Nicholas Gill

With an obsession for the Amazon and South-American food culture, Award-winning writer and photographer Nicholas Gill co-wrote the book Central with Peruvian chef Virgilio Martinez. In 2016, together with Marie Elena Martine, he co-founded New Worlder; a website dedicated to exploring food, culture and travel in the Americas. Splitting his time between Lima and New York, Nicholas contributes to publications like The New York Times, Fool, The Wall Street Journal and New York Magazine.
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The Importance Of Ceviche To Lima

Everyone loves to eat ceviche in Lima, and especially on the weekends. (As a side note, cevicherías don’t open at night; they’re generally only open for lunch). You know, a late weekend lunch with your friends or family at a cevicheria – that’s just what you do in Lima. There are thousands of cevicherías around town, but generally the first place I think of is La Mar. They have a network of fishermen that they know and work with, and the bounty of seafood that they get their hands on is what really sets them apart. They really take care in where they source their fish from, and sustainability is a huge priority. Start with a ceviche classico or mixto, which is just your standard Lima-style ceviche, or the the carretilla, a street cart version. I always order their ceviche with erizo – sea urchins straight from the Peruvian sea. When you go to a cevichería, you order a lot of different little things to share, so be sure to order a few other dishes as well. I love their conchas a la Parmesana, which is a dish of scallops in the shell with Parmesan cheese – it’s amazing. And sometimes the pez diablo, which they fry whole and add Nikkei [Japanese Peruvian food] seasonings to. 

Chinese Food, Peruvian Style

One restaurant that I go to a lot is Chifa Haita. Chifas are Chinese-Peruvian restaurants, and with Lima’s huge Chinese population, there are loads of them all over the place. I love this one because of a particular dish they have: pejesapo al vapor. It’s this very gelatinous bottom-feeding fish called a pejasapo, which translates to frogfish, and they steam it whole in a delicious broth of soy, ginger and garlic. The flesh is super soft and moist – it’s just amazing.

Japanese Food, Peruvian Style

I obviously love Maido, Micha’s (chef Mitsuharu Tsumura) place, and he also just opened a rotisserie chicken restaurant, Tori Polleria, which is delivery only right now. But if you’re looking for something more off the beaten path, there is a great spot called Al Toke Pez. The place is tiny – I think they only have around five or seven seats – and it’s in a pretty average neighbourhood, but the food is amazing, and costs next to nothing. The cook’s dad was one of the most influential Nikkei chefs in Peru, so he has this heritage of Nikkei cuisine in him. The dishes are simple, but just really well done. The ceviche is excellent, and he does a beautiful dish with cachete (fish cheeks).

“The Restaurant You Want To Visit In Lima”

The place that I’m kind of obsessed with at the moment is Kjolle. It’s directly above Virgilio Martinez’s Central Restaurant, and is ran by Pia León; Virgilio’s wife, and the former executive chef of Central. (As a side note, this is the restaurant you want to visit in Lima, and I also co-wrote the Central cookbook with Virgilio Martínez). While Central is very philosophically driven, with each dish limited to ingredients from a specific Peruvian ecosystem, Kjolle is focused on flavour. At Central, when Virgilio is creating a dish inspired by the coast of Peru for example, he can’t use an ingredient from the Amazon. But at Kjolle, Pia has the creative freedom to experiment in a way that Central doesn’t. The ingredients used are still obscure, and most people still have no idea what they’re eating, but it doesn’t have the same restrictions on how they put the menu together; it’s just about finding these tasty things from all over Peru and creating delicious food.

(A Plan B In Case You Can’t Get To The Above Restaurant)

If you want a taste of what Virgilio and Pia are doing at Central and Kjolle, but had no luck getting a reservation, head to Mayo Bar. Seated directly under the dining room of Kjolle, you can experience how the duo are showcasing ingredients sourced from all over Peru in the likes of progressive cocktails, and a short bar-food menu. You could really call it the cocktail equivalent to Central. The menu is divided into various Peruvian ecosystems and they use very obscure ingredients, as well as make their own macerations and fermentations of Andean herbs and seeds.

A Taste Of The Amazon

The Amazon is such a massive part of Peru, but the recipes and ingredients aren’t always easy to find in Lima. Pedro Miguel Schiaffino closed his restaurants Ámaz and Malabar at the start of the pandemic, but in their place he opened a great Amazonian street food concept called BOA, inside the Mercado del Pilar and through delivery. The food is more playful than his more studious restaurants. Think chorizo made from sustainable wild paiche, an enormous Amazonian fish, with a mustard made from a sauce made of fermented yuca juice. Or yuca tacos filled with smoked pork and Amazonian beans.

Additionally, the famed Amazonian restaurant La Patarashca in Tarapoto, one of my favorite restaurants in all of Peru, now has a small offshoot in Lima at Mercado 28 called La Patarashkita. It’s just really great, regional Amazonian food like tacacho, mashed and fried plantain balls, and juanes, a sort of jungle tamale. They also created a line of pantry items to take home, like artisan liquors made by macerating botanicals and fruits in aguardiente, or jars of Amazonian chiles like ají charapita.

The Stars Of Tomorrow

Mérito serves up this weird but wonderful Venezuelan-slash-Peruvian avant-garde style of food that’s unbelievably tasty, but not pretentious at all. The minimalist, two-level restaurant is run by Venezuelan chef Juan Luis Martínez, who used to work as sous chef at Central. What he’s doing is hard to pin down and describe. He’s not following a textbook, he’s just doing his own thing. And it’s brilliant. Another great place in Barranco, not far from Mérito and Central, is Siete. The food is really good, the place has a cool ambiance, and they make really decent cocktails and also local craft beers. It’s definitely worth checking out.

The Best Street Food In Lima

The best street food in Lima, in my opinion, is anticuchos de corazón, which are skewered beef hearts that have been seasoned – usually with ají panca, garlic and cumin – marinated and slowly cooked over a charcoal grill. It’s just a super delicious snack, and costs next to nothing. You’ll find street carts selling these at around sundown, so not too late into the evening. Peruvians most often eat a big lunch and then only have a light dinner, like a couple of these skewers or a sandwich.

Inside Peru’s Sandwich Culture

There’s a big sandwich culture in Peru. As a side note, sandwiches are most commonly eaten for breakfast or dinner, not lunch.  The iconic Peruvian sandwich is called pan con chicharrón: fried pork with slices of sweet potato and onion relish served on a roll. My go-to sandwich shop is El Chinito in downtown Lima, but they’ve now expanded and have a few more locations around the city.

Selected Works: Central (2016)

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