Lima: The Culinary Capital of South America

For my first trip to Peru, my first stop was in the capital city of Lima. During my planning this trip, I read several articles that Lima is the culinary capital of South America. This accolade was given to the city in recent years as some of the best chefs in South America actually live and work in Lima.  With this, I’ve decided to book a tour of the local markets and food tasting on my first day in Peru.

I arrived in Lima the following morning at about 5:30am. I checked in straight at my hotel soon after to rest and get acclimated to the hot and humid weather of the city. By mid-afternoon, I was picked up by a local tour company and we started exploring the local markets not far from my hotel. This was the beginning of my culinary adventures in Peru.

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Our first stop was a local market in the Miraflores area of Lima where my guide tells me this is where the chefs and restauranteurs would go shopping for ingredients. Visiting this market, I understood why chef would come here. There are quite a lot of produce, meat and seafood vendors here that chefs have many options to choose from. My guide also tells me there are more than 4,000 varieties of potatoes in Peru alone and some of them are available at this market. Another popular produce in Peru is white corn. This variety of corn has a short husk or ear, about 6-7 inches long with huge white kernels about the size of an American dime. There are also a great variety of tropical fruits at this market some of which I’ve never seen or heard of before. I had a taste of some of them and they were actually quite good. The prices for the produce at this market is relatively cheap because most of them came from farms and fields in Peru.

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One dish I particularly wanted to try while I’m in Peru is its most popular dish called ceviche. For this, my tour guide brought me to a small eatery within the same market to try this very popular dish. The ceviche I tried in this eatery was served with fried sweet potatoes, calamari, scallops and corn. It was made fresh to order with a tiny bit of spice and quite excellent. There were many other eateries in this market which also serves ceviche so there are many to choose from.

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Onwards to the second market not far from the first. Here we tried another dish which I think it’s called Causa a la Limeña. It was some sort of chicken salad sandwiched between a gelatinous-style cake served with boiled egg. It was delicious however I like the ceviche better. At this second market, there are more eateries than produce vendors. You will also find vendors selling clothing and homegoods here. This is the first place in Peru where I had encountered stray dogs, something very prevalent in the country.

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The next stop was at a local restaurant across the street from the second market. Here we tried a chicken dish with rice wrapped in banana leaves and cooked with steam.  This rice had turned green because of the banana leaves which adds some flavor to it. Tasting all these delicious fruits and dishes were great except there is another dish that I have been hankering to try and been telling my tour guide about it. It’s called picarones – fried doughnut rings made of squash and sweet potatoes. For this, my guide said, we have to go to Barranco, a neighborhood in Lima where there are restaurants not far from the beach where they serve the best picarones in town. With still room to spare, we were off.

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Barranco is a very colorful neighborhood. The area we went to is an old street with rows of cafes and restaurants alongside colorful graffiti one would not think of as graffiti at all. This street use to have small hostels catering to surfers on a budget. After a major cleanup, cafes and restaurants suddenly appeared and the old hostels are now small mom-and-pop-style hotels. With all these improvements, graffiti artists started painting any spare or empty wall space they can find with artwork worthy of any art gallery. It’s like walking through an outdoor art gallery. The Barranco neighborhood is popular amongst artists and bohemians alike. Here, towards the end of the street overlooking the beach is a restaurant where they served picarones. It was served with a thick honey sauce. The picarones here was a very good and sweet ending to my food tour of Lima.

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Lima as the culinary capital of South American did not disappoint. The country has a variety of fruits, vegetables and dishes any gourmand would appreciate. In the beginning, I wondered what do a visitor like me, do in a place like Lima when your true purpose of going to Peru is to see Machu Picchu. A food tour in a country like Peru is one delicious idea every visitor will appreciate.


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