The taxi ride from our rented apartment in Miraflores to the Santa Catalina neighbourhood isn’t that long. In our week-long stay in the Peruvian capital, we hadn’t yet been to this working class neighbourhood but are now heading there for lunch at Chez Wong, one of Lima’s best cevicheria. After using our rudimentary Spanish to repeat the address to the driver and make sure he understands us, he nods, mumbles a few “si” and drops us off in front of a shut metal door on a busy road. In the absence of any sign, we aren’t sure of where we are but are fully aware that we are the only tourists around. We stare at the nondescript door and nervously fumble with our phones to try and figure out if we are indeed at the right address. From across the street, an old man shouts at us and gestures to knock on the door, so we oblige. He yells again to knock harder, while another man chimes in with the same basic message. We knock hard and the door finally opens. We are asked if we have any reservations before our host leads us through a front yard and into a residential building beyond where the dining room of Chez Wong is located.
The three of us are seated at a small front table. The wall behind me is plastered with framed newspaper clippings depicting chef Wong’s culinary exploits. There are many photos of the beret-clad chef with Anthony Bourdain and other celebrities, which only intensifies the sense of anticipation. I’d been eating my way through the Peruvian capital’s many ceviches but this is supposed to be Lima’s best cevicheria and I was looking forward to getting a taste.
The set menu leaves no real choice, safe for the choice of deciding how many courses and portions we want. The chef finally comes into the open kitchen from a side door and starts prepping lunch on a counter 3 feet away from our table (best seat in the house!). There’s a hushed silence in the room that has filled up since our arrival. Everyone is watching the team’s choreographed moves in the kitchen with utter fascination and reverence. Chef Wong is of the serious kind and entirely focused on the task at hand. He starts by cleaning and filleting the massive flounder then dices it into bite-size chunks. The cutting boards are changed after every step by his team and taken to the kitchen to be washed. We count 4 boards for the whole process. The fresh fish cubes are then dropped into a bowl with lemon juice, fresh onion, thinly sliced cooked octopus and seasoned with salt and pepper. The no-frills mix, which doesn’t contain the usual additions of camote (sweet potatoes) or choclo (white corn), is then distributed into different sized platters and placed in front of expectant diners. We dig in and the first bite elicits moans of pleasure and approving nods from every single person in the room. I am a huge fan of ceviche and this was definitely one of the bests I’ve ever had, if not the best. The leche de tigre (or tiger’s milk, the name for the citrus-based marinade in a ceviche) is well seasoned and the freshness of the fish is outstanding. We eat in silence while the chef starts prepping the second dish, a tiradito. Peru’s tiraditos are the perfect illustration of the Japanese influence on Peruvian cuisine. The fish is sliced sashimi-style and marinated in a spicy, citrus-based sauce just like ceviche. The dish we received also had crushed pecans, which lent it texture as well as an earthy flavour. Another delicious course!
The third dish was a cooked one, a fish stir-fry with spring onions, seaweed and fresh veggies cooked in an enormous, flame-spewing wok in the back of the kitchen. The visual spectacle is almost as delicious as the dish itself. The barely cooked fish is succulent and the flavours of the Chinese-influenced sauce are well balanced. The waiter picks up this last empty dish and asks us if we would like anything else. We are so full but the meal is so enjoyable, I can’t help but ask for one portion of the next dish, without even knowing what that might be. A smaller plate of sweet and sour fish arrives at our table and marks the perfect end to this perfect meal.
Reservations are a must, otherwise, they won’t even let you past the front door.
Enrique León García 114
Distrito de Lima 15034, Peru
Read about my other adventures in Peru here.