Saturday 29 May 2010

Un cuento de dos capitales

1. Lima, Peru

Forty-eight hours is hardly enough time to get to know a city, so I don't really try. The first thing I do, upon discovering that my B&B possesses the most comfortable bed I have encountered in several months, is fall into a deep, detached sleep. And then I get drunk. Properly drunk, with English people.

They're not quite the Graham Greene type ex-pats one might expect to find in a Latin American capital city. In fact, I am in the esteemed company of Miles Buesst, the Captain of the Peruvian national cricket team. You have to admire the tenacity of an Englishman determined enough to achieve ICC Affiliation in a country with one cricket pitch, whose closest away fixture involves a journey of 2,400 kilometres to Santiago, and where the nearest shop selling cricket equipment is on a different continent. The only advice I could offer was that he should write a book.

The hangover took a fair bit of sleeping off. That done, I headed into Miraflores, the hospitable, westerner friendly side of Lima, for lunch. We had to pass up a few of the better Cevicherias due to the long queues outside, but eventually found one and got stuck in. I haven't eaten an enormous amount of ceviche in South America, though I have made it on a Peruvian cooking course in Buenos Aires. This one kicks ass. And it kicks a lot more too when you get a mouthful of the chilli. The liquid that remains on the plate is known as leche de tigre (tiger's milk) and is apparently available individually as a male aphrodisiac. No wonder they eat so much of the stuff.

Having bade farewell to Miles, and with a Peru cricket shirt now tucked under my arm, I spend the afternoon wandering Miraflores trying to get a feel for the city. It lies somewhere between the two extremes I have encountered so far; the European capitals like Buenos Aires and Santiago, and the crazy South American ones like La Paz. It's definitely nearer the former than the latter, and that will only ever move in one direction. But it still retains enough unexplained holes in the ground, shoeshine boys, taxi drivers who think they're Nelson Piquet and people selling everything to be defiantly South American in its style. I kind of like it.

2. Pescados Capitales

My culinary experience of Peru was hijacked by the gastroenteritis I suffered at the hands of the Bolivian popcorn, so I was determined to atone on my last night in Lima. I'd heard good things about Pescados Capitales, so it seemed as good a place as any.

I kick off with an ice cold Cusqueña while my order takes shape. A Pisco Sour to start me off. Then ceviche of flounder and octopus. Then brochettes of prawn, squid and octopus. All rinsed down with a Sauvignon Blanc that smells like a wild English meadow.

It is all very good. But the ceviche doesn't top what I had at lunchtime. The heat here is coming from black pepper, and I prefer the rounder sweeter heat of chilli. But the shavings of octopus and the big chunks of lenguado are divine.

The brochettes too are very good. Skewers of octopus in butter; soft, succulent and juicy. Prawns marinated in chimichurri, and squid in anticucho. I really savour every mouthful, all the time resisting the temptation to rise from my table, stroll across to the loud, obnoxious American and his friend who looks like Ned Flanders, and smash their heads together.

I am forced to try the crème brûlée, which disappoints. And so I am forced to drown the disappointment in a Gin and Tonic, and when that doesn't work, in another. By the time order is restored, the comfiest bed in South America beckons me into its midst, and I wilfully pass out.

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