I need a drink

We were in some out of the way places during the past few days, and we ate surprisingly well. I hadn’t been expecting much in the way of classy food in Pucallpa, a sprawling town in the Peruvian Amazon largely devoted to logging and other forms of resource exploitation on a tributary of the Amazon. But dinner was a revelation: a beautifully rare piece of tenderloin with a piquant sauce, accompanied by a neat stack of french fries and a pyramid of rice – the sort of presentation you’d see on Masterchef. The following day, in a scruffy establishment outside Iquitos, I ate a strip of spicy smoked pork, succulent inside, charred on the outside, with roasted plantains: perfect in its simplicity and strong flavours.

As we flew into Lima from Iquitos on Friday morning, I was reflecting on the fine eating and drinking I would do over the weekend. Bruno Paino, a scientist who had accompanied me to Iquitos, had even given me a list of his favourite restaurants.

Having been raised on cod-liver oil, haddock and fish pie, and sent to boarding schools which force-fed us ‘the piece of cod that passeth all understanding’, I have developed a lifelong aversion to most forms of fish. But Bruno insisted that we should have ceviche – raw fish marinated in citrus juice – for lunch after we landed in Lima. It was moist, chewy in a delicate sense, and tart. It would have been even better with a glass of wine. No matter, there was the weekend ahead.

On Friday evening I made my way to a restaurant recommended by Bruno. When the waiter brought the menu, I ordered a pisco sour: a cocktail made from brandy, egg whites, syrup and Angostura bitters. He looked astonished. I was clearly one of the few people in Lima who didn’t realise that there was a total ban on the sale of alcohol over the weekend. This, it was hoped, would reduce the chance of violence during the re-run of the mayoral elections.

Smallholders like Adalberto Mitidieri grow many of the exotic fruits you'll find in Amaz

Smallholders like Adalberto Mitidieri grow many of the exotic fruits you’ll find in Amaz

This rather took the edge off my enjoyment, although I did have one particularly fine meal, thanks to a chance meeting with someone I first met many years ago in Indonesia. This morning I was wandering around Miraflores, which is where the smart people hang out, when I heard my name called out. Peter Cronkleton, a scientist with the Center for International Forestry Research, was heading for lunch with his wife and a colleague. He explained that they wanted to try out a recently opened restaurant on Avenida la Paz. If you ever get to Lima, I suggest you do the same. The food at Amaz was – and I use this word in its proper sense – extraordinary.

The chef, Pedro Miguel Schiaffino, sources many of the ingredients used in his restaurants from local producers, and Amaz is a gastronomic celebration of Amazonia. My main course consisted of de-boned chicken thighs roasted in banana leaves in a syrupy sauce made from camu-camu, a small, cherry-like fruit with an exquisite sweet-and-sour tang. It was accompanied by palm hearts in vinegar with chilli and coriander. The desert, which we shared, consisted of a pot of gooey wild cocoa flecked with passion fruit; an ice cream made with the white pulp of cupuaçu, a tree that belongs to the genus Theobroma, which means ‘food of the gods’; and a chocolate soufflé.

All of this was close to perfection. It would have been closer still if it had been accompanied by a decent drink: say, a glass of Chardonnay with the main course; a muscat with the desert. But at least the elections passed off peacefully.

Amaz restaurante, Avenida La Paz, Miraflores; tel: 221-9393

Lima, Peru

17 March 2013