In the last several years Peruvian cuisine has become a starlet of the food scene. A few restaurants in particular are credited with bringing Peruvian cooking to world-wide attention, such as Astrid & Gaston, Malabar, and Central, which is currently considered the best restaurant in Latin America. The food at these experimental restaurants often bears little resemble to the comida criollo discussed in my last post. But what fascinates and attracts me and so many others to these high end Peruvian restaurants are their reflections on and reinventions of traditional, even ancient, ingredients. Perhaps no one does this better than Virgilio Martinez, the chef behind Central.
My interest in Peru started first as an fascination with the Inca empire. As a kid I was prone to spending hours flipping through National Geographic magazines, and I have distinct memories of glossy photos of the brightly colored kipu knots and golden vestments of the Inca.
Years after I had last touched a National Geographic, I finally made a trip to Peru and saw firsthand the magnificence of the Incas at Macchu Picchu. But I also experienced the other national treasure of Peru, which some might argue is on par with Macchu Picchu – the food. For those new to South American cuisine, it can be easy to overlook the variety of culinary traditions and flavors among the different countries. But the food of Peru is completely unique, and truly in a league of its own. Lima is regularly rated among the best destinations in the world for food, and has multiple restaurants that are ranked along with Noma and Eleven Madison Park as the best restaurants in the world.
Vietnam made such an impression on me that I wanted to devote adequate time and space to discussing my experiences, both with the food and otherwise. The previous post focused on Hanoi and Hue, which were also the first two stops along our trip. The next major stops were Hoi An and Ho Chi Minh City, the feature cities of this post.
We made the trip from Hue to Hoi An by bus, through the winding roads in the montains of central Vietnam. Closer to Hue we saw lush, flat rice fields dotted with water buffalo, but the scenery changed one we got on the Hai Van pass, one of two main routes between Hue and Hoi An. The pass is known for both its breathtaking scenic beauty, and also it’s breathtaking (or nauseating…) switch back turns.
Before travelling to Vietnam, I was largely ignorant of its serene natural beauty, bustling and quickly transforming cities, and incredible food culture. Vietnam in my mind was primarily associated with the Vietnam War (known as the American War to the Vietnamese), which I suspect is the case for many other Americans.
Though I was in Vietnam for only two weeks, I saw a country that was culturally rich and diverse, relentlessly devoted to modernization, and unbelievably welcoming to visitors. It seems to have all but left behind the shadow of the Vietnam war. There is too much to say about Vietnam to fit in a blog post, or even a book, and I am not an expert on any part of it. So I will focus on the activity I partook in at least three times a day, and which never ceased to give me great pleasure – eating.
Many of the restaurants in New York are best enjoyed at a certain time of day for a particular meal. But finding a restaurant where you feel equally at home for different meals, and the meals are equally as satisfying, is rare.