By Dave Carnie
It’s PERU PAR2, woooo!—oh, that’s fun to say. Anyway, we’re in Part 2 and Tony’s coveted dinner reservation at Central isn’t for a couple nights, so Chef Virgilio handed us off to his old friend, Lucho, who I mentioned in Part 1. In this episode, Lucho takes us to his favorite place to get frisky with Peru’s national dish.
When someone enjoys the morsel of food in their mouth, they often point at the bite’s place of origin. For example, Lucho is saying that he likes the food he is chewing and that it came from that plate that is right in front of him.
There’s always that one guy in every city that’s at the center of the scene, he’s connected to everyone, and everybody knows him. Lucho is that guy in Lima. Whoever cast him in that role did a marvelous job because Lucho, who’s a big dude with a big black mohawk, looks like the kingpin of a skate/punk scene. He is a fan and an authority on all things that involve skateboarding and punk rock in Peru and beyond. He grew up with Virgilio and a small crew of kids determined to skate despite the challenges of living in a third world country. What’s funny is that even though there were a mere handful of kids who were skaters in Peru at the time, the skater population was divided into two rival gangs that were in competition with each other: the Chongo skate crew and the Discordia crew—sort of like a Peruvian version of Ramp Locals vs. Daggers, I suppose?
“Chongo means, like, fun,” Virgilio explained, “and Discordia means chaos.”
At some point the members of the two crews realized that rival skateboard gangs in such a small country was rather silly, so they joined forces, packed their names into a single title, and the Choncordia skate team was born. Presumably translating to, “Fun-Chaos?” That’s a pretty good description of skateboarding. More on Choncordia in a moment.
My photos of Hensley suck, so I pinched this one off the internet. I don’t know when this was taken, but that’s Lucho with the blue hat. Photo courtesy diversionenlima.com.
Since we were at Lucho’s bar, I decided to order a beer while Tony posed for photos with enamored locals. A fellow named Andrei gave me a beer. I drank the beer. I had asked Lucho about pisco sours previously via email and he responded, “We don’t serve pisco sours at my bar. Hensley is more of a rock and roll dive bar and we try not to use more than two ingredients in our cocktails! Ha!” I agree with this style of bartending, but I decided to ask Andrei about pisco sours anyway. Andrei confirmed that neither he, nor anyone else at Hensley, would make me a pisco sour, but he did offer me some pisco straight.
An interesting corner at Hensley—didn’t realize the mannequin with the boner was foreshadowing our afternoon lunch later that day.
“Pisco is good for three things,” Andrei said while pouring me a shot. “Drinking, cleaning engines, and removing paint.”
Pisco is basically a South American brandy, but it is not mellowed in wood. I thought it was good—you can really taste the grapes—but Andrei wasn’t kidding: it does not go down easy. Peruvian author, Mario Vargas Llosa, offers this description of Pisco (and I paraphrase): “Most drinks come out in your pee, but pisco comes out through your eyes.”
We did drink pisco sours on the trip. Many pisco sours. I took quite a liking to them. Lucho took us to some hotel bar where his friend, Daniel (voted one of the best bartenders in Peru), showed Tony how to make a proper pisco sour. “Dry shake is the key,” he said. I have not idea what that means—maybe you’re a mixologist and you do?—but it tastes good. So good that it affected my photography skills.
There was no time to luxuriate over tall glasses of firewater because the afternoon was drifting away and we needed to get some footage of us sampling some of Peru’s national dish, ceviche. Time was of the essence because there’s a peculiar tradition in Peru surrounding ceviche: it’s only served at breakfast and lunch. The reason? After lunch the fish isn’t fresh anymore and therefore it’s total garbage. It was late enough in the day that Lucho had to call his local cevicheria to ask them to stay open for us. That’s Lucho: he can force a cevicheria to stay open.
Just a few blocks from Hensley is Mercado El Capullito, a market that consists of a small collection of vending stalls, including Canta Ranita Cevicheria—the faster, tastier cousin of Lima’s very popular Canta Rana.
Tony poses with the kitchen staff at Canta Ranita Cevicheria. I will have much to say about Tony’s celebrity status in a future post, but suffice it to say here that one of the things I will always remember from this trip is how often Tony was asked to pose for photos with Peruvians.
“So you're not supposed to have ceviche after breakfast?” Tony asked as we sat down on wooden stools at a small table. On the wall beside us hung a Napoleon Dynamite-style pencil drawing of Bob Marley.
“Yeah, that's bullshit,” Lucho griped. “I eat ceviche at night all the time, I've never gotten sick. But that's a big myth here: you can't eat it at night because the fish isn't fresh.”
“Is it more of a superstition than an actual thing?” Tony asked.
“No, people are just afraid of getting sick,” Lucho said. “This place is open just for us right now because no cevicherias are open past four.”
“We're living on the edge now,” Tony exclaimed sarcastically. “It’s after four o’clock and we’re eating ceviche in Peru. We're crazy.”
“Punk rock ceviche,” I added. “Actually that’s not a bad idea. Lucho, why don’t you open a punk rock cevicheria?”
“That’s it,” Tony said. “Punk Rock Ceviche: only served after 4 pm.”
Since returning from this trip, I’ll order ceviche off any menu I see it on. Doesn’t matter if I want it or not, I just want to be an asshole about how it’s not as good as “THE CEVICHE I HAD THIS ONE TIME WHEN I WAS IN PERU.” Total cocksucker. “PERU, PERU, PERU…” Pretty sure this is the “Mixto.”
Our mockery of Peruvian customs ended when the ceviche arrived at the table. It was Lucho’s regular spot so we put him in charge of ordering. What we got were four verdant ceviches brimming with color and swimming in juicy, acidic sauces. There was “Guardia Imperial,” pulpo ala parrilla (charred octopus with red onions); a “Mixto” with squid, white fish, and red chile; another was “Ceviche Apaltado,” a bowl filled with fish, lime juice, and covered with bright green avocados; and, my favorite, the “Teradito,” featured a firm fish sliced like sashimi (influence = Japanese immigrants) submerged in a spicy orange jus made with yellow peppers and laced with capers and cilantro.
“Uh oh, Dave,” Tony said, “there’s octopus.”
“You don’t like pulpo?” Lucho asked me surprised.
No, I love pulpo. That’s the problem. Octopus is one of my favorite things to eat. Although I should say “was” one of my favorites because I read a goddamn book that learned me how our eight-legged friend is one of the most intelligent animals on earth. Stupid fucking book. So I reluctantly relegated the octopus to the “Friends We Don’t Eat” dining category that also includes dolphins, whales, elephants, gorillas, dogs, cats, and humans, among others.
“Well, this obviously wasn’t a smart octopus,” Tony said trying to cheer me up, “because it was stupid enough to get caught.”
Tony’s reasoning seemed to make sense at the time so I made an exception to my rule and I’m glad I did because that stupid octopus tasted absolutely stupid—stupid good. The whole meal was astounding. I should mention here that when I learned that we were going to be shooting a food show, and thus eating on camera, I decided I needed to develop my own signature foodfuckface. The foodfuckface is the face you make when you’re eating food that’s so good you look, and sound, like you’re fucking (not to be confused with guitarfuckface, which is a related thing, but different). I hate foodfuckface, but I discovered it is an essential element to food television because, as weird as the whole foodfuckface theater is, it looks even weirder to me when the person eating doesn’t make that face on camera. I don’t understand why, and maybe it’s just me, but I have decided this to be a rule of food television: when you put something in your mouth, you make foodfuckface.
I made mood boards of TV food personalities so that Tony and I could study and practice in the van.
So before we departed I did some research and tried on some famous TV food personality fuckfaces for size. After mimicking dozens, including Rachel Ray, Guy Fieri, Andrew Zimmern, etc., I decided that I felt most comfortable with Anthony Bourdain’s style because he conveys pleasure, yet in a restrained and dignified manner. I appreciated his minimalist approach because his is one of the least fuckable (?) foodfuckfaces. Amid my research I learned, for instance, that I could never pull off Andrew Zimmern’s complex pageantry of foodfuckfaces. Too much effort. I’m incapable of mustering the colossal orgasms that man appears to withstand after every bite of food he puts in his mouth. That said, I’m pretty sure that when I was sitting there at Canta Ranita Cevicheria stuffing my face with fish that I was doing my very own Andrew Zimmern foodfuckface impersonation naturally and unrehearsed.
“Damn, that's so good,” Tony said making his own foodfuckface. “Any one of these would be the best dish in any seafood restaurant in California. What makes it so good?”
“We have really good fish from the Pacific Ocean,” Lucho said. “The onions are different, the limes are different, and we don't use tomatoes—I think Mexicans use tomatoes? It’s just way better here. Peruvian ceviche is the best.”
While we ate, Lucho introduced us to a friend of his who was selling metal and punk rock cassettes out of a nearby stall in the mercado. Cassettes! South Americans love their punk and metal. I bought a t-shirt off the dude that said, “COCAINA” across the front (Peru, you’ll remember, is one of the world’s largest purveyors of fine marching powders). My wife loves it.
When I plugged the words into a translation app, I got, “Cocaine nobody sets the world on fire.” (???). Anyway, I love this graphic—is she supposed to be the cocaine fairy being generous with her magic fairy dust? Or is it just some crazy homeless lady littering and dumping out all the trash in her purse: popcorn, old teeth, empty bindles, a key that doesn’t go to anything anymore, etc.
“Since punk rock often comes from a place of anger,” I said, “what are Peruvian kids angry about? I mean it’s obviously not because of bad ceviche.”
“Fucking everything,” Lucho said flatly. “This is a fucking third world country. It’s poor, it’s shitty, it’s fucking dirty, it’s contaminated, politicians are corrupt—there’s a lot of stuff to be angry about.”
Lucho regaled us with stories of the early days of Choncordia and growing up in Lima in the '80s and '90s, a time when Peru was embroiled in civil conflict and suffering a severe economic crisis. Under the leadership of then-President Alberto Fujimori, car bombs, guerilla warfare, martial law, curfews, death squads, and kidnappings were all daily occurrences. Fujimori is currently serving a prison sentence for crimes against humanity committed during this period. Skateboarding might seem like a strange undertaking in front of this background of social unrest, but, at the same time, the very absurdity of riding a small wooden toy might also be the most appropriate reaction to the gross injustices they were experiencing. Fight farce with farce. Plus skateboarding has the unique ability of allowing one to lose oneself in it and drown out reality. Much like drugs. And like drug addicts, the kids in Choncordia did what they had to do to get their fix.
There were no skate shops, so boards, wheels, videos, everything had to be smuggled in from foreign destinations. Peru’s postal system is notoriously sketchy, so the only way they could see the newest skate videos from America was for them to be physically carried into the country.
“When a new video would arrive,” Virgilio recalled, “we would all crowd around a little TV, like 40 guys, to watch the videos. Those are the days I really remember as a skater—watching the videos that were coming from the US—it was like, wow.”
“So the Choncordia skate gang was involved in trafficking?” Tony asked. “Not drugs, but skate videos?”
“Yeah,” Virgilio said laughing. “I guess you could say that.”
Because equipment was scarce in Peru, they developed ingenious ways of making it last. Lucho told us about a friend who took two broken decks and drilled the four pieces together to make a clunky, Frankenstein land-sled. With a lack of money and options, the kids in Choncordia had no other choice than to get creative.
“But,” Lucho added, “being young, with all the lawlessness going on around the city, and just the whole innocent vibe of skating the streets with your buddies all day and night at 14-years-old, for some reason it seemed like paradise to us.”
It was his love of that period of his life and the resourcefulness he gained from it, that led Lucho to open a bar. One of the first lessons I learned from skateboarding was: if there’s nothing to skate, build something to skate. In Lucho’s case, there was nowhere for punk bands to play in Lima, so he opened Hensley.
The punk rock box at Hensley. It’s kind of like an oven: put in some angst, add a couple of people who can’t play their instruments very well, turn it up to 11, and, voila, out comes some fresh baked punk rock.
“I didn't know what else to do,” Lucho recalled. “I didn't go to school, all I knew was rock and roll and skating—punk rock has, and will always be, our soundtrack, the two are interconnected—and so a bar sort of made sense. And now it's a venue for shows. There was a need for that in Lima when I opened it seven years ago.”
Skateboarding and punk rock tend to thrive in squalor and Lucho displays one of the hallmarks of both: adaptability.
“DYI,” I said. “Do Yourself It.”
Lucho chugging some boner juice while Napoleon Dynamite’s graphite portrait of Bob Marley looks on in the background.
“Ceviche is also known as an aphrodisiac,” Lucho said suddenly lifting his bowl off the table. “You gotta drink the juice. That's what gives you a boner,” he said tilting the bowl to cover his face. When he returned the bowl to the table there was nothing left.
“Oh, I want to get a boner right now,” I said excited. “For research purposes, of course. Can you guys eat that last fish in there so I can drink that? Thanks. Do you want a boner, Tony?”
“If you could ask that question in a different way, then maybe,” Tony replied.
“Okay. Do you want an erection, Tony?” I asked. “Actually erection sounds worse than boner, huh?”
“Yes, I would like to try the ceviche sauce,” Tony said simply.
“You can call it whatever you want, Tony, but it's not going to change the fact that I’m going to call it boner juice for the rest of the trip.”
“Boner juice,” Lucho said to himself chuckling.
After we finished our ceviche, our film crew wanted to get some B-roll footage of us skating through the market. Bad idea. Because as we rolled down the narrow hallways, our wheels going clickity-clack on the sidewalk cracks, we pissed off a little old lady who was a longtime resident of one of the mercado stalls. She HATED us. No amount of apology was sufficient. She was furious. And we didn’t even have boners. Lucho reported that he apologized five times, but she refused to get unbent. Skateboarding, as we know, has certainly enjoyed a wider acceptance throughout the world in recent years, but the matriarch of the Mercado El Capullito was decidedly not impressed. And I agree with her: skateboarding should not be in the mercado. Or the Olympics, for that matter. What if ceviche were an Olympic sport?
Anyway. Lo siento, little Peruvian mercado lady, lo siento.