The title of this post is somewhat misleading. This post is going to be about the main savory foods I ate, because if I were to mention every sample I was handed or siphoned out of some vendor, I would be here until hell froze over. Honestly, just by paying your entrance fees you can get more or less a full meal (and a wider sampling, I must admit) just by walking around and getting free samples from different vendors and restaurants. If, as I go through my photos and business cards/flyers collected, I stumble upon the memories of any samples in particular that made me crazy with food-driven love, I shall of course mention them. However, since I don’t want YOU to have to be here until hell freezes over, I’ve decided to extend the Mistura festivities by another post and do Savory eats vs. Sweet Eats… and, as I mentioned in the last post, I won’t be posting prices because I believe most were specially put together for the event.
And yes, I’m making these photos BIG.
First up to bat: Anticuchos
Anticuchos…a classic Peruvian dish. What is it, you ask? Why, that would be grilled/kebab-styled bull’s heart, dear readers! This is such a well known dish here that I’ve been looking forward to it since arriving, but wanted to make sure that I was eating the highest quality stuff for my first sampling…according to my version of Lonely Planet Peru, that level of taste comes from only one place: La Tía Grima (Anticuchos de Grimanesa Vargas). So, as is evidenced by my “Lima Top 30” list, this place is somewhere I knew I HAD to hit up, and luckily a very large space was designated to this restaurant which has been dubbed the place with the best anticuchos in all of Peru. (Plus, some credibility was given to this claim when I saw a picture of my language partner holding one of the anticucho kebabs from Tía Grima while standing next to Grimanesa Vargas herself–if the locals think she’s celebrity-photo-op-worthy, who am I to argue?)
Honestly, I’m both happy and sad that these were my first ever anticuchos. Happy, because they were to die for. Sad, because I will probably never be able to take pleasure in anticuchos from another source again for as long as I live. These skewers were jammed into huge chunks of thick, chewy (but not tough!) and still tender meat, ever so SLIGHTLY pink all the way at the center without being too rare nor overcooked. The flavor was salty, but not too much so, and just so…well… umami! (I wish I had a better way to describe it.) Biting down into these babies is SERIOUSLY satisfying, although I advise having a store of napkins on hand as they are a hair tricky to keep on the stick. Honestly, one of these skewers would have filled me up more than substantially, but I ate BOTH that came in my tray (didn’t waste too much time on the random potato accompaniment though, as the ají on them was a little spicier than I could handle). I am seriously crazy for these things now and there is NO doubt in my mind that I will be going to the corner of Calle Ignacio Merino & La Mar (in Miraflores, no less!) several times before I leave Peru to get some more of these things. Damn, people. DAMN.
Next up: Ceviche
Ceviche is a food pretty much synonymous with Peru. In fact, I’d say that if foreigners know anything about Peru beyond that Macchu Picchu & llamas are here, it’d probably be that people here love ceviche. If you aren’t in the know, ceviche is a lot like sushi in that it is raw fish…except, whilst uncooked, ceviche is still sort of “cooked” by being more or less drowned in citrus juices and, in Peru, spiced up a bit with ají and, optionally, salt/pepper/cilantro/whatever. Much like with anticuchos, I’ve been excited to try this dish but simply waiting to find a good place…so, my friends and I hopped into the longest line we saw for any restaurant serving ceviche, which just happened to be for a place called Lalo El Norteño that can be found on the street Jr. Los Almendros in the neighborhood of San Juan Miraflores (admittedly not so close to me). This particular ceviche was served in a “crema” (cream sauce) that, I thought, tasted absolutely fantastic. My friends, who are Japanese (and thus have been eating ceviche from the get-go, as it is similar to sushi & served in many Japanese restaurants here in a sort of Peruvian version of a ‘California Roll’…aka, non-authentic sushi) told me that the cream sauce made it a little less spicy than it normally would be, but we all agreed it was marvelous. The texture of the fish was not the soft, flaky fish that one usually is served when fish is cooked-it took a little bit more bite to get through it, but it certainly wasn’t hard. The lemon/lime tang and salty fish mixed with the sweet, thin cream sauce was a fabulous combination, and I didn’t even mind the onions piled on top–a food I usually have a distaste for physically consuming, though I have never been opposed to its flavor in cooking. Furthermore, this ceviche was served with a large slice of yam–and ashamed as I am to say it, I have somehow NEVER eaten a yam before. This one was soft and very sweet, and I ADORED it, especially combined with the cream sauce. For a first round of ceviche, I was really pleased with this dish.
Onwards to: Pastel de Choclo
Well, this dish was a total spur of the moment surprise. I had 0 idea what Choclo was, but when I passed the booth for the restaurant LIMA 27 (found on Calle Santa Luisa in San Isidro…I take a bus past it every day!) I happened to see the word “pastel” (cake) and then an unrelated dessert sitting on the counter of the booth, and drew my own conclusions. My friends, I think, knew more of what it was, but couldn’t find the right way to describe it, simply telling me it was something that was a very traditional Peruvian food (the internet tells me it is also popular in other parts of Latin America, especially Chile). Well, just so you know, guys, pastel de choclo is basically a ground beef casserole. It has a VERY creamy texture, much like mashed potatoes, albeit lighter, (this comes from a ground cornmeal/flour mixture) with a layer of meat in the middle. This particular version was a combination of really interesting flavors–somehow the casserole tasted very much like cheese, but I couldn’t detect any actual cheese in the dish (and it’s kind of a hard texture to just “dissolve”, so…) The layer of beef was very thin, and texturally almost imperceptible, and on top of the whole serving was ladled a sauce with a bit more shredded beef that was, essentially, a sweet barbecue sauce. The cheese flavor and sweet sauce were an interesting contrast that, overall, I really liked. For a dish purchased on a total whim/incorrect assumption, this ended quite well for me. (Notice how everything is getting really good reviews? NOW you understand why I ate SO MUCH and couldn’t stop praising this event in my last post.)
A Classic: Tamales!
This was not my first tamale, nor do I predict it being my last. I’ve consumed a tamale amarillo (yellow tamale, referring to the filling color) at home (Lima home, that is) in the past and I absolutely LOVED it. However, there is seriously a plethora of different kinds of tamales out there, and today’s samplings were corn-based and of a white color in the middle. (Oh, if you DON’T happen to know what a tamale is right off the bat, it’s a starchy-dough-filling wrapped up and steamed in a leaf. No, you don’t usually eat the leaf.) One of my friends with me had had these kinds of tamales before when visiting Cusco, where you can find the restaurant Tamales Josefina (in Cusco’s Plaza de Armas)–from whom we purchased ours–and said friend was raving about them for about an hour while we hunted them down in the huge event venue. We decided to get one of each kind of tamale being sold-one with a sweeter filling, one with a savory filling. My tamale was the sweetened kind, which meant it had a few raisins baked into the center and if my memory serves me, the raisins were of the golden genre, and were warm and tasty. They were a rather needed addition as well, as they provided a mildly-juicy respite from a food that, in this case, was otherwise a little bit dry and crumbly in texture. I liked mine, but I much preferred the savory version, which was a little more moist and had a saltier tang to it, with a few shreds of tender chicken thrown into the middle. Both were quite tasty if not miiiiiiildly bland, although I’d say my reigning favorite is still the yellow tamale I had at home (ironically pre-made at the grocery store) which was much more condensed in texture and savory in flavor. Possibly worth re-visiting fresh from the real restaurant in Cusco, though.
Getting Questionable: The Mysterious “Supercombinada” (Super-combo)
So, as we were walking around some randomly placed restaurant booths, my friends and I decided to take some photos of a fairly hoppin’ stand where cooks where grilling up HUGE piles of various, ah, things. They were obviously pieces of different animals, but just from watching the smoke-blurred scenario it was impossible to tell what or which. However, when one of the grill-masters held out a spatula to let us sample, we IMMEDIATELY jumped into the long line to purchase whatever the heck the “Supercombinada” was. The menu for this restaurant, Las Delicias D’Delia (found on Calle Héctor Velarde con Juan Torres Higuera –Surquillo…wait…where is this?) clearly dictated:
Corazón de pollo
Of this list of things, I knew 2 for sure and was fairly certain about one more. Anticuchos I have already mentioned, and had already sampled. Corazón de Pollo means ‘heart of chicken’…well, I figured that bull’s hearts had done so well by me that a little tiny chicken life-pump couldn’t hurt either. Parillas is kind of just a word for charcoal-grilled food, and in Argentina is an entire genre of restaurant. The rest of this mixture, however, was a total mystery, and I’m going to describe it to you before I reveal what all of it is.
Salty, greasy, chewy, mouth-watering goodness. This pile of somewhat rubbery, totally gross-looking animal bits was downright lip-smackin’ good. Those long stringier looking bits you see in the photos? A little rubbery. You probably could stretch them a bit if you pulled gently. But they were super satisfying to bite into or stab with a fork. So were the little rounded cutlets. Everything was basically just thrown on the grill together, mixing flavors until all were slightly coated with grease, salt, and a smokey flavor I absolutely loved. In fact, the only disappointment on this plate was actually the anticuchos–and this I blame for my previous experience at La Tía Grima. This quick, greasy version had the same flavor as the rest of the combo meats, but was a much thinner and tougher cut than the anticuchos at La Tía Grima, and the only way I can think of to compare it is a McDonald’s Cheeseburger in versus a perfectly cooked steak at some upscale restaurant. Both delicious in their own rights, (oh come on, we ALL love a little processed-food glory now and then) but in this case the fast-food version just couldn’t keep up. Overall, while the clearly artery-clogging supercombinada was pleasing to my tastebuds, I was at a point in the day where I not only needed a break from eating in general, but also couldn’t handle too much more food of this type, and so I ate several loaded forkfuls and then called it quits on this one…but if I can ever find this restaurant, I think I’ll risk a heart attack to eat this again. But wait, I’m not done yet! I still haven’t told you what these things were, remember?
As a matter of fact, I literally just figured out what all I ate on that platter right about…now. I’m literally having to research these foods in order to tell you what they are and, uh, let’s just say I might have been a little less eager to take that first sample had I known what they were in the beginning. Here we go:
Choncholíes– Cow intestines/guts. Here I believe they were sliced up into little pieces, but are apparently often served in their own right with some ají and onions. When you think about it, sausage/hotdogs are just pig intestines, so I guess this one isn’t TOO scary to think about.
Rachi– Well, here’s a pleasant surprise. Rachi is tripe. Tripe is something that many cultures eat, including French and Italian, but I still didn’t know about that and even had to google the English translation of tripe to figure out what it is…which, by the way, is cow stomach from the first two chambers. Yeah, that rubbery, stretchy stuff I was talking about that looks like it has a spongey texture on one side? Tripe. Seems a little less appetizing now. Oy…just throw some more grease on it until I forget the truth, okay?!
Mollejita– Alright, last one. Mollejita is a diminutive verson of the word “molleja”, which means…esophagus. Yep. I ate esophagus. I believe it’s cow esophagus, most likely/commonly, but since everything was chopped up so small I can’t really attest to that 100%. (Really, excepting the anticucho and tripe, the rest all kind of looked the same.)
And that, my friends, is the mystery supercombinada of Las Delicias D’Delia.
A Worthy Mention: Tarí Crema de Ají
Remember how in the beginning of this post I said only superb samplers would get mentioned? Well, this one makes the cut. I’ve mentioned ají many a time now, but, as a refresher, it’s a chili sauce that gives a nice kick to Peruvian food. A commercial brand, Tarí, was set up in many locations handing out little packets of their Crema de Ají (ají creme sauce) with which visitors could spice up any of their food purchases. They also had a stand in the Bazaar where you could dip potatoes into the sauce. I took 2 little packets home, along with eating a potato sample, and I have to say I LOVE this sauce! It’s creamy with just a hint of heat–not too much to overwhelm my particularly delicate/weak taste buds, but with enough of a savory taste as well so that I literally was eating the last drops of the stuff pure out of the packet. I think it’s love. And therefore, I posted about it. ❤
Annnnd that’s a wrap on the main savory dishes I ate at Mistura 2012! There were TONS more I really wanted to sample–seriously, Peru has an almost endless LIST of national “classics” and “specialties”–but alas, my stomach can only expand so much. Although, apparently much more than I thought…anyway, stay tuned in the next day or so for Mistura Eats: sweet edition!