Saturday, May 19, 2007

orenji on the road: lima, peru

After a long hiatus, we are back to our old blogging ways! Too busy to blog over the last few months, you ask? We would have to answer, 'yes!', which is a good thing. You can expect the posts to resume, including five blogs about our recent trip to Peru, recent events and creations, and some fun photo essays of events from the past.

We started our tour of Peru and Bolivia with a "culinary tour" of Lima. Lima is a bustling city rich in history-- both local and imported European. The cuisine reflects the abundance of locally available fruits, vegetables, meats, and seafoods, oftentimes influenced in preparation by the varied cultures and groups who occupied the area throughout its rich history.

Our first stop on the culinary tour was a delightful, semi-outside "cebicheria" named La Mar. It was explained to us that it "never rains in Lima" due to its elevation and micro-climate. Therefore, the restaurant is relatively open, affording a pleasant breeze and feeling of spaciousness, even as the diners crowd in to sample the fresh fish.

Our meal started with a bucket of fried plantain and vegetable chips, served with three delicious dipping sauces: cilantro and mint, roasted pepper, and chili.

We also sampled some deliciously refreshing (and strong!) local drinks... but more on those in a future post.

La Mar is known primarily for it's treatment of the Peruvian delicacy cebiche, made from freshly caught fish (as the daily inscribed chalkboards pictured above suggest). From wikipedia: "Cebiche is a form of citrus marinated seafood salad that originated in the Viceroyalty of Peru. One theory suggests that it got its name from the Quechua (which is a locally spoken native language) "siwichi"; another theory suggests the name is derived from the Arabic term "sibesh" (acidic aromatic food) due to the participation of Moorish women that came to Peru during the viceroyalty.

The marinade used in cebiche is citrus based, with lemons and limes being the most commonly used. In addition to adding flavor, the citric acid causes the proteins in the seafood to become denatured, which pickles or "cooks" the fish without heat. The result tastes more like a cooked dish and less like raw fish preparations such as Japanese sashimi. Old style cebiche was left up to 3 hours for marinade. Modern style cebiche usually has a very short marinating period. With the appropriate fish, it will marinate for as long as it takes to mix the ingredients, serve and carry to the table.
We tried a sampling of five types of cebiche, served in delightfully long-stemmed martini glasses, each delicious in its own right. Some were flavored simply with citrus, while others had the warmth of chili peppers, the sweetness of coconut milk, or the bite of red onions. In the last picture, you can see the large kernels of Peruvian corn which were both sweet and chewy, while adding a starchy texture to the cebiche. We tried shrimp, bay scallops, squid, octopus, tuna, and some local white fishes.

Next on the menu was a sampling of causitas-- mini Peruvian causas. The causa is a starchy and thick casserole, made from mashed sweet, yellow, or white potato flavored with various local products including chilis, lime, onion, and oil. The causitas were made into small dumpling-shaped bites and topped with a variety of ingredients including avocado, traditional hard-boiled egg and olive, flaked tuna, crab salad, and a variety of raw and pan-fried fish.

Following cebiche and causitas, we relied on our guides to suggest some additional local delicacies to sample...even though we were getting full at that point! We sampled some delicious broiled scallops with local cheese, pan sauteed calimari salad with peanuts and frizzled ginger, and stuffed and fried crab with roasted tomatoes and bok choy. We finished the meal with a delicious pumpkin ravioli (not pictured).

Alas, there was no room left for dessert. Then again, it was just our first stop on the culinary tour! Check back for our future food adventures, including a visit to the open-air markets, trying cuy (guinea pig)--a local favorite, a review of Peruvian drinks, and our fine-dining experience at Astrid y Gaston-- the finest restaurant in Lima. Buen Provecho!