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Silversea Cruises’ Silver Nova – Goldring Travel Checks Her Out: Lima, Peru’s Culinary Scene…And Caral’s Ancient Pyramids!

My time awaiting Silversea’s Silver Nova’s arrival in Lima, Peru continued with – finally – a pretty lazy day after two days of chaos, replanning, and travel.

Dining at Central, the World's No. 1 Restaurant
Dining at Central, the World’s No. 1 Restaurant

One highlight was lunch at El Mercado, a trendy and Lima-chic restaurant where locals and tourists alike line up around 12:30 p.m. to grab a table if they weren’t lucky, or forward planning enough, to secure a reservation. 

It was another culinary experience of, “Let’s try that. And that. And That. And That. Basically, ceviche-based with prawns, scallops, cockles, clams, and fish, and melt-in-your-mouth tuna and sea urchin nigiri.  All were accompanied by yet other Pisco cocktails before settling into a local beer.

El Mercado's Fresh Tuna & Sea Urchin Nigiri
El Mercado’s Fresh Tuna & Sea Urchin Nigiri

I did make one mistake. I had the beef tacos come last and, while delicious, the flavors overwhelmed the freshness and acidity of the ceviche-based dishes before it. So, there was only one thing to do: Order yet more deliciousness!

And when I had enough, I had to order the picarones to compare them with those of the evening before!

After lunch it was time for a wander through the park next to the Miraflores Park Belmond Hotel. It is definitely the place to be during the day with lots of locals from families to nannies with children to couples to folks just hanging out.  Next to the park is a mall…like a Welcome to the US kinda mall…with everything from Chili’s to Banana Republic (why did I just pick those two as examples???).

Another Pisco cocktail!
Another Pisco cocktail!

That evening while sitting in the hotel bar with live music and good cocktails…and yes, more pisco in yet other variations…I was focused on finding a restaurant that focused on the 4,000 varieties of potatoes found in Peru. What showed up? Central!  It is the No. 1 rated restaurant in the world that I had been trying to get a reservation for weeks…and there was a last-minute one for the next night at 8:00 p.m.

Oh, you know I booked it right away…and then thought it had to be some sort of scam. I mean how could there be a legitimate reservation on a Saturday night at the best restaurant in the world?  Long story short, it was legit!

The Sacred City of Caral, Peru
The Sacred City of Caral, Peru

But before that experience, it was a very early morning start to a very long day with eight hours in a car to see Caral; one of the first truly organized cities in the world, established approximately 5,000 years ago.  I mean why would I want to endure such a long drive to see some ruins?  Well, I started an audiobook college-level lecture series on the ancient civilizations of Peru and Chile.  With so much focus on the Incas, who existed for not even 100 years starting in the mid-1400’s, the fact that cities existed in Peru dating back 9,000+ years just got me heading down a rabbit hole I could not get out of.

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Part of my fascination is that basically everything I had been taught about South American culture growing up was, in large part, wrong!  There have been so many discoveries since then; including Caral, which was only discovered thirty years ago and is still being excavated and explored.

The Sacred City of Caral, Peru
The Sacred City of Caral, Peru

Now to get to my rabbit hole, the drive north up the Peruvian coast was mile after mile of desert – some of the most arid land on earth – along with literally millions of incredibly poor Peruvians living in shanty towns and worse. Just when you thought, “OK, moving on there will just be desert, another huge shanty town would appear on the horizon.  I started to think that what I paid for this private tour was more than a family living there would make, not in a year, but rather years.

Eventually, we left the traffic, and then the highway, and then the pavement. We bounced along rudimentary gravel and dirt roads, past remote chicken farms, and further into the desert. We finally reached the Sacred City of Caral. While it sits just above the valley created by the Andes-fed Supe River, it is most definitely located in a hot, dry, desert.  But why is Caral here? 

Caral's architecture evidences the combination of different even more ancient cultures.
Caral’s architecture evidences the combination of different even more ancient cultures.

Caral was, as I understand it, sort of combination of some of the more ancient cultures and showed signs of trading with cultures living on the coast (bringing netting and architecture that they had no other culture to learn from…as well as fish) and those of the agrarian societies more inland (using the waters running down from the Andes). In other words, it became a city of trade centrally located and, for the first time, a society that was no longer egalitarian, but also not yet one concerned with warring with others.

Another of Caral's pyramids
Another of Caral’s pyramids

The architectural highlight of Caral is its seven pyramids, again dating back over 5,000 years. These are flat-topped pyramids that mimic the Andes mountains surrounding the city. It was, for me, worth the long drive, heat, and terrible traffic and roads.  However, I would think twice for those just looking for a day outing!

On the way back to Lima and my dinner at Central, we stopped at Chebicheff (a play on ceviche, written as cebiche in Peru).  I had a well-needed cold beer, lots of water, ceviche (of course), and duck with rice (totally unnecessary but it looked and was delicious!)  I, however, had to restrain myself as dinner was definitely on my mind.

My eleven-hour tour approached twelve and I started to get nervous about getting back to the hotel in time to collapse for a few minutes before showering before heading to Central…and still wondering how it could be I had scored a legitimate reservation.

The Kitchen at Central is a combination of discipline and culinary mastery.
The Kitchen at Central is a combination of discipline and culinary mastery.

And then it happened: Central!  I am not going to explain each dish, but you can read the menu.  It says it is fourteen (14) “Moments” but many of the Moments had two or three elements, so the small, perfectly prepared cuisine was, well, “Momentous!” (Sorry about that.)

Central - The Menu
Central – The Menu

Each Moment had a theme as to which ecosphere it came from; the menu noting how far above or below sea level the ingredients came from…and there were many truly unique-to-Peru ingredients. I have to say that the creativity was definitely more focused on flavors and the overall experience than presentation; not that each dish wasn’t beautiful.  I had a very consistent, “Oh My God, this is amazing” feeling as I dined. (In contrast, when I dined at Leo in Bogota, Columbia each dish was breathtakingly beautiful, but none of the dishes made me go WOW.)

I went with the South American pairing option. (You can also choose, classic European wines, a bottle of wine, no wine.)  I mean why wouldn’t you want to experience South America?  Keep in mind that as Peru is not exactly the hotbed of wine production, there was a combination of wines and cocktails, with most wines being very low production types sold only to Central.  I found most of the wines to be very nice and well-paired, but none were exceptional…at least to me. Now, the cocktails: Amazing!

After our very long, very enlightening, and very delicious day exploring, it was time for a day of work (Yes, I do a lot of work while I am traveling!)  Eventually it was time to wander Miraflores whereupon I came across El Pez.On, a local cebicheria that advertised 3 for 2 Piscos. Why not?!  Coca, Herbal, and Passionfruit (a Peruvian favorite, I am told) along with, yes, more ceviche!

Three for Two Pisco soursThree for Two Pisco sours

One last ceviche and more before departing Lima
One last ceviche and more before departing Lima

Clearly, it was then time for a nap, a bit more work, packing up, and getting ready to board Silversea’s Silver Nova the next day…finally!

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