When my father behaved badly, which was not infrequent and invariably booze fuelled, my mother would undertake a subtle but cruel revenge the next morning. All in the interest of his health you understand? If my youthful memory serves me right he would be presented (obviously feeling a little worse for wear), with a strange witches brew of live (read fizzily fermenting) yogurt, mixed with all kinds of other well-being inducing but totally unpalatable ingredients, with a couple of gloopy raw eggs stirred in at the last minute. “Tiger’s Milk” she called it. Maybe there was tabasco, maybe not. That could have been the Bullshot. A consomme and egg yolk concoction which was as close as he came to eating solids before midday.
So imagine my consternation when stumbling puffy-eyed around the bedroom, squinting through the window at the bright blue sky and the first shimmers of midday heat, wondering how I was going to get through the cultural agenda that I had enthusiastically planned the previous day, before getting intimate with a Mr Maker and his Mark via a succession of Old Fashioneds and the girlfriend suddenly says;
“I think you need some leche de tigre.”
I’ve never thought of her as sadistic, not even passive-agressive but images of my father’s sad face as he swigged his penance flooded back.
“Was I really that badly behaved last night?” I mutter.
“No you were fine, unusually charming for you, but it will set you up for the day. Why don’t we drive down to Abasto and visit Mochica?”
There is not much I like about Abasto apart from the fine Art Deco building that was converted into its central shopping center. From the outside only you understand? And the idea that a restaurant had institutionalised morning-after punishment, failed to fill me with joy. But much gets lost in translation and the girlfriend has spent 7 years living in Peru. Perhaps my panic was premature.
“So describe this tiger’s milk.”
“Its a creamy mixture of the juices that ceviche is cured in. You’ll like it. We’ll ask for it spicy…and they do a great pisco sour.”
So all of a sudden this is sounding an enticing option. Presumably if you get the milk you get the ceviche it came from. And other than the fraudulent Chilean variety which only makes me sad, I haven’t drunk a decent pisco for a year, sour or otherwise.
“And the owner’s called Elvis,” she tells me. Sold! I love restaurant owners with ridiculous names.
So we wander down there around 3.00 pm and find ourselves in a vaguely smart (if this were the 70’s), airy restaurant packed full of Peruvian families tucking into mountains of food. They have extreme fighting on a couple of TV screens. My head still hurts a bit and I wonder whether it would be acceptable to try a couple of the moves on some of the noisier kids who are running around unchecked (normally I would find this sweet and tell the girlfriend glowingly how the UK is so child unfriendly and how wonderful it is that families can socialise together).
The girlfriend turns out to be well-known. Ordering is not complicated. The big house-special mixed ceviche, extra leche de tigre, Peruvian spice levels, after all we are not Argentine’s who will cry like young girls at the first hint of chilli. All the same, as I dip my bread into an innocuous looking dish of green chilli sauce, the waiter hurls himself towards us with cardiac resuscitation equipment. Maybe I’m beginning to look like an Argentine. I regale him with stories of mutton phal down Brick Lane. It calms him.
So the ceviche? My father would have probably actually enjoyed it, even though it contained solids. A great selection of fresh (this is a high throughput restaurant, it doesn’t hang about in the fridge) white fish, prawns, squid, mussels and clams, though strangely also those weird-coloured artificial crab stick. Fresh citric flavours, undertones of coriander and smooth green-tasting spice. And a big cup of leche de tigre whose creaminess toned down the acid assault on my delicate stomach lining. Plus a proper pisco, single distilled and matured in those strange looking clay vessels.
Taste buds zing, vitamins flow into the system, spice inspires a gentle sweat, pisco smooths out the remnants of abuse.
Truly the breakfast of kings!
If I was a proper food journalist I’d be able to tell you about the history, the menu, the other dishes. I can tell you about the price though. About 200 pesos all done, including the artificial looking, but apparently completely natural drink made from purple corn, that Veronica drank. While we shared a starter between two, believe me it was enough (believe me? How old fashioned. These days we have photos). I did stroll round the tables though. Frituras of fish, copious enough for four. Chicken and rice, kind of Peruvian paella style. Sadly not a Guinea Pig in sight.
So yes, there are the fine tiraditos at Osaka, and vibrant ceviches at Sipan, but if you want a man’s breakfast, a meaty portion not a minimalist art work, something that will chase your hangover to the next week? And while for an expat it isn’t that expensive, for its Sunday regulars its probably a treat and they know what their cuisine is all about, so you have to accept that the flavours are the real deal. Veronica confirms as much.
Sorry my pictures aren’t great but hope they say enough.