As the sliding doors opened, I became overwhelmed by the wide array of colors, smells, and textures that surrounded me. Standing in the market, in the heart of Miraflores, Peru... my mind had no idea where to even begin. Large sacks of drying potatoes, in varieties Id never heard of, pile up into giant mounds. Bundles of green plantains hang like ornaments over every stall. Women posted up in their respective stations, cutting grapes, tearing herbs, and reorganizing their spice mounds in preparation for what was sure to be another bustling day at Surquillo Market.
I, however was there to learn about all the geographically local ingredients, what was currently in season, as well as the various infusions brought into Peruvian cooking through Chinese and Japanese influence. The market was the second to last stop on a morning adventure through Lima, Peru. Earlier that morning, myself and a group of chefs, restaurant owners, and hospitality industry companions perused the streets, stopping at some of the greatest restaurants in Lima that are now recognized worldwide.
From Maido, a welcoming and extravagant restaurant that harmoniously blends Peruvian flavors with Japanese style and technique. To one of the most buzzed about hot spots in the world, Central.. known for utilizing some of Peru's exclusive local delicacies. What’s something you'd never imagine ending up on a five star menu? A rich clay found deep in the Andean Mountains served tableside.
After our celebrity restaurant pit stops, we arrived at the market to met up with Pedro Miguel Schiaffino of Malabar, named one of the best restaurants in Latin America by The World's 50 Best. Once there, we went over exactly what was in season as well as what was necessary for the classics including Ceviche, Leche de Tigre, and Lomo Soltado. We found ourselves mesmerized by wild fruits, Amazonian berries, nuts and spices, as well as hard-to-pronounce produce, that really only thrive in the unparalleled conditions native to Peru.
Once we had completed a thorough tour through Surquillo, we all went, by car, to the top floor of Malabar restaurant. Here we put on our aprons and gloves, and began to learn (from the best) the ins and outs of what makes a totally classic ceviche. I learned that simply put, a ceviche really is only five basic ingredients: sushi grade fresh fish, lime, cilantro, onion, and salt. Any additional ingredients are added to create a rendition customized by the palette of the inventor.
Leche de Tigre, is a whole other monster entirely. Most commonly known in Peru as one of the best hangover cures after a late night, this salty, spicy, and acidic sauce is always in high demand around Lima. Traditionally, Leche de Tigre, (which is essentially a sexfied version of the juice already found in ceviche) is made from a specific type of lime known as Sutil. This key-lime sized citrus, is typically only found in the northern region of Peru, in Piura. From there, you add scraps of the leftover fish, unused from your ceviche cut. **fun fact the breakdown of the protein during this step is what gives the juice its white color (hence the name leche.)
At this point, you can really add anything you think would make a great sauce including: garlic, cilantro, ginger, onion, peppers (whether for heat or simply flavor) and any other flavorful ingredient you can get your hands on. Each chef has their own interpretation of the quintessential Leche de Tigre, which makes ceviche-tasting a must while traveling through Peru.
Throughout the entire learning and cooking process, the chef also described how each flavor profile, paired accordingly with the variety of Cusquena beers, which are locally brewed in Cusco. Their selections ranged from wheat, and red to their classic golden lager and more full bodied Negra.
The restaurant tour, market visit, and cooking class all came to a glorious close as we gathered around a family-style table and devoured our delectable concoctions. I always enjoy a local cooking class, as I believe the fastest way into the heart of a culture is really through your stomach.