This is the final installment of my Gluten-Free Guide to Lima.
Lima has been called the Culinary Capital of the Americas and let me be the first to tell you that it definitely lived up to the title on my recent visit. Now, I was first a bit apprehensive because of its proximity to the Pacific Ocean which meant that fish and shellfish would likely be plentiful and featured at restaurants throughout the City – and given my shellfish allergy this always makes me a bit antsy. I mean the City is famous for it ceviche after all with entire restaurants dedicated to this popular dish. I need not have worried though as Lima’s amazing culinary scene has quite literally something for everyone and finding gluten- and shellfish-free options.
Now I might speak seven languages but unfortunately Spanish is not one of them – I know, I know. More often than not when I travel I speak the local language but this time I would be outside of my comfort zone. I did however plan in advance and found some great food allergic allergy cards that I ended up printing out and laminating with my shellfish allergy requirements on one side and Celiac disease on the other. I had a native Spanish speaker first look them over to ensure that they conveyed exactly what I would need to communicate to servers and kitchen staff that I would encounter on my journey – and they did. Best of all, they were available free online. Being Italian both me and my mother speak Italian and were actually able to understand far more than I had anticipated being able to when spoken to in Spanish. Hey, you use everything you can when you have to.
So on to the food…
Prior to departure I had asked friends and colleagues who had been or lived there to recommend the not to be missed places that I needed to visit. I managed to compile quite the list but with only six nights and an aggressive sightseeing agenda I had to narrow it down and decided upon place that would give a taste of what Lima had to offer. Also, as many of you know, evening meals were often dictated by how tired we were from the day’s outings – and we were really all over the place trying to take in as much as we could.
Breakfast was a grand affair that we took daily on the roof of our hotel – the Orient Express Miraflores Park Hotel – and was by far the best thing the hotel had to offer (you can read more about that here). Breakfast was an impressive of hot and cold buffet items with made to order options offered just as easily. Basically you could have anything and as much as what you wanted. Fresh fruit, freshly squeezed juices, and fresh baked goods were standouts but perhaps the most exciting thing for me was the inclusion of gluten-free bread that was on offer. It was a rather unique bread, labeled only as “sin gluten” that was thicker and more solid than your traditional gluten-free bread and has a bit of sweetness to it. I was most welcome and paired wonderfully with the eggs prepared a range of ways that I would delight in each morning. I am typically not a big breakfast person but enjoying a full-breakfast while traveling affords me the opportunity to not have stop during the day for a large lunch allowing more time for sightseeing. It makes it much easier to just grab something light while on the move to tide you over until dinner.
Speaking of dinner, here are a few memorable meals I enjoyed while in Lima. I also want to point out that I was never glutened nor did I have to use my Epi-Pen for my shellfish allergy which is always a good thing. Bon Appétit!
On our first evening in Lima we decided to walk to the nearby Larcomar Center which is an impressive upscale outdoor mall that is literally built into the cliff side. It offers a range of shopping and dining options – not to mention the most amazing views of the coast and Pacific Ocean. We walked around and stumbled upon what would turn out to be an amazing Italian restaurant Vivaldino. I have to admit I was a bit hesitant because they did offer quite of bit of shellfish-based options but my concerns were quickly put at ease when I handed our waiter my dining card, which he read completely, and then provided tremendous advice on what would and would not work. I opted for a homemade risotto with porcini mushrooms and Parmesan cheese that was cooked to absolute al dente perfection as my main course and my starter was a simple tomato and mozzarella salad drizzled lightly with olive oil and finished with fresh basil. My mother started with a salad of Brie, pears, sun-dried tomatoes, and arugula which she enjoyed. Her main was a duck magret with wild berry sauce with Portobello mushrooms, prosciutto, and pears au gratin. She raved about this dish which was beautifully presented to boot. Service was flawless even despite the restaurant being quite busy. We would actually end up eating here another evening with me ordering the risotto again – it was just that good. We had a different server but ours was there serving a large party and stopped over to explain my allergies (he remembered) to our new server – very nice indeed.
Our second evening I had our hotel make a reservation at a restaurant that came recommended from a colleague – La Carreta. This is Lima’s proverbial temple to all things meat and it did not disappoint. As you can imagine this was not a problem to do gluten-free. I did of course hand my dining card to our waiter who once again read it completely and, in this case, was able to advise on the potential for shellfish cross-contamination, which was minimal – but all of my requirements were noted and conveyed to the kitchen. I started with an appetizer of thick-sliced grilled bacon accompanied by a wonderfully sweet and tart berry sauce. This was, in a word, amazing. The smokiness of the back brought to the next level by the grill and paired perfectly with the sweetness of the berry sauce that was not at all overpowering and allowed the bacon to really shine. The portions at this place are enormous so sharing would definitely work. My mother started with grilled Chinchulines (intestine) that was presented crackling away over coals when presented at the table. For our main courses, I had the young filet which was pretty much an entire small tenderloin that could have easily fed three hungry people. It was of course grilled to perfect medium with minimal seasoning allowing the true flavor of the beef to shine through. My mother opted for the prime rib which was more of a large rib eye. It too was cooked to perfection but was a bit fattier than my mother had expected but very good nonetheless. We chose a potato rosti, mixed vegetables, and grilled asparagus for our sides – all of which were delicious. I believe (and my mother confirmed) that I attempted to round-off the meal with a chocolate mousse but was in such a food coma by the end of the meal it has become a blur.
The next evening we were exhausted after an afternoon of power shopping our way across Lima so decided to utilize a complimentary meal for two that accompanied my stay at the hotel restaurant Mesa 18 by Toshiro. Now, I actually had no intention of using this because I typically steer away from Japanese restaurants as a rule given my shellfish allergy. While this restaurant is a self-proclaimed Peruvian/Japanese restaurant I was still weary after reviewing their menu. Due to some issues I had while at the hotel I had a meeting with the General Manager of the hotel who had asked if I tried Mesa 18 yet. I explained that due to my allergy and Celiac disease I did not think it would be a good idea and he was instant that the restaurant would be able to accommodate. He was in fact VERY wrong.
Happy that there was at least one thing I could have I was just thankful that I would be eating soon. Unfortunately when the dish arrived it was completely off-putting. A questionable looking piece of chicken was presented with cabbage and a few vegetables. Now, this was not the restaurant going above or making something special – this was actually an existing menu item – which made it even more disappointing. My mother just had the chicken skewers appetizer with a side of Japanese fried rice. Both of which arrived cold and were just average at best according to her. It was an utterly disappointing experience and by far the worst meal I had while in Lima.
The next evening, thankfully, we took-in another recommended restaurant Huaca Pucllana which is located in the actual Pucllana Archeological Zone making for a truly memorable dining experience – particularly at night when the ruins are illuminated. Be sure you make sure you reserve a table on the expansive terrace which provides sweeping vistas of the ruins. It was extremely busy when we visited and service started off a bit lackluster but once the staff got going it did get better. Once again my dining cards were read, understood, and even brought to the kitchen. The menu features a range of options that incorporate Peruvian ingredients. For my starter I had a Three quinoa salad with “solterito” (fresh cheese, onion, tomato, rocoto peppers, fava beans and corn) which was out of this world. Lightly dressed with a tangy lemon dressing that played perfectly off of all the fresh, crisp vegetables this was a home run – not to mention the corn was quite possible the largest I have ever come across. My mother had the green and white asparagus with artichoke tartar, fresh hearts of palm, and basil vinaigrette. She raved about how delicious this was. For my main course I had the Grilled tenderloin in a cilantro sauce with potatoes and white rice that did not disappoint. The meat was cooker perfectly and the cilantro sauce just took it to the next level. My mother had the Paiche filet (fish from the Amazon) served with yucca and plantain with cocona (indigenous fruit) and aji charapita (spicy peppers) chimichurri. The fish was cooked to perfection and the sweet/tart/spicy trifecta made for a very interesting flavor combination that my mother said worked extremely well with the mild flavor fish used. For dessert I had the Chocolate crème caramel with cherimoya (Andean fruit) foam sans the orange croquant that typically accompanied it. The chocolate flan was decadent and the subtle sweetness the cherimoya foam offered capped off a perfect dessert.
Lima is indeed a culinary melting pot incorporating many of the foreign influences that make the City so amazing. There is truly something for everyone from the very simple to food courts to fine dining. If you are less adventurous in the food department there are a host of chains (American and otherwise) but with so many real options it’s best to step outside of your comfort zone while in Lima. I even scored my beloved Pinkberry while shopping one afternoon that came complete with fresh gooseberries and enjoyed that while my mother indulged in a sugar-free Italian gelato as we sipped espresso. One thing is for certain, you will definitely not go hungry while visiting Lima and perhaps some of the most memorable times we had on the journey were while talking breaks at the small cafes that dot the City to enjoy a coffee or cocktail while soaking in the true beauty that is Lima.