Peru

Real Markets, Real Ceviche (Lima, Peru)

Written by Mark McElroy

Yesterday, we were taken to a spotless market — most likely built for tourists — where every single fruit and vegetable was displayed like fine art.

Today, we head out to a real market, frequented by locals. “And if you like,” Rodrigo, our guide from Peruvian Local Friends, tells us, “we can go to the restaurant of my friend that’s there.”

“Sounds good to me,” I say.

“It is not a fancy place,” Rodrigo says. “There will be no tourists there. It is a very small restaurant, clean, but like a kitchen in a storage place.”

“Ah,” I say. “Sounds perfect!”

And so we’re off. Along the way, we stop on the fog-shrouded coastline to visit another of Miraflores’ stunning little parks. This one mimics parks in Barcelona built by Gaudi, and a statue there recalls a Valentine’s Day competition the mayor once organized to see who could kiss the longest:

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With the fog rolling in off the Pacific, the whole place feels magical, particularly with the distant palm trees all but lost in mist:

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We don’t linger, though, because the market is waiting — and, yes, this one is definitely the real deal:

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And, back in the back, through a dark corridor, beyond the area where all the butchers and fishmongers work and up a long and winding ramp, is the tiny restaurant of Rodrigo’s friend, Caesar:

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Now, as you may recall, I’m the guy who got terrible, awful, gut-wrenching food poisoning on our latest trip to Mexico. And I confess that memory is on my mind as we settle in for Caesar’s hot and spicy ceviche.

“Can you eat it hot?” he asks. Why, yes we can:

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Rodrigo complains that the dish is a little hot for his tastes, but for me and for Clyde, it’s spot on. The ceviche is better than it has a right to be: fresh, citrusy, spicy. Even the little sweet potato on the scallop shell — soaked in the ceviche broth — is an exquisite treat.

But Caesar isn’t done with us yet. From one of his big, black iron skillets, he serves up a cheese and seafood omelet, stuffed with shrimp, calamari, and octopus and dusted with parmesan cheese:

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And so here I am, sitting on a stool in a dark, cavernous section of a local market in Lima, Peru … rocking back and forth and making yummy noises. The calamari is tender. The octopus is grilled to perfection. And why haven’t I always been dusting my omelets with parmesan cheese?

It’s an experience we wouldn’t be having if we hadn’t booked a day with Rodrigo. I may not always recall every nook and cranny of the cathedrals we tour or the monastery we visit … but this little meal? I’ll remember it forever.

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Mark McElroy

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