Sergio, the owner of the apartment we rented in the Barranco District, picked us up at the airport at 8:30 on a foggy night in Lima, Peru. With the girls asleep, one on each of my legs in the backseat, I watched out the window as Sergio weaved in and out of the crazy traffic, the cacophony of horn honking serenading our journey. I felt very grateful for my sleeping daughters, otherwise their moans and complaints of motion sickness would have added to the din.
We only booked 3 days at the apartment so that we could quickly move on to the Sacred Valley before the rainy season socked us in at Machu Picchu. We filed in, sleepy-eyed and thankful to be able to crash in fresh beds. Arriving at night can be so nice because when you wake up in the morning you get to discover your new place with fresh eyes. The girls were ecstatic because they each got their own rooms, albeit small but still quite a luxury from sleeping on bunk beds in the living room in Panama. Our apartment was in a great location, within walking distance to the main plaza in the Barranco district.
Sergio told us Barranco is a very safe neighborhood at night and so we did not hesitate to participate in the nighttime energy in the plaza. It comes alive with street vendors and people out wandering about in the warm lights that wash everything with a cozy, welcoming glow. Jacob fell in love almost instantly as we wound our way through the streets and across old bridges taking in views of the ocean and huge modern sculptures of animals made out of wood and recycled materials. We found the best street empanadas with golden flaky dough filled with beef and sweet caramelized onions for 2.50 soles (about .80 USD) sold by a sweet Peruvian woman on the corner at the entrance to the plaza.
On our first day there, I could tell we were all starting to get the hang of this traveling thing as we whizzed around a local grocery store stocking up on a few items to cook at home. Mackenzie and I had fun picking out new fruits and vegetables we hadn’t seen before. We came across an appealing looking yellow fruit sort of in the shape of a tomato if it had been crossed with a bell pepper (later learned it is called Cocona which is a fruit from the jungle) and of course had to buy the purple corn. I had it in my mind that I would take the corn home and treat it like the yellow corn I am familiar with, boil it up, cut it off the husk and fold it into the rice and beans we had planned for dinner. So, there I am watching this corn bubbling in the water turning it a very deep purple but not getting any softer. Ten then twenty minutes go by and the kernels are still hard and dry. “Jacob! Better look up this purple corn and tell me what I am doing wrong!”
It turns out this corn is not intended for eating. It is for making Chicha Morada; a favorite local drink that is served in almost every restaurant in Peru. The corn is boiled in water with pineapple rind, lemons, cinnamon and cloves to make a delicious, smooth, sweet drink that is reminiscent of the flavors of the holidays. Plus, the purple corn is known to have more antioxidants than blueberries so it’s healthy too! I am sure the sugar that you add only increases the health benefits. Well, I didn’t have quite the right ingredients to make Chicha Morada the traditional way but I threw in the tomato-pepper, which had a lemony, acidic flavor and some essential oils of cinnamon, cloves and orange that I had along, some sugar and viola! Not Chicha Morada.
Not only did our stay in Barranco teach us about Chicha Morada but chicharrón as well. An Uber driver told us about one of his favorite restaurants to get the chicharrón sandwich called El Chinito. This restaurant was hidden in plain sight on a busy street in Barranco, crammed in between a wall of other stores and businesses. Amazingly, they fit an iron spiral staircase and 5 round tables into this tiny place where 3-4 people can cram themselves around each one to enjoy the delicious slow cooked meats this resturant has to offer. When we arrived, the owner could tell we were El Chinito virgins and took our taste buds on a tour offering samples of each kind of meat. From pork with various rubs to slow roasted turkey but the favorite for all of us (even the girls) were the crunchy on the outside tender on the inside ribs of the chicharrón. It was an intimate experience as the other patrons had front row seating to the drama as we tried to understand the Spanish descriptions of the food. Of course we ordered the chicharrón sandwich, which is juicy, salty sliced pork belly that is that is laid atop thinly cut, soft and crispy sweet potato slices. It is garnished with a tangy onion slaw that gives the needed acid to the already decadent sandwich. All this is piled into a perfectly crusty French roll and served with none other than Chicha Morada. Oh, wow. I am now officially a foodie.
After our first full day in Barranco, Jacob and I knew we had to come back and stay in Lima a bit longer, neither one of us realized how much the city would intrigue us nor how much good food we would find there. Sadly, Sergio’s apartment was not available for our return (its no wonder, it is priced at such a bargain and in prime location I am sure he has it booked all the time). We booked another apartment in the neighboring Miraflores district for 5 nights upon our return from the Sacred Valley. With lessons of local cuisine on our taste buds and continued practice of Spanish on our tongues, we felt prepared for our Sacred Valley adventure. We said goodbye for now to Lima and boarded our plane for Cusco.