren’t stingy on the freebies! Our waiter spoke very good English and the restaurant even had full English menus – this isn’t exactly a prime hangout spot for the locals. Deciding what to order was no easy task. In the end, I went with the ceviche trio so that I could sample a few different things, which is exactly how I like to eat. I wish more restaurants offered three mini portions in one so I wouldn’t always have to eat off of Zevi’s plate. Who are we kidding? I’d still do that.
The trio came with a classic fish ceviche, a mixed seafood ceviche, and a Japanese-inspired, or nikkei, ceviche. The texture of the fish was beautiful and the pieces were cut to perfectly uniform size. The classic was, well, classic. It had the typical flavours you’d expect in a ceviche – lots of bright lime and some raw but slightly softened onions for textural contrast. I really liked this one, and Zevi had a full portion of the classic and enjoyed it as well. The seafood was my least favourite. I didn’t love the taste or the texture of the octopus and shrimp nearly as much as the fish, but I did like the spicier broth they came in. It’s not something I would rush to order again, but it certainly wasn’t bad. The nikkei, on the other hand was something else. Isn’t it great when you find out you’ve saved the best for last? Being a sucker for Asian flavours, it’s no surprised that this tuna was far and away my favourite. The broth was a little less acidic and a little more salty, and brought to mind the flavours of tuna sashimi dipped in soy sauce. There was still some citrusy brightness, though, and the onions appeared again for the all-important crunch. I could have eaten four bowls of that and probably would have still wanted more!
All in all, La Mar lived up to my high expectations and then some. It’s not somewhere we’d eat every day on a trip like this, but the prices really weren’t exorbitant considering the quality of the food. I’ve had ceviche a couple of times since and, while it’s been good, it certainly hasn’t come up to the bar that La Mar set for me. The restaurant has a location in San Francisco, which is a little closer to home, so I can hold out hope that maybe I’ll be able to try that nikkei ceviche again sooner rather than later.