This postcard comes to you from Lima, Peru. I came down to Lima for a work trip…I have been fascinated by Peru for years and was thrilled at the opportunity to visit. Not only does Peru have a rich history of ancient civilizations, but also, Peruvian cuisine is considered one of the best in the world. In fact, as I was reading up on Peru, I found that three of the “World’s 50 Best Restaurants” are in Lima, the capital of Peru. Two of those three make the top ten.
It also so happened that my 30th birthday was on the Saturday I was down there and I didn’t have to work on the weekend. So, you can bet that I tried to make reservations at the two top restaurants in Lima. And you also might be able imagine that those restaurants are filled months in advance. So, I registered for the waiting list for Maido and even had to give my credit card information to hold my space on the waiting list! Maido is a Japanese and Peruvian fusion restaurant, the chef is Peruvian-born to Japanese parents. There are many Japanese-Peruvians, in fact Alberto Fujimori, president of Peru from 1990-2000 is of Japanese descendance. Also, there is some overlap with the abundance of seafood in Peru and Japan, they do, after all, share the same ocean front.
On Saturday—the day of my not-confirmed reservation—and birthday, I ate a light breakfast, anticipating lunch. I dressed up and put on make-up and jewelry and walked down to the restaurant arriving seven minutes before my not-reservation. I checked in at the host stand and told them I didn’t have a reservation but I was on the waiting list. The host informed me that I was not on the waiting list. If I hadn’t received a confirmation e-mail yesterday then I wasn’t on the waiting list.
“I see. Well, today’s my birthday and I’m here from abroad on business, might you have a table by chance?” I said in Spanish with a huge smile.
“For how many?”
“Are you OK with the bar?”
“Right this way, señorita,” he led me up a spiral staircase.
He helped me take off my coat, pulled out the bar chair and tucked me in and someone else put the napkin on my lap. A third person brought me a drink menu but I told them I would like to do the tasting menu with wine pairing. I don’t think they were expecting that from me or from someone sitting at the bar because the gentleman seemed shocked and took the menus away. A young lady, who would pour my wine for the rest of the meal and dawned bright red lipstick came over with a tray that had six beautiful glasses for sake and told me to choose one. I chose a blue ceramic one. I introduced myself to the guy sitting next to me who was on his 6th (of 11) course and had rosy cheeks from wine. His name was John and he was an engineer from Dallas. The guy next to him was Luiggi, a plastic surgeon from Ecuador and the couple on my left were from Colombia.
They brought me a warm wash cloth to clean my hands and filled my metal cup with sparkling water. It was really nice not ordering from a menu, just having things appear in front of me. The lady with the red lipstick came from my right and over my right shoulder poured sake, she showed me the bottle and told me about the sake, where it came from and what made it unique. As soon as she said “enjoy” the first course appeared from my left, over my left shoulder and was placed in front of me. The waiter who was responsible for me put it down in front of me and began to explain the dish. When he was done telling me about the food he said, “please go ahead” and disappeared.
This went on, like clockwork for the next two and a half hours and eleven courses + wine pairing. One course was pork belly on steamed bread served with a Belgian triple ale. Another was cuy (guinea pig), fried and delicious. Everyone around me left as I savored every bite, slowly. I chatted with the sushi chefs about the food and asked if they got to eat it every day. At the very end after nine savory courses and two desserts, a different waiter came from my left, “Feliz Cumpleaños, Señorita Sally,” (happy birthday, Miss Sally) he said as he placed a slab of granite with a basket of churros stuffed with dulce de leche (caramel) and a wooden box, filled with ice cream and a pink candle. I was overcome with gratitude and thought of my mom—she insists that you have to have cake on your birthday, this wasn’t cake but there was a candle and my mama would be happy that her daughter was being taken care of, albeit thousands of miles away. I sat there staring at the churros and opened the box of ice cream and looked inside, then I closed it again. I touched the frosting that spelled out “happy birthday Sally,” and licked my finger, it was delicious. The man who had brought me the churros eventually said, “miss, you have to blow the candle out.” And I burst into laughter, I was so caught up in my head that I had forgotten that I was supposed to eat the dessert. This has never happened to me before, I don’t forget to eat dessert.