Once the plan was made to take Lan Airlines to Peru and spend Larry’s birthday at the top of Machu Picchu in Peru, I resolved to lose some weight on the trip.
What could be more slimming than hiking straight up in the air, playing with clouds while balancing 15 pounds of camera equipment on my back?
I reasoned that keeping to a low calorie regimen in Peru wouldn’t be much of a sacrifice because when I visited Peru 50 years ago there was nothing appetizing to eat. I recall filling up on rice, beans and mammoth corn kernels, hoping to get to Ecuador for a good meal.
Happily, I can report that things have changed. Peruvian food today has seduced the world with a diversity of cuisine, resulting from the melting pot of immigrants that have come there from Africa, Spain, Italy, Japan and China. It is virtually impossible to diet in Peru.
Every corner of the country is contributing to the country’s gastronomy. The costal zone is known for thick sauces and ceviches. The highlands offer a variety of dishes made with alpaca meat. The Chinese have contributed ginger and soy sauce. The Quechuas, aji ( hot peppers), potatoes and corn.
And, there is a home grown fruit that tastes like cajeta, or butterscotch, known as Lucama. This, alleged, anti-aging superstar is a South American fruit that possesses healing abilities and skin-repairing properties.
It is not an attractive fruit. It looks like a green wrinkled a zapote . Its taste is compelling and exotic. Lucama fruit has a particularly dry flesh, which makes it perfect for creating a powder-like sweetener that resembles sugar. The nutritional profile of Lucama is impressive. Loaded with extremely high levels of beta-carotene and B vitamins, lucama has long been a staple for many South American countries.
We arrived in Lima at 11pm and were looking forward to sampling lucamas. ( I needed to feel as young a possible during this journey.)
Checking into the hotel Marriot, we rushed to our room to read the all-night, room service menu. My eyes popped when I saw one of the hotels specialties was DIET LUCAMA ICE CREAM.” How great was that?
We ordered four scoops. Larry and I had a spoon duel so we could each get a fair share of the dessert. How could anything that said “diet” taste that delicious? No Lucama was safe from Larry or me during our entire trip.
The next morning we checked into the elegant Hotel Miraflores, part of the Orient Express chain that was hosting our journey to Peru.
The first thing I asked the handsome gentleman who sat us down in a comfortable chair and checked us into the hotel from behind an antique desk was, “ Do you serve Lucama here”
“ Yes we do. We have a dessert on the menu with Lucama ice cream and brownies”
I would have fainted out of joy but we had a lunch invitation at Francesco’s, a favorite restaurant of local Lima food connoisseurs.
Located on the Malecon, the restaurant smelled like fresh seafood and hummed like the sound track to the “Godfather One”.
The customers come in groups of up to 16 at a time occupying long tables The chatter while good looking waiters bring platters of lobster, ceviches tierraderos and causa Peruvian food, with a touch of Italia.
“At the International food fair in Madrid in 2006, Lima was declared the “gastronomic capital of the Americas”, began out host, Aldo Francesco junior. He added, “Since the economy spiked in the 1990’s, Peruvians have been eating out more often . The demand for exceptional restaurant fare is still growing. Mothers and wifes prepare families meals at home with enthusiasm so when they eat out they expect something special.
Francesco’s menu boasts 150 ingredients that are used each day.
“It is hard to replicate our food. Everything has to be fresh. We cook in the morning and everything must be consumed by closing.”
An impressive man, physically and emotionally, Aldo encouraged us to sample as much of his menu as was humanly possible.
After downing a couple of “Pisco Sours”, we began to eat. We had two kinds of Ceviches served with sweet potatoes and huge kernels of corn. Tirradero (long strips of fish marinated in lemon and, then, Causa, a ball of mashed yellow potatoes hiding vegetables and fresh shrimp) “We have the best shrimp in the world with its own spicy flavor. It is called “Cameron Andino”.
“There are about 1,800 varieties of potatoes in Peru, although we only use a few” As for the potato, the ancestors of Quechuas survived on them for 7,000 years”.
We consumed Tártara de Salmón con Atún; Saltado de Pescado con Tacu Tacu; Salmón con pulpa de cangrejo.
When I left that restaurant, I said to Larry, “ I am never eating again.”
The next day with had lunch at the recently opened “Table 18”, located in the Orient Express hotel and met with the famous Japanese chef , Toshito , the inventor of “tiradero.” ( Like ceviche, with a softer taste. It’s made with strips of fish, marinated in lime, with aji, fresh ginger and soy sauce.”
A specialist in the Japanese way of preparing fish. Toshito advises, “Buy your fish alive. Seafood gets older by the minute.”
Toshito has been teaching fish preparation to chefs for the last 25 years.
“In the past, Limeros cooked the fish for the ceviche because they didn’t have refrigeration.”
“What I love about Peru is that there are so many climates in this country. There is always different temperatures. If I want cold weather, I go to the mountains. If I want to warm up, I head for the jungle.
I was offered “cuy” many times. But, this is one Peruvian specialty that I couldn’t bring myself to sample . It is a guinea pig that has been roasted and served with peanut sauce. They look like little rats.
I recently discovered that many of these fabulous Peruvian dishes can be tasted in Mexico at the newly opened Francesco’s Restaurant. Other wonderful Peruvian restaurants are La Mar, Astrid and Gaston and the one and only Osaka.
I wonder if they serve lucama ice cream?