I hate people who are not serious about their meals. -- Oscar Wilde

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Lima Part Dos: Chilling in the Barrio Chino and chowing down Pollo la Brasa

Om Nomz Hero Note to Self: Bad Spanish and subpar mandarin lead to a hilarious time in Barrio Chino

Mercado Centrale Lima

I was only in Lima for a short time which is a pity because there are so many places…ok not place more like eats that I wanted to visit and eat. I visited the Central Market in Lima which is always a pleasure to see and do. Similar to the Central Market in Cusco, each area was separated from seafood, meats and fruits and so on.

I went there really early so it was a pleasure to see and walk around as fishmongers were cleaning scallops and fishes and butchers breaking down sides of beef and deboning chickens.

The Meat Aisle


Butchering with precision

One of the impressive pictures that I got was a poultry guy that was burning the hair off of a skinned turkey using a fire in a wok. It was a spectacular site as well as a clear fire code violation. After awing at all the food, I decided to give my stomach a break from me constantly challenging it with market food and headed to Barrio Chino, the Chinatown in Lima
Burning off the hairs of a turkey
Food Porn after Jump!
Barrio Chino
First off, the name Barrio Chino sounds mysterious and edgy and suggests that opium dens are still in existence here. There is a big Chinese population here in Lima according to research, but I have not encountered any Chinese people until I came to Barrio Chino. In Chinatowns I have visited and the Chinatown in New York, you feel you are transported to another place with the crowded streets and vast number of Chinese people. I was surprised when I started walking around here how few Chinese people were even here and most of the people operating the stores and restaurants were of Latin American descent. Even more surprising is that the few Chinese I saw and started asking about restaurant recommendations, very few spoke any Chinese. They would respond back to be in Spanish telling me that they do not speak Mandarin. I was utterly confused and perplexed that I was the one that had the superior Mandarin speaking skills in Chinatown
I walked around and realized that I was hungry and not getting any suggestions and decided to forgo the empty shadier looking establishments, I decided to go to Salon Capon which is one of well known Chinese places in Lima. Salon Capon has a location in the uber trendy Larcomar so I had my doubts that this was a Westernized Chinese place but I was comforted by the site that is ubiquitous in any so many Chinese restaurants: roasted ducks hanging in the window and a overcrowded tank full of fish. 

Don't need a sign to tell you this is Chinatown, look for hanging meats
I speak Chinese well enough to survive but my reading skills is at the level of “jack shit” so I was in for a bit of a adventure when ordering food here. The server, already laughing because she realized this gringo chino had no idea what the heck he was doing, gave me the ordering slip so I could check off what I wanted. Using whatever puzzle/linguistic/SAT vocabulary techniques I could muster, I order a range of dim sum items and dishes.
I started off light and by light I mean I ordered a congee and out of pure curiosity and the name itself, I ordered the “tamale especiale”. 
Zong Zi- tamale especiale

The tamale ended up being a Zong zi, which is the Chinese version of a tamale and I should have made the connection earlier. A Zong zi is glutinous rice that is filled with peanuts, pork and dried shitakes and a salted egg yolk that is wrapped in bamboo leaves and steamed. Like I stated, I started off light.
The congee is rice porridge and this was one that was served with bits of fish, tilapia in this case. Congee that I have tasted before ranged from wall paste consistency to rice and soup. The congee here was light slurry and had a fishy essence that did not sit like went cement in my stomach. The fish and the zing of slivers of ginger added another level of flavor. The Tamale especiale, which I will call it for now on because it sounds cool, was brought out to me unwrapped. The tamale especiale was another successful dish in which the rice was slightly sticky and tender. The pork was a good hunk of pork belly that was not dried out and a good glob of pork fat and skin. 
Inside the tamale especiale

Congee with Fish
After a light amuse bouche, I was onto the traditional dim sum items. First up was the pork shu mai. Most shu mai that I have eaten has shrimp or maybe even some dried shitake; this was just a pork dumpling.  Despite veering from the traditional, it was very good, the pork was coarsely grounded and the skin was not gummy at all.

Shu mai

Porky dumplings

The next up was a pork dumpling that was wrapped in a gluttonous rice wrapper. The rice wrapper was sticky and a bit gummy and the filling was finely grounded pork and chives with the addition of peanuts. I do not know why peanuts are added so liberally in Chinese food in Peru but be forewarned for those that have peanut allergies. The next dumpling that I had was similar but it was Chinese chives, spicy shrimp all in a gluttonous rice wrapper. 

Shrimp with chives dumplings

Again it had the presence of peanuts in it. The addition of peanuts did not really add to the dish except for a interesting textural contrast but I will probably go on in life without knowing the liberal additions of peanuts in various Chinese dishes. 
Spicy Shrimp with Dumplings...and peanuts

Shrimp Hargow

Lastly I had the shrimp hargow which is wrapped fine rice paper. The wrapper was perfect and was not gummy or hard and almost melted on your tongue. The Shrimp was plentiful and in their variation of shrimp hargow, the only other addition to shrimp was scallions. Other variations that I have eaten had either or combination of bamboo, ginger even shitakes. The addition of just scallions made it one dimensional but I was satisfied and it still a good shrimp hargow. 
Bread at Wa Lok

I was not done with Barrio Chino yet and afterwards I went to Wa Lok to buy some pastries. I found it a bit amusing that in Chinatown, they were still selling empanadas here and should have sampled but too much food clouded my judgment. I ended up getting roast pork buns and egg custard tarts which some made it back to the US. Trying to figure out how to say roast pork bun Spanish, for the lady working the counter was of Latin descent was funny and had patrons and the counter lady laughing, it is nice to see that me failing at the language gives everyone so much joy!

Roast Pork Buns and egg custard tarts from Wa Lok
The egg custard tart had a flaky crust and the custard part was more like a flan texture and not overtly sweet. The Roast pork bun was a pale pink in the middle with big chunks of pork. It was a bit bland and they went easy on the filling. Although the foods that I ate at Barrio Chino was something that I could have easily gotten in Chinatown up in New York, it is interesting to see how food changes from region and needs to either adapt to the local clientele or even the lack of or surplus of ingredients. 

Eating in Barrio Chino is a story of immigration of how people coming from the same country of origin and some going to the United States and some to Peru can create the same dish but have create different flavors and variations.

After eating light in Barrio Chino I wandered around some more until my reservation at El Mercado restaurant in which I stuffed myself with fresh seafood. Me destroying their menu will come in a separate post. It was my last day in Lima and I was unsure when I would be back so after taking in more of the sights I went back to where I started to Parque Kennedy and went back to Café Manolo is further take in and imprint the taste and flavors of hot chocolate and churros.

Los Pardos Rotisserie- had to take a quick candid shot, rent-a-cop said no pictures

What better way to end my time in Lima and Peru by eating pollo la brasa? Pollo la brasa is a national dish and it is a fiercely debated issue on where you can get the best pollo la brasa. I took an informal poll from the taxi drivers I have encounter to the front desk people and in the end, out of the top three pollo la brasa chains, Rocky’s, Norky’s and Los Pardos, Pardos won and I headed over there. Cursing myself for not having the stomach of Joey Chestnut I wish I could have eaten at all these places, however Pardos also won out being it was right there by my hotel. Although I am wary of chain restaurants, places like Pardos was not reheating or pre-making much of anything. They chickens were straight legit and when I passed there early in the morning before it was open for lunch, a guy was already there working the kitchen and spearing chickens on a spit to be roasted. This is not anywhere close to what you are getting at a Boston Market. 

Pollo la Brasa, papa fritas and Inka Kola. A good ending to a good trip
The chicken is simply roasted but what makes this chicken stand out and special is the combination of spices that tare put on the chicken. It is a perfect medley of herbal, salty peppery, smoky goodness that I have been unable to decipher. The skin had a nice crisp and the chicken was moist. I only had enough room to get a ¼ chicken and it came with a side of fries which I almost never finish but I they were fresh out of the fryer and crispy and creamy that I straight up destroyed them. For a final meal in Peru, this was good one to end with. I ate well in Peru and had very few food missteps which I am proud of. I met great people, saw great places and ate great food. There is so much more that I did not get to sample, such as the caldo de gallina which I vow to one day eat. Good bye for now Peru, but not forever.

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