Beto is a big man, whose big man hands nearly swallow the spoon he’s using to ladle fish out of a beat-up blue cooler. He is famous in his area, his restaurant an unremarkable double-story hall in a not entirely savoury part of the seaside neighbourhood of Chorrillos, standing out only because of the constant flow of people that fill it every single day.
Ceviche’s the simplest thing, he reckons, and grins a big man’s grin. Fresh fish, cubed and kept cold till the last moment, red onion, plenty of lime juice, chilli and salt – he scoops as he talks, his oversized spoon turned into a precision measuring instrument by years of making this dish. A quick stir, a wedge of sweet potato on the side and it’s done. It’s perfect; acid, fire, fish and the giving crunch of onion – this is the flavour of Peru that will live in your food memory for many years.
It’s not so simple, as any foreigner who has tried making ceviche for the first time will tell you, and that’s why we come here, to this city on the edge of the Pacific. Everywhere, from a little hole-in-the-wall in the chaotic centre, to a stall in a market, to a lady with a bicycle cart on the street, to the slickest restaurants whose names are muttered and chewed on by the global food elite, there are so many amazing things to eat that even locals have no chance of trying them all.
There’s a passion for eating and a certain gastronomic democracy unlike anywhere else I’ve ever been. The taxi driver, art director and the construction magnate talk of food – eating it, making it and where to get the very tastiest – before politics, crime, football or even sex. And it’s not unlikely to find them sitting shoulder to shoulder at a little counter in a market, “because this guy, this guy’s just the best.”