Mistura: Peru’s Answer to the State Fair

Ever since I was a kid, the blazing days and cool nights that mark the last days of summer have always meant one thing: the Minnesota State Fair. For me and most Upper Midwesterners, the fair is the last hoorah of summer — a time to binge on fried foods and amble leisurely past farm equipment displays before the long, cold season that Garrison Keillor calls the Dark Time begins.

This year, I missed my summer, and I missed my State Fair. I felt out of sorts without my traditional way to binge eat into a new season. That is, until I went to Mistura over the weekend. The festival — which the Wall Street Journal recently called “the most important food event in Latin America” — may as well be called State Fair South. The focus on food and music was the same, as was the atmosphere of bonhomie and excitement. The long lines and walkways packed with people were shockingly similar. The only thing missing was the Midway.

Even the foods and drinks I tried each had their neat counterparts. Instead of ordering a Summit Pale Ale, I got a tall Pisco Sour, a mix of lime juice, egg whites and Pisco that’s considered the national drink of Peru. Instead of gorging on a bucket of Martha’s cookies, I sipped on a richly sweet Lucumoso, a mocha drink infused with the savory lucuma — a fruit I can’t imagine why hasn’t swept the world. And instead of Pronto Pups on-a-stick, I dined on anticuchos, chewy chunks of meat derived from beef heart that come, you guessed it, on a stick.

But the best Mistura has the offer has no counterpart. The centerpiece of the festival — and the reason why it attracts legions of foodies the world over — is its fare from Peru’s slew of five-star restaurants.  The restaurants, normally the most cost prohibitive in Peru, offer gourmet meals for a mere 12 soles ($4.25!) and a half portion for half of that. That’s right, you can order the best of what a world-renowned food scene has to offer for the price of a Happy Meal.  In a previous post, I mentioned the Peruvian food scene as being “gourmet for the masses.” Well, this was it, literally.

So what did I try? I started with ceviche, a savory concoction of raw fish “cooked” in lime juice and my personal favorite Peruvian dish, at Segundo Muelle. It was made just right, and was the best I’d had since a Peruvian friend made it from scratch early in my trip. I ended the night with a dish that I continue to daydream about four days later: a pasta dyed black with squid ink and topped with a spicy tomato sauce and the fruits of the sea: squid, shrimp, scallops, bits of fish. I took one bite and I was in food heaven. It came from Amoramar, a place I’m told charges a jet set price for its jet set fare at its classy restaurant in Barranco. Well, it was good while it lasted.

So Mistura is a must-see (must-eat?). In fact, it’s a reason in itself to come here. When the State Fair ends next year, don’t despair over the end of summer. Book a flight to Lima.

I’ll end with this vid of a break dancing troupe getting down to some Andean pan pipe fusion hip hop, expertly shot by my friend Andreas Ambarchian. Enjoy.

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