On a Friday morning, or actually any morning, I hear the delightful anticipation as Limenos get ready for “chicharron “day. Chicharron translates to pork skin or crackling. In Peru, a “pan chicharron” is a sandwich, but with more than just crackling, as it actually is a “pork roast sandwich”. The sandwich is a fresh white bun with slices of pork roast including the crackling, deep fried sweet potato slices, and “sarza criolla” and spicy mayonnaise. “Sarza criolla” is “salsa criolla” or “creole sauce” which in Peru is thinly sliced red onion dressed in lime juice. So not a sauce at all! But it is a “dressing” for the sandwich. The spicy mayonnaise is made from a thin mayonnaise (more like a salad dressing in consistency than a spreadable mayonnaise) mixed with a Peruvian chili sauce (or pureed chilis).
“Chicharron” is also used to refer to anything that is batter fried. In the U.S., dishes are often called “chicken fried” when referring to batter fried as in “chicken fried steak” In Peru, “chicharron de pescado” or “fish pork cracklin” is batter fried fish. Anything can be a “chicharron” but when not pork, it’s usually used about fish. The trend at many restaurants is to top off a ceviche or leche de tigre with a few pieces of “fish crackling.” Or one can simply order the “fish crackling” on their own (as in the photo from La Leche, where they serve the fish crackling with fried yucca, making it “fish ‘n chips”).
Recently, I got asked about suggestions for where to eat seafood in Lima.
Eating seafood is an integral part of life in Lima. And no, it’s not all raw.
First, take the recommended fish of the day — it will be the freshest. Also, remember that salmon is not from Peru (in the highlands, they do have a lake trout which is similar). While they eat a lot of tuna here, it is more in the Japanese “Nikkei” style food, and most recently, in the rise of the Poke! Typical seafood dishes to try here are: ceviche (done in many ways but go with “el classico” — although now they do versions of ceviche with “pork rinds of seafood” = deep fried seafood) and tiradito (carpaccio of fish). The scallops are so tender that they’ll make you go weak at the knees (“conchas a la parmesana” is classic and resounding puts to bed any idea that seafood and cheese aren’t delicious together). Peruvians love soup of all kinds but I find many of them are too fiercely fishy for my palate. Most places will serve fish in various other styles including , “a lo macho” which is when the fish is served with manly red spicy seafood sauce — note: almost nothing in Peru is spicy like in Thailand — it’s just a touch of spice unless you eat one of the chili peppers).
Try some of these restaurants (and keep in mind that most cevicherias close at 5 p.m. or earlier as traditionally fish is only fresh for breakfast or lunch. I’m trying to think of when I’ve seen a Peruvian order ceviche at night). Lastly, Peruvians love franchising so don’t worry that many of these places are chains. I’ve listed the daytime places in relative order of “But, it’s RAW! And I’m willing to try it… but only one tine of my fork…” to “No AC and no ingles! Gotta talk to the local sitting next to me? Bring it on!”
“But, it’s RAW! And I’m willing to try it… but only one tine of my fork…”
El Mercado (considered the best restaurant by many) – international star chef and this place usually ranks on the “50 Best” list. Line up at 12:15 or make a reservation.
La Mar (by Gaston Acurio) – I like this place because it’s got it all. Also good lighting for photos. Go at 12:30 p.m. or 4 p.m. if you don’t want to wait.
El Segundo Muelle (a seafood chain)
El Seniorio de Sulco (old school place that old-time Limenos go to)
Francesco (very old school)
La Red – my favorite old school place – part of the legend in making the Lima food scene so great. Also, they have a good “lomo saltado” for those who don’t eat fish. The sons of the legend opened La Isolina (located in Barranco and open at night) which also has great food, including fish.
La Preferida (this is my secret place for fettucine pasta with a creamy seafood sauce)
“No AC and no ingles! Gotta talk to the local sitting next to me? Bring it on!”
La Picanteria – Internet famous. Good food too. One has to buy the whole fish by weight and then choose two methods of preparation. The inside of the restaurant is not scary but the location of this restaurant is in Surquillo right behind the market, so going there is probably by taxi. If you are the sort of person who visits the market (for photos and to try new fruits), then the restaurant is only two streets away (but hold your buddy’s hand when crossing the street, and look both ways).
La Leche – hidden gem in Surco and San Isidro.
Toke Pez (hole in the wall)
If you want to eat seafood at night (most restaurants serve fish and seafood but serving ceviche at night is a sign of a modern restaurant catering to foreigners, or moving with the times since there is this thing called refrigeration):
Pescados Capitales – a chain of high-end seafood restaurants
Las Brujas de Cachiche – open late and has everything Peruvian on the menu
Cosme (also one of those secret places not on the “50 Best” lists). Not many fish dishes but they do ceviche, tiradito, and a cooked fish of the day dish.
Lastly, eating seafood in Lima may spoil your ability to eat seafood in other places.