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Veal "herat" ($6.45) wasn't anything more exotic than a misprint. For this traditional street food, beef hearts are sliced very thin, marinated, spiced with ground peppers, and grilled on a skewer over an open flame. They're fantastic, gently curled slivers with a smoky, sexy flavor.
Of the varied ceviches (the Peruvians say "cebiche" or "escabeche") at Totoritas, we sampled leche de tigre (ceviche juice, $3.15), another made entirely of shrimp ($10.45), and a cebiche mixto ($9.45). You can order these mild to hot, and if you tell them you like it extra hot, they'll bring two sauce bowls: a green salsa made from jalapeños and another from fiery, bright-red ajis. Peruvians don't usually eat ceviche for dinner — it's a lunch or even a breakfast meal. Leche de tigre, fish chunks with lots of sour-hot juice served in a tall glass, is supposed to cure a hangover (particularly with a shot of vodka in it) and enhance the libido. I can vouch that what was left of my cebiche mixto made a deliciously aphrodisiac breakfast the next day.
Eating ceviche is like taking a shot to the head. This isn't a subtle dish, and for me, it's as much about texture as flavor. Lime, cilantro, finely diced aji peppers, and slivers of red onion, although completely addictive, are all in the high, sharp range. The Peruvians cut through the acids by serving a creamy, cold slice of sweet potato alongside and a bit of cold corn on the cob flavored with fennel; the mild, sweet tones of the vegetables soothe rough edges. At Totoritas, ceviche comes with salted, pan-toasted corn kernels (chulpa), adding nutty crunch to the chewy shellfish.
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I don't think I'm exaggerating to say this is one of the world's most perfect foods; eat it twice in a row and you'll find yourself craving it with a surprising violence. I finally get my friend's obsession.
Heavier comfort foods include pastas, rice dishes, and stir-fried meats. Eating at Totoritas is like taking a trip through a magical takeout land. From Lima's Chinatown come the chaufas, fried-rice with shrimp ($10.45), steak, or chicken, seasoned with finely diced green onions, red peppers, soy sauce, and ginger. It's a mountain good for three meals. Tacu-tacu is a fried cake made with white beans and rice, mashed well with a creamy aji salsa and shaped into a fat, fabulous, omelet-like snack. We had ours with lomo saltado ($9.45) — thinly sliced and seared beef tenderloin with sautéed onions, red peppers, and French fries soaking up the thick, meaty gravy. Heavenly. Picante mariscos bathed shrimp and chunks of white fish in a light, spicy tomato sauce ($10.45).
Any one of these dishes, from soup to ceviche to chaufa, is more than enough food to assuage the grossest appetite. Our petite, polite waitress, deep-brown eyes round as saucers, must have thought we were insane. No Peruvian would eat such a strange assortment at one sitting, but we had to try it all. Including three amazing desserts (a suspiro limeño cream pudding, named for the delicacy of a woman's sigh; a tart-sweet, almost buttery bavarois made with the juice of the lúcuma fruit native to Peru; and an amazing alfajore, two crumbly cookies sandwiching a center of manjar blanco, the Peruvian take on dulce de leche). These were $2.50 apiece. And, forgoing the beer and sangria and the reasonably priced bottles of Peruvian wine, we drank many glasses of the supersweet chicha morada, a juice made from purple maize and chopped fruit.
With its range of internationally inspired cuisines, Peruvian cooking, it seems, has out-sushi'd the Japanese, improved on Chinese classics, and even given N'Awlins a run for its money with its Creole seafood stews. My only regret is I didn't get to it sooner. Seems to me a body could eat a lot of pickled fish in one lifetime and then die happy.