There are many reasons to visit Arequipa, Peru.
The grandeur and beauty of its Plaza de Armas rivals Venice’s Piazza San Marco and Brussels’ Grand-Place. On a clear day you can see Misti volcano as a backdrop for the Arequipa Cathedral.
You can visit the “Ice Maiden”–the 1450’s mummified remains of a twelve-year-old Inca preserved in a glass-refrigerator at the Museo Santuarios Andinos.
I primarily came to visit the Monasterio de Santa Catalina, which, while not as well known as Agra’s Taj Mahal or Rome’s Pantheon, is just as much of a must-see-before-you-die experience as any of the world’s great touristic treasures.
Beyond that, there is the food.
Peru is considered to be progenitor of among the world’s great cuisines–rivaling France and Singapore–and Arequipa is considered its southern culinary capital.
Gastón Acurio, Peru’s most famous chef, owns Chi Cha. Located in a verdant-colored courtyard across the street from the Monastery, its colonial ambiance and simple menu promises an elegant gastronomic tour of authentic Inca-Spanish staples. A friend and I thought our meals were decidedly so-so.
Zig-Zag, three blocks away, is one of my favorite restaurants in the world.
The interior is a cross between a Parisian cafe and an Argentine steak house.
The proprietors are so extremely committed to giving their customers a hint of the French experience that the spiral staircase leading up to the second level was designed by Gustave Eiffel!
The menu will shock a vegetarian into an epileptic rage.
In one column there is a list of animals that the internationally renowned chef is willing to kill and cook for you. In a second column you are offered the meat of each animal in quantities of 50 grams, 100 grams, and 250 grams.
While you decide which animals shall be harmed for your digestive pleasures they serve you a basket of exotic breads and butters so sweet and succulent that while it might kill you, it is totally worth it.
The wine list was largely Eurocentric, but we picked an over-sweet pour of a local red from the Ica Region of Peru. Peruvian wines tend to very sweet and our selection was not an exception.
We both chose 50 grams each of pork, beef, and alpaca with a side of cheesy Quinoa. My friend also got a local bean salad, which, while interesting to look at, proved difficult to eat. I was happy with my choice of a common Caesar salad .
One of the best aspects of a Peruvian meal is the sauces. Like the French and Belgians, Peru augments its meats and vegetables with a delectable spectrum of dips and condiments. Virtually every lomo saltado will come with a uniquely spiced chili dressing, each one striving to create a different taste experience. Our meats came with a creamy-ranch like concoction, a spicy-lime sauce, butter infused with very earthy mushroom, and a spicy chili sauce that will make a grown man cry with joy.
I know I did.
It is the first time either of us had tried alpaca and we were nervous. All of Peru is covered with these alarmingly adorable animals and we felt a degree of moral turpitude would be involved if we enjoyed it.
We did. A lot.
It’s a good thing we had already accepted that our souls were destined for hell–but at least we got to visit here, heaven, first.
You’ll like the plaza, you’ll be intrigued by the mummy, you’ll be transformed by the Monastery–but you’ll love the food!
Address: Calle Zela 210 – 212 | Cercado (Centro Historico), Arequipa, Peru
Phone: +51 54 206020
Hours: 6 PM until Midnight
Cost: $10-$30 per person includes wine, an appetizer, a selection of three or four meats, a side of potatoes or Quinoa, and dessert.