Global Cuisines and Cultures: Last Day in Peru
Our final morning started with a walking tour of Barranco, which is an upscale neighborhood with heavy European influence. It overlooks the coast, and we spent an hour or two taking in the sights and sounds. We stopped for coffee at a great coffee shop, where the manager, Jeremy, explained that they sourced all of their coffee from local Fairtrade coffee cooperatives. The result was a delicious product that benefitted the various communities throughout Peru. I took a bag of the incredible house blend for my kitchen at home!
We then walked a bit further to lunch at Isolina, right in Barranco. The restaurant, listed 41st by Latin America’s 50 Best, served traditional, family-style Afro-Peruvian fare. We were first led through a demonstration of one of the dishes that is served at the restaurant by the head chef, Jose del Castillo. He showed us the typical preparation of the classic dish escabeche. Chef Jose made his using bonito, a member of the tuna and mackerel family. The dish tasted great hot, but he mentioned that it tasted even better when allowed to sit overnight and served cool—this way, the ingredients melded together a bit more and the resulting combination of spices, salt, and incredible flavor helped to subdue the overt fishiness from the bonito.
Chef Jose demonstrates a traditional Peruvian dish
After the demo, we sat down for lunch. We were served what must have been everything on the menu, and the portions were gigantic. Appetizers consisted of fresh mussels topped with finely diced onions and peppers, the escabeche Jose had shown us earlier, and various kinds of salads, with each course gradually becoming heavier and heavier. One appetizer that I particularly enjoyed was a large croquette of mashed potato with ground beef stuffed inside, served alongside a cold sauce of rocoto relleno—the ubiquitous red pepper that was similar to a red bell pepper. We then moved on to various entrées, which mostly consisted of braised items. Doing research a little later in my hotel room, I came across a New York Times review that detailed Chef Jose’s liking for cuchareo, or braised dishes that cook for a long time to provide a super succulent final product. We experienced this firsthand; huge platters of braised beef, pork belly, chicken, and more crowded the table. After sampling a few more “rustic” side dishes like chicken gizzards and pork trotters, I had to throw in the towel. Chef Jose’s restaurant was trying to bring back dishes from a typical Peruvian childhood—judging by how full the restaurant was and the large line out the door, I gathered that he was doing a pretty good job.
The braised dishes were moist, tender, and flavorful: beef, beef, pork
After a short break at the hotel, a few classmates and I joined our tour guide, Efrain, at one of the local soccer matches. Alianza, which has a large fan base in Miraflores and the areas of Lima where we stayed, was playing a team from the Andes for a league match. It was definitely a unique experience watching a South American soccer match in the middle of Lima, and I’m glad we got to go!
The crowd was very energetic at the soccer game
Leaving halfway through the match, we took a bus over to Amaz for our final dinner in Peru. Chef Pedro Miguel Schiaffino is the chef/owner of both Amaz, a more casual restaurant offering traditional Amazonian ingredients and flavors, and the more fine-dining venue, Malabar. He is a 1997 CIA grad, and one of the most influential chefs of South America.
Chef Pedro led us through an indigenous Amazonian fruit tasting, explaining what they were similar to, their cooking applications, and their overall flavor profile. He even went so far as to explain the areas and communities in which they grew, and the cultural significance of certain fruits that he was using in his restaurant. Chef Pedro also mentioned that the artwork and materials that made up the interior of the restaurant were sourced or created by the various indigenous peoples that he worked with. I’ve always held a lot of respect for chefs who use their skills and abilities to advocate for a certain kind of cuisine and who have an underlying story behind their dishes, and the food that Pedro is cooking is a prime example of this.
Aguaje fruit (moriche palm fruit) was just one of the many Amazonian fruits that Chef Pedro lectured us on
After cocktails and the lecture, we sat down for dinner as a group one final time. We were served a multi-course menu of the some of the restaurant’s most popular items. We sampled appetizers like crispy fish skin and wild boar empanadas; dug into main courses like fish ribs, braised brisket, roasted chicken, and sausage and rice; and finished the meal with a wild fruit ice cream and a rice pudding. I can confidently say that this was one of the best meals of my life. It was an incredible way to tie our time in Peru together—we were cooked a delicious meal by a CIA grad who used both old and new cooking techniques and directly sourced his ingredients from the Amazon.
From refried plantains to snails with tapioca, the dinner was amazing!
After saying our thanks, we headed back to the hotel to catch a few hours of sleep before our flight home early the next morning. As we turned in for the night, we all commented to ourselves how absolutely amazing this trip had been. Memories and a few job opportunities had been made, a lot of food and drink was consumed, and we were all thankful to have had the opportunity to make this once-in-a-lifetime trip to Peru a reality.
By Dan Salisbury