The Lima of the 21st century is a relatively comfortable place, with plenty of jobs and an optimistic middle class. Yet in many ways it retains the spirit of the somber, deeply introverted city I came to know as a child. It doesn’t have great architecture. It’s not designed for walking. There are very few parks or public squares. The beaches often look abandoned. And the traffic is terrible. To put it bluntly, it’s not the sort of city you fall in love with at first sight. Most Limeños won’t ask travelers what sights they’ve seen or suggest a stroll; they’ll ask what dishes they’ve tried or invite them to have a meal. The tables we eat around aren’t just social spaces. In Lima, food has long been its own landscape, a haven of beauty and comfort.
This gives coherence to a city that, at first, can seem utterly incoherent. One of Lima’s most celebrated ceviche spots, for instance, is found on a noisy avenue surrounded by car repair shops. Al Toke Pez is a fast-food restaurant with the spirit of a neighborhood bistro; it has a single counter open to the street, half a dozen stools and six options on the menu. Everything is served as takeout, yet most customers eat ceviche or stir-fry nestled along the bar, or standing, quietly relishing their food as they watch an enormous wok throw off flames. The place is run by chef and owner Tomás Matsufuji, a slight, serious guy. Matsufuji was trained as an engineer and has a doctorate in supramolecular chemistry; he also comes from a long line of nikkei chefs. (Nikkei refers to the large community of Japanese immigrants in Peru and their descendants, as well as the fusion created by mixing Japanese and Peruvian cooking. The Japanese immigrated to Peru in several waves, beginning in the 19th century, when industrialization in their homeland displaced agricultural workers.) (Read more.)