Another market! This one a bit smellier than the last and with louder and more aggressive calls from the vendors trying to make a sale. I suppose fishmongers have more urgency to move their stock than textile merchants!
El Mercado Central in downtown Lima is a full-on experience. It spralls across two levels of an entire city block, and spills out into the streets and buildings that surround it. Vast is definitely the word to describe it. It’s divided into sections based on products – there’s row after row of chickens, then row after row of fish and seafood, then vegetables, nuts, household goods, clothing, shoes and everything in between you could possibly think of. There was even an entire row with stalls devoted to paper cupcake liners and party accessories! Viva la fiesta! It went on and on forever, and we could have spent all day exploring.
But we came here on a mission to seek out some good fresh Pacific fish. We’re used to the sea’s finest, having grown up in the Caribbean. So you could say we’re fish snobs – only the best will do.
Lima has amazing fish and seafood, being right on the coast. We know this from the great meals we’ve had in restaurants but have found the fish in the supermarkets overpriced and low quality, so it was time to go to the source.
We bought fresh corvina, a meaty white fish and local favourite for making ceviche, and some scary looking whole squid for some adventurous seafood recipes.
But I wasn’t going to rely on my amateur ceviche-making skills that day. A great experience is to eat Peru’s celebrated national dish right in the fish market. Definitely not for the squeamish, as you’re right in the middle of all the gory action.
I was served up a delicious fish broth with delicate flavours of the sea, followed by a huge plate of ceviche, piled high with fish, sweet potato, corn and flavoured with lime, coriander and aji amarillo, an indigenous chili pepper that is ubiquitous with Peruvian cuisine.
I have to be honest, I was still a bit squeamish, and anyone reading who knew me as a teenager might be a bit skeptical. Picky teenage Danielle wouldn’t touch fish! And this ceviche had lots of ‘brown bits’ which are usually nicely trimmed off and discarded in the upscale restaurants of Miraflores.
But this is not gringo bourgeoise dining. This is the real thing, Limeño style, and I was determined to embrace it. I was eating the freshest fish in town, smelling the fish that permeates the whole market, seeing fish being chopped up and gutted a few feet away from me, and hearing the constant shouting in Spanish from the fishmongers all around me. Surely there is no better sensory seafood experience?
I loved it.
Love from Lima xxx