Yesterday, we went to a restaurant in Lima that was truly a treat. The gigantic size of the restaurant matched the amount of flavor the chefs were able to pack into the food. We began with a demonstration of how to make pisco sours. Pisco is a liquor that is very popular here in Peru made by fermenting wine from grapes. One can find pisco sours on essentially every menu in any restaurant here in Peru. (This is what I’m assuming, at least!) We were lucky enough to have the bartender of the restaurant demonstrate to us how to concoct a perfect pisco sour.
First, you begin with exactly four ice cubes, no more no less. Then, you add two pours of pisco sour from the large side of the jigger. Next, you add one pour of simple syrup from the small side of the jigger and then a little more than half lime juice on the small side of the jigger as well. Now this is my favorite part. You take one fresh egg, create a small hole, then pour the egg white out into the drink. I had never seen this method for separating the yolk from the egg white, but it surely took a lot less time and looked a lot more professional. Then, you put the lid on the cocktail shaker and shake it up! When you pour out the pisco sour, there will be some foam from the egg, and that is good! To finish, you add a dash of bitters, and then you enjoy. (Note: I’m sorry if my terminology/explanation doesn’t make sense; I’m not well-versed in the world of mixology.)
Next: ceviche. I personally had not seen ceviche be made in front of me, and I was quite excited for this part. As we stood around a small table where the blue cloth contrasted starkly against the greens, reds, and yellows that were in the silver bowls, I could feel the heat of the cookers behind me and smell whatever deliciousness was being prepared in them. She added lemon juice, garlic, peppers, onion, fish broth, and essentially every ingredient you would want in a ceviche. After thoroughly mixing the mahi-mahi, she simply poured the fish out onto a plate with roasted corn, sweet potato, and choclo. Later, we had a plate to ourselves, and she certainly did not disappoint.
Finally: lomo saltado. I was amped to watch this demonstration! A man gingerly placed a tray of different spices and flavors onto the same blue table, but instead of mahi-mahi, there were strips of sirloin steak. After adding salt, pepper, garlic, Worcestershire (which directly translates to “English sauce”), soy sauce, and other colorful combinations, he added the meat into the pan. This is where the real fun began. He made sure to explain that the oil needs to be extremely hot before adding the meat; profe mentioned that this was only possible in an industrial kitchen with a propane gas stove. The meat started dancing in the flames of the pan, and the smells that were coming from it embraced me with open arms. (In other words, I smelled like lomo saltado for a bit afterwards, but I didn’t complain at all.) Much to my delight, he added a splash of pisco sour. In regards to presentation, he plated the lomo saltado along with crispy French fries and fluffy rice. It was unreal.
Here, they value meal time; I haven’t seen people on their phones, and every meal takes more than an hour, easily. I prefer this pace of life, where people gather together and take time to connect and enjoy good food, all while enjoying each other’s company.
As we were watching the demonstrations, I was trying to think of what the American equivalent could be. We have Krispy Kreme donuts that are made in front of you, and you may be able to go to Café DuMonde and watch beignets be made in front of you, but that’s all I could really think of. Fast food places like Subway and Chipotle certainly do not count! Perhaps it’s a matter of age: these recipes and flavors have belonged to the people of Peru possibly longer than the United States has even existed. Maybe it is the food culture in Peru that doesn’t exist in the United States.