Sayel Restaurant, Lima
We were ushered through to a back room crammed with tables. The walls were white with big printed pictures of the sea mounted upon them, a sea a lot more idyllic than the churning grey ocean that borders this great metropolis. After a stumbling Spanish conversation we ordered the menu del día for 13 soles (~£3), which included three courses and a cold glass of ginger and lemongrass tea.
The waitress returned unnervingly quickly with a bowl of soup and a plate of ceviche fresh from the kitchen’s efficient production line. This was not ceviche as it is normally seen. The restaurant is wholly vegetarian, feeding an enormous lunchtime crowd with hearty meals before unceremoniously rolling them, and their much larger stomachs, back into the busy streets.
The photos don’t do justice to the taste of the food
My ceviche consisted of tofu, cucumber, onion, sweet potato and a hefty quantity of lime and coriander. It was sharp and flavoursome. The contrasting textures of the vegetables and tofu worked very well together and just about managed to mask the fact that the tofu was fresh and flabby from its packet with no flavour of its own. As I put down my fork, another dish appeared.
My secondi was a full plate of rice, beans and some form of homemade mock-meat smothered in a coriander sauce. My sister commented that it was ‘aggressively delicious’, and aggressive it was. The conveyor belt of customers streaming through the establishment was mesmerising. Everyone left full and content within a maximum of half an hour, though most managed their three courses in a matter of minutes. Sorry McDonald’s, this is fast food at its finest.
I can’t say that I enjoyed the entire meal – we were presented with a small pot of cheese-scented yoghurt and what I can only hope was berry compote… it looked particularly and off-puttingly menstrual. I was happy for my £3 to cover only two courses. Some meals really don’t require the ‘cherry on top’.
This meal was frantically fast paced but I loved every second of its finely kept balance between homeliness and efficiency. It was definitely a moving feast.
Lima has not won my heart as a city but it’s restaurants have intrigued my taste buds and given me a beautifully chaotic insight into the heart of Peru.