In a sprawling foodfest the size of a small city, surrounded by every kind of strange food from giant squid on skewers to rainforest fruits, we found ourselves queuing for…. the ultimate pork bun.
Peruvians, now considered the foodiest in the world, may be famous for ceviche and cuy – guinea pig – but what they do best is a sanguiche de chicharron, a huge, steaming, salty, crackling-packed answer to the bacon butty.
Said bun was from El Chinito, Lima’s favourite street-food hangout, and star of the show at Mistura, possibly the world’s largest food festival. Every September the country’s gourmands pack into this otherwise undistinguished capital to slaver over racks of carcasses stretched over smoky firepits from where “chancho al palo” – mouth-watering piles of grilled, red-lacquered pork on a bed of potato gravy – are served.
Then they stroll up to tents offering everything from tropical fruit and river snails from the Amazon to fat, multi-coloured corn cobs and hundreds of varieties of yellow, black and purple potatoes from the Andes. A whole marquee is devoted to the Chifa and Nikkei(Chinese and Japanese respectively) fusion cuisines which make Peruvian food so different and exciting.
After queuing on the beach for buns, anticuchos(skewers of beef heart or squid) and ice-cream made from lucuma – a tropical fruit which tastes like butterscotch – well-heeled Mistura-goers packed out Lima’s top restaurants to complete their foodie experience. This is a city which took seven of the top 15 slots in the inaugural 50 Best Latin American Restaurants awards in 2013 and three earlier this year in the World’s 15 Best.
As well as Central, the brainchild of Virgilio Martinez, whose Lima restaurant in London has a Michelin star, and the many restaurants owned by Gaston Acurio, whose flagship eatery in Astrid y Gaston, these include Maido, a temple of Nikkei cuisine, Chez Wong, whose eccentric owner waves the flag for Chifa in his own home, and Pedro Schiaffino’s Malabar(like Central and Astrid y Gaston one of the World’s 50 Best) and Amaz. This last offers an exciting introduction to Amazonian cuisine – if the giant river snails packed with golden tapioca seem an adventure too far, the duck with coconut rice and chonta – heart of palm – salad are more approachable.
Wherever you dine, it would be a shame to mix breakfast in Barranco, a hip, colourful Lima neighbourhood where we joined the locals at La Preferida. What were they eating? Ceviche; the city that likes to end a night of partying with rich belly pork and crackling likes to start it light and sharp with raw fish marinated in chile, onions and lime juice. Lip-smackingly pungent, but at least no-one was roasting guinea-pigs on the street corner. Though if gourmets keep descending on Peru, the days of cuy, paws up in a bun, can’t be far away.