Bet you didn’t know that, neither did I. I knew Peruvian culture had a strong Asian influence but until I got to Lima and saw the number of Peruvian-Japanese (Nikkei) and Peruvian-Chinese (Chifa) restaurants I had no idea the extent. I would estimate at least half of restaurants in Lima are Chifa or Nikkei food.
The day I arrived I did a bit of research, picked a Nikkei restaurant and went for a Peruvian sushi meal. It was….. ok…. at best, and extremely expensive.
I hadn’t planned on trying Nikkei food a second time but the entire time I’ve been in Lima I keep seeing amazing looking restaurants and reading articles on the local sushi scene. Eventually I decided to give it a second chance.
My research repeatedly led me to a restaurant called Shizen Nikkei Cuisine so I made a reservation and jumped in an Uber.
From what I can tell nikkei cuisine is basically sushi featuring lots and lots of local Peruvian ingredients. Peruvian lucuma, peanuts, chimichurri, acevichado, torillas, cushuro, corn, quinoa, tucupi, pachikay and fried pork skin all appear just in the sushi I ordered tonight alone.
I won’t do an item by item review but all in all it was excellent, really good, and super inventive. I think a Vancouver sushi place that started incorporating lots of BC ingredients would make a killing. Sushi here seems much more adventurous.
Indigenous peoples of Peru, from the Inca all the way back to the oldest known group, the Caral people, used khipus (sometimes spelled the Spanish way, as “quipus”) as an information storage system. A khipu is a set of strings of different lengths and colours with knots at various positions used to track administrative data, taxation, census, accounting info and such things, for at least 5000 years.
Decoding the meanings behind the colours and lengths of string and where the knots appear, has been one of the Holy Grails of archeology for a very long time. For the most part they remain a mystery.
In 1972 NASA launched the Pioneer 10 spacecraft which had a gold plaque attached to one of its legs. The plaque featured illustrations meant to teach any beings who may find Pioneer who we are and where we live. The plaque had a “map” showing the location of Earth using lines representing Earth’s actual distance from 14 different pulsars, the 14 lines featured dots all along them to denote the rotational period of each pulsar. Together this set of lines and dots tell exactly where we are.
I’ve read about khipus since I was a kid and been a huge fan of the plaques that were attached to the Pioneer 10 and 11, and the Voyager 1 and 2 probes, just as long.
Today in the main Lima art gallery I found a room with only a single piece of art. An indigenous artist had recreated the gold plaque from Pioneer 10 exactly as it is on the spacecraft but had removed the map showing Earth’s location. Instead they replaced the 14 pulsar lines with 14 strings of khipus. They removed the marks on the lines that would show which pulsars are being references and replaced them with knots along the khipus taken from untranslated previously discovered khipu threads from Incan sites. Thereby rendering the information on the plaque just as indecipherable as the information these khipus have been holding onto for hundreds of thousands of years here on Earth.
I think this is about the neatest thing I’ve seen in a very long time.
9:00am – Wake up in the morning to the alarm clock warning, hit snooze.
9:36am – Stop hitting snooze. South American time has definitely pushed me to less of a morning person, days start later and end later seemingly everywhere in Latin America.
10:28am – Out of my hotel, slip through street corner demonstrations and calls for revolution and head down the street. I don’t know what status quo for Lima is but I’ve never seen a city like this, it’s wild here. There is what appears to be a huge amount of anger, frustration, etc. Cars honk non-stop, noise is constant and it seems like every street corner features someone with a microphone calling out the government and calling for revolution, see video:
11:00am – A couple blocks from my hotel is an interesting breakfast place. A cavernous space that appears to be something like a former bank lobby, etc, now has a few tables and chairs in it, I really like the food and service. Customer service in Latin America, most of the time, is pretty brusque however Lima counters that to some extent, I’ve found service people notably friendlier here than anywhere else I’ve been.
I get a breakfast of cafe con leche, fresh squeezed camu-camu juice and a toasted chicken salad sandwich. Camu-camu fruit tastes sort of like plum and apple, it’s nice in the morning.
11:30am – After breakfast I explore a but more of downtown walking my way to the edge of the old area. I pass another megaphone situation. This one is from some government agency using actors to portray a scene explaining how dangerous taking illegal short term loans is. I’ve heard this a few times in South America this trip, that there is a problem with what are called “drop by drop” loans, usually cartel run:
12:00pm – Once I walked clear of the city centre I grabbed an Uber to the museum I wanted to see. I don’t tend to use Uber/Taxi at all while travelling as I really prefer transit as a way to experience a new city but transit in Lima is the worst I’ve seen for a city of 10 million plus, more about that in a later post.
12:20pm – Larco Museum, I was informed I could not wear a hat, never been to a museum before that didn’t allow hats…. Oh well, it’s a very good museum of pre-Colombian art and artifacts.
1:15pm – It’s only about 25c out but the equatorial sun is super intense and I find I’m stopping in shade regularly. I walk through what appears to be a really nice, quiet middle class Lima neighborhood to a second museum.
1:30pm – The National Museum of the Archaeology, Anthropology, and History of Peru, Lima was not so impressive, some nice stuff about how peoples from all over South America worked together to ensure everyone gained independence from Spain and a few interesting bits of archeology but nothing like the Larco Museum.
2:00pm – The place I wanted to go for lunch, near the museums, turned out to have been closed about a year ago. I am cooked from the sun so hopped an Uber back to my hotel and had a long nap.
7:30pm – Dinner at Norky’s. A Peruvian/Japanese/Swiss/Chinese food chain, extremely popular, think Swiss Chalet plus a diner plus a Chinese noodle house.
8:30pm – A few pics from my walk back to the hotel, early night tonight as I need to do laundry before bed.
9:30pm – Back in my room, doing laundry. Energy levels are unpredictable while travelling, tonight I am absolutely exhausted.
Yesterday I stopped at a coffee shop built into the side of the cliff overlooking the ocean in the Miraflores area of Lima. I found a table on the patio and noticed a shopping bag under my seat with a pair of jeans and two Peruvian flags inside.
I picked up the brown paper shopping bag and, because I like doing things that can only be funny to me, held it over my head with both hands, while humming Peter Gabriel. Full ‘Say Anything’ Lloyd Dobler style.
I amused myself this way for a bit and then sat down with my coffee and kept an eye on the bag.
After about ten minutes a woman came rushing back for her shopping. She thanked me profusely, a lot, and left.
An older lady came over and started talking very rapidly, I explained that I don’t know Spanish and she simply repeated herself 10% less rapidly.
I can only assume she was letting me know she was as tickled as me by my Say Anything reference and is herself a fiend for classic 80s film.
She may also have just been saying that was a nice thing to do, guess I’ll never know.
I walked about 20kms today, mostly along the water, grabbing bites or a drink when I felt like it. I saw a demonstration of alpaca wool weaving, bought a cashmere blanket I will never fit in my pack, a kitty came and slept on me in a park, it was lovely.
One of the places I stopped in for a drink at, an old saloon, was totally dark, no lights at all, around 3pm. I saw a few older men inside so I checked if they were open and was led to a table. One of the men started motioning at me and talking to the bartender much faster than I could follow. He turned to me and said “I ordered for you, if you don’t like it you don’t pay.”
A few minutes later the bartender brought over a pisco sour and a ham sandwich, both were perfect. I chatted with the men quite a bit, the guy who ordered did translation. I heard about the history of the bar, 108 years long. A lot of it seemed soccer related and I don’t think I really followed but they were incredibly nice, I ate my sandwich and had a second drink and read my book for about an hour before moving on.
I’ve wandered down to the central square each night in Santa Cruz so far. Each night maybe 100 people are hanging out, getting coffee from the Coffee Men. Getting ice cream from the very good place across from the cathedral.
Tonight however I rounded the corner to find thousands of people cramming the square and all streets around it. I had no idea but am informed that it’s “Noche del Museo” (Night of the Museums) where every gallery and museum and art space are open until midnight, free of charge.
The square is full of jugglers, magicians, stilt walkers and acrobats. People are selling most of the foods and drinks I’ve tried so far and tons that I don’t recognize.
The local police have taken control of all streets around the square and are alternating holding and releasing streets of cars. Every time they halt a block of cars the many vendors swoop into the street, selling to the drivers. It’s all super joyful and I feel amazing in it.
While walking around this week I’ve learned to orient myself based on what’s in the store windows I’m walking past, if it’s store after store of kids costumes then I’m just east of the main square, if it’s blocks on end of nothing but opticians and eyeglass frames then I am three blocks south of my place. Window after window of custom rubber stamp makers? Ah, I’ve gone too far north, need to turn around.
While trying to get my bearings tonight I was surrounded by a long row of tiny bakeries, each selling just half a dozen of one or two different baked items.
The line of bakeries was broken by a small storefront advertising the best Italian food in Santa Cruz, it was about 7:30pm, early for locals to eat but perfect for me so I went inside.
As is often the case with my habit of dining much earlier than a South American the restaurant was empty except for one man in the corner working on his laptop and loudly singing along with a stream of what I assume was Bolivian folky/jazzy music.
I asked if he was open, he feigned shock, looked around and said something he thought was very funny, and may have been, if I spoke Spanish. He kept talking, when I stopped and told him I can’t speak Spanish he said “si tu puedes!”, (yes you can!) and kept right on going. The list of funny, warm Bolivians grows daily. He brought me a beer and a menu and then snatched the menu back and informed me that I would be having the pizza jamon. Sounds good to me.
He brought me an appetizer empanada, yelled something into the back and went back to singing, full voice.
A minute later the dictionary definition of sullen teen girl slunk out of the back, he stopped singing to tell me this is his daughter, and went right back to singing. The girl looked at her dad, at me, at her dad, looking mortified the whole time. I don’t need to know Spanish to understand “OMG DAD STAHP SINGING WHAT ARE YOU DOING!!?!”.
She then changed the music to an English language alt-pop stream (playing The Marias, who I love) and began making my pizza in full sulky pout.
I started singing along with The Marias, to the extreme joy of her dad. I had a seriously great time, he was awesome, the pizza was awesome (rare in my experience in south america) and her sulk even softened a bit by the end.