Just whiling away the weekend here. It so far hasn’t turned out to be the weekend I was expecting, but, that’s not necessarily the worst thing ever. I didn’t end up getting to go to the soccer game Friday night, which was kind of a bummer (reaaaaaally want to go to a game before I leave!) BUT I did get to use that time to finally get around to visiting that Arabic restaurant I mentioned a while ago and skype with a couple of fineeeee ladies back home. 🙂 So, all’s well that ends well.
The Arabic restaurant in question is called Ali Baba’s (because, you know, let’s promote orientalist stereotypes) located in Miraflores on José Larco (avenida? calle? I never remember). It actually just opened pretty recently and by and large caught my eye the first few times because it’s a bit of a hole in the wall, which can often mean tasty surprises lie in store. And then, of course, last week, I happened to meet the owner who is from Palestine and speak to him in Arabic, so of course I had to come back and chat some more and see how authentic the food was!
When I arrived, one of the cooks immediately recognized me and, as it was still too early to be busy, came over to talk. I was struggling to understand his Arabic for a bit and finally realized why (well, aside from the fact that I’m sadly already rusty)…he was not from Palestine like the owner. He’s from Iraq! So, that explains that. When my Arabic failed too much, we would switch into Spanish, which frankly was groovy with me. While we chatted I ordered an Arabic tea, which, to my pleasure, was basically a Lipton tea (yellow label!) that I drank all of the time in Jordan. With mint. And a boatload of sugar. Aw, yeah!
I wanted to keep things light, so I decided to order an appetizer of hummus and see how I felt after that while continuing to chat with my new Iraqi friend. As I’ve already mentioned several times, Becky=hummus addict/serious critic. So, for me, this is a pretty true test of authenticity. The hummus at Ali Baba’s, I must say, was a right sight better than that at Tarboush. It was a bit heavier on the salt that I’m used to, but I actually quite liked it. The one thing I DIDN’T like, however, was the texture. Luckily it wasn’t soupy, but definitely a little more liquid-y than I feel a good hummus has the right to be. Hummus should be thick and creamy, guys! I will admit here though, I know cuisine varies across the Middle East and I know some places probably do eat hummus with the texture I had last night. It’s just not the Levantine goodness I was craving. 🙂 Still, gulped it all down. The bread was more or less authentic-and, best of all, warm-and probably some of the best bread I’ve had in Peru so far. Props!
I decided, for the sake of all of you dear readers who I just KNOW are hanging on to my every culinary review, (ok, more so for my taste buds) that I couldn’t qualify the restaurant JUST by the hummus. (Although I totally would.) So I decided to also order an appetizer plate of falafel…it said there were 6, so I figured I’d nibble what I could. Well…the plate came, and looked like this:
That is NOT what your description said, Ali Baba! In fact, had I known that by ordering the falafel I would’ve gotten hummus and a small tabouleh salad as well, that would’ve been the ONLY thing I ordered so I wouldn’t have had to pay twice to sample everything. Then again, I’ve pretty much never said no to more hummus in my life. So…it wasn’t so bad. The tabouleh was kind of lacking in parsley and lemon juice, in my opinion, but was alright. The falafel were, once again, a heck of a ways better than those at Tarboush. (I mean, Tarboush wasn’t bad, just not authentic…and I could taste a very strong fried/oil flavor.) They were the right shape and, while definitely a little more green inside than those I ate in Jordan, were more or less a good representation. I had two dipping sauces to accompany them, one being a white yogurt sauce which was smooth and thin, and another orange, kind of tangy sauce-the likes of which I have not really ever tasted before, but it was alright.
Before I give Ali Baba’s a total rating for authenticity, I’d like to go back and try the lamb kebabs, foul, shwarma, and a few other Arabic items on the menu just to be sure I’m gauging them well. For the record, they also serve Peruvian classics, desserts, juices, alcohol and even things like hamburgers, incase some of your friends aren’t feeling adventurous enough to try Middle Eastern cuisine (read: laaaame!). Here’s the breakdown of my food:
Hummus Plate w/pita bread: S/8 or about $3.05
Falafel Appetizer plate…with hummus, bread, and tabouleh: S/8 or about $3.05
Arabic Tea: S/3 or about $1.15
After my venture to Ali Baba, I was ridiculously full. However, not expecting to talk so long to the Iraqi cook, I had brought some reading assignments to do whilst eating, and they had still not been done. So I decided to re-visit the café at El Virrey (aka Laritza D’s) for a nice hot tea and…well… some dessert. Because…I like sweets. A LOT. And I was already out and being naughty when it came to food. Go big or go home, kids. So, to the café I went, waddling away…and there I made a huge mistake, guys. I ordered this:
In case you didn’t see it the first time, let me reiterate. I ordered this:
This beautiful, beautiful cheesecake with strawberry coulis. Readers, for those of you who don’t know, I love almost any and every kind of dessert, and can eat much larger quantities of them than literally almost anyone I know, hungry teenaged boys included. But when I was a kid, cheesecake was by far my NUMBER ONE. Every time we went out to eat, I HAD to have a slice. Even if no one else wanted any–which means even as a pretty tiny 11 year old, I was gobbling down monstrous restaurant-sized slices of cheesecake, even when my stomach protested that it could stretch no further. I no longer know if I could pick an absolutely favorite dessert ever, but let it be known that a good cheesecake is still one of the top contenders. So despite the fact that I was ridiculously full and this piece was huge, I ate every. Last. Bite.
This cheesecake is definitely one of the creamier variations, but I’d still rate it as real, authentic cheesecake. (Sorry, Jordan, Peru’s got you here…) It was delectably soft; the coulis sauce was a perfect combination of sweet and tangy, aaaand I kind of forgot about the tea I had ordered while I snarfed the whole thing down.
But about that tea. I ordered the Spicy Chai tea which was basically supposed to be black tea in the tradition of India, served with sugar and milk. Well…I was hoping from that “Chai” thing that I would end up with a chai latte, but whilst I received sugar the milk was not forthcoming. Perhaps I was supposed to ask, but I didn’t bother. It also came with a tasty little buttery shortbread ladyfinger. Good for dipping! However, after the first cupload, I wasn’t too crazy about the tea. I always use a lot of sugar in tea, because I don’t like watered-down flavor nor bitterness, and this tea definitely needed sugar, but once I added it (even when I added less for the second cup) it was too sweet. Not from the sugar, but from some sort of honey flavor going on that I just really couldn’t dig after a while. The second cup went mostly unfinished. Anyway, just my opinion-there are literally four or five PAGES of teas listed in this menu, so I’m sure I can find something more suited to my tastes next time!
Strawberry Cheesecake: S/7.8 or about $2.98
Spicy Chai: S/6.5 or about $2.48
Oh, and one more review for you! At some point on my way home from school last week, I stopped by a tiny (but classy) café/ridiculously appetizing bakery called La Mora on Calle Bolognesi in Miraflores to FINALLY eat an alfajor. Alfajores are shortbread cookies filled with manjarblanco (aka, dulce de leche/a sweet caramel-like substance) dusted with powdered sugar. They come from Spain but have been locally adopted/revised a bit, and La Mora was selling mini-alfajores for S/1 or about $.038…this seemed like a good deal for me, because it was the perfect way to sample one without buying a whole-which is a REALLY good idea. Because I kid you not, alfajores of a normal size are literally about four inches in diameter. That’s a loooot of cookie if you end up not liking it or wanting that much manjarblanco in your day. I thought the cookie was pretty good-it crumbled almost automatically when I took a bite, but the shortbread was buttery and the manjarblanco was sweet, but softer than your typical caramel-meaning it didn’t stick to my teeth too badly. Excellent, a cookie that is social-gathering acceptable!
Anyway. I feel kind of guilty because I spent way more money on food yesterday than I meant to. I mean, when you look at it in American dollars it’s actually a pretty reasonable meal (even including the dessert run-Everything totals to about $12.70) but I’m trying NOT to spend money too much, especially this weekend…because tomorrow? Tomorrow, I’m going to Mistura, the biggest festival in Latin America. And it is ALL. ABOUT. FOOD. I’m so, sosososososososososososo excited. But it’s going to be a hair pricey-you pay to enter, and then pay more for the food you eat. So I’m definitely going to cut down on eating out if I can after Mistura is over. (Although I do not promise that I won’t go more than once!)
Until next time…