Food journalist Andy Lynes discovers the culinary delights of Peru with Martin Morales.
Lima can claim to have one of the most exciting restaurant scenes in the world, fuelled by the fastest growing economy in South America.
I know because I've eaten in most of its fine dining places, trendy casual joints and holes in the wall. At least, that's how it feels. In the expert company of Martin Morales, chef proprietor of Ceviche restaurant in London, I've eaten in a dozen restaurants, poked my head into many more, eaten street food and visited three markets, all in the space of three days.
I've tried the northern Peruvian speciality of black conch ceviche (a version of the national dish of raw seafood marinated in lime juice) at La Paisana, one of Morales's favourite hole in the wall joints in Magdalena del Mar; I've eaten giant Amazonian sea snail (surprisingly delicious) as part of a dazzlingly inventive tasting menu at upmarket Malabar in the chic Miraflores district, and a stunningly eclectic parade of modern Peruvian dishes at leading chef Rafael Osterling's brilliant new El Mercado restaurant (also in Miraflores) including a wood grilled octopus served with crushed potatoes, parsley cream and aioli (a riff on the on the classic 'pulpo al olivo' octopus in olive sauce that Morales serves at Ceviche in London) that was so smoky and meaty I mistook it for barbequed pork.
I've drunk the non-alcoholic chicha made from purple corn at the restaurant in the grounds of Huaca Pucllana, an ancient adobe and clay pyramid in the city centre; a lethal cocktail made with chicha de jora corn beer flavoured with membrillo and topped off with pisco at the bar in the trendy La Picanteria restaurant in Surquillo, and a glass of tiger's milk (the leftover marinade from ceviche) spiked with sea urchin at El Mercado.
I've queued for over half an hour to eat the finest ox heart anticuchos (meat skewers) in the city, the only dish served at the legendary Tia Grimanesa in Miraflores, beloved of superstar Spanish chef Ferran Adria whose picture takes pride of place on the tiny restaurant's wall of fame.
I've seen some of the incredible variety of indigenous potatoes ('There's about 3500 varieties in the world and 2500 of those originated in Peru,' says Morales) that are purple and yellow and even orange with red flecks at the excellent Bioferia organic food market in Miraflores. I've tasted thumb sized miniature watermelons, aromatic, juicy Peruvian mango, sweet grapefruit like alima lemons and granadilla (similar to passion fruit that Morales says he used to take to school as a child and eat with a spoon) straight from the stall at Surquillo Market. And I still haven't listed half the things I've jotted down in my notebook.
Morales has drawn inspiration from the trip too. 'I'm always constantly researching and learning,' says Morales who talks excitedly about the emoliente (health drink) made from quinoa, quince, apple and cinnamon we sampled from a street cart that might just end up on the menu at his forthcoming Shoreditch restaurant, and the use of fermented cassava instead of the more traditional chicha de jora in some of the dishes at Malabar.
The world is waking up to Lima's culinary excellence. The city has three restaurants in the World's 100 Best Restaurants list (Astrid y Gaston, Central and Malabar) and it will host the inaugural Latin America's 50 Best Restaurant awards ceremony in September this year. Lima dominates the North South America listings in the recently published Where Chefs Eat guide with 14 of the 23 entries, including Le Mar, a seafood restaurant in Miraflores chosen by Joan Roca, head chef of the current World's Best Restaurant El Cellar de Can Roca in Girona.
I might have left Lima a little less leaner, but it was worth every extra pound. If you love food and haven't yet discovered the culinary delights of Peru, make it number one on your foodie bucket list.