I know what you’re thinking… With Machu Picchu being one of the New Seven Wonders of the World and the Amazon Rainforest hosting millions of exotic species of plants and animals, how could food be the best part of a trip to Peru?
First, let me preface this by mentioning that Mistura is the largest gastronomic (food) festival in Latin America, which is a big deal seeing as there are so many of them. It takes place in Lima, Peru and has been on Magdalena’s Costa Verde for the past few years, a beautiful backdrop for such a unique day full of flavors and smells.
I will admit, I was a bit leery at first to attend the event. My Spanish was rusty, to say the least, and the event is gigantic–with over 400,000 visitors. Being an obvious out-of-towner at such a massive gathering of what I had imagined would be all locals was an intimidating thought.
Another thing that made me nervous about it was all the horror stories I had heard about taking a taxi in Lima. The Costa Verde isn’t in Miraflores, the typical tourist district—it’s actually about 25-35 minutes by car depending on traffic. I’d heard so many stories of illegitimate taxi drivers and car-jackings taking advantage of tourists that I thought, “What’s the point of risking it?”
In fact, on the morning I had planned to venture over to Mistura, I actually considered staying at the hotel and taking a dip in the pool or just walking around the immediate area and finding something else to do. It felt like less of a hassle and kept me inside my comfort zone.
Stepping outside of my box and sticking to my original plan to go to Mistura despite all of my anxiety was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.
We (my brother had just arrived in Peru to meet me for the second half of my trip) arranged a taxi through the hotel and even told them what time we wanted to be picked back up so we didn’t have to worry about hailing a “trustworthy” one from the busy curbsides near Mistura. Sure, we paid an arm and a leg for it, but it was well worth the peace of mind of knowing we weren’t going to be robbed or charged double the agreed upon price at the last minute.
TIP: I would allot at least four hours in Mistura in order to get the most out of your time there.
A PRACTICAL GUIDE TO VISITING MISTURA
I was right that most attendees of the event were locals. There weren’t as many English speakers as I had expected either, although there were a few and everything was pretty self-explanatory. Anything we wanted could be achieved with a point and a grunt for the most part.
Upon arrival onto the grounds, there is some fun pump-you-up music and ticket booths where the entrance fee is 17-20 soles (less than 6 USD) per adult. Then, right when you pass the entrance gates there are some other ticket booths where you buy your boletos (meaning “tickets” in Spanish) that are ultimately how you get your hands on the good stuff. This is where things get a little hairy…
There are different “combos” to choose from. For instance, you can buy a combo of tickets that includes four 14 soles tickets, three 7 soles tickets, and four 3 soles tickets. Why the random number combinations? Beats me! But my recommendation is that if you want to try a little of everything… I’m talking a main course, a side, a dessert, and a craft beer—enough for you to be filled up and leave happy, I’d recommend starting out with the equivalent of about 25 USD worth of boletos. The larger denominations of 14 are good for main courses, while 3 boletos are good for small desserts and such. Keep a little bit of local cash on you as well because for one reason or another the soda and water bottles are cash only (or “solo efectivo”).
To make matters a bit more interesting, once you have your boletos and have chosen something you’d like to spend them on, you usually have to go up to the booth and trade those tickets for yet another ticket! Finally, you can use said ticket to get some grub.
Maybe there’s a practical reason for this seemingly endless exchange of tickets that I’m not aware of? If anyone out there has any light to shed on this, please feel free to comment. In my eyes, though, it’s all just another part of the adventure.
The space of Mistura is the equivalent to that of multiple football fields, all filled with steamy, delectable, and flavorful local dishes. In other words—heaven. Our strategy was first to walk all the way through it and take it all in before choosing what we wanted to eat. There would be nothing worse than picking something then walking to the next stall and seeing something you’d rather have.
TIP: Don’t eat breakfast–save space in your stomach for some delectable Peruvian chow!
The tents were divided into 16 categories, a few of them being Regional Specialties, Seafood, Desserts, and this year they even added a few stalls for other countries such as Mexico, Japan, and India! There’s even a huge wall of specialty craft beers from all over the country and reaching as far as the Peruvian highlands.
There wasn’t one dish we tried at Mistura that was bad. Everything was fresh as could be. In my opinion, something like Mistura is one of the best ways to experience the cuisine of a place. Sure, you can go to restaurants in a city to get an idea of the local food, but how do you know which restaurant is good? At Mistura, everyone is competing to serve the best food and every stall has been recognized for having the best of their specialty from their area—otherwise, they wouldn’t be there!
I’d received recommendations from Peruvians I’d met earlier on my trip and even from the cab driver who took us to Mistura, so we had a feel for what the local favorites and must tries would be. We took the advice and it did not disappoint, although I think some of you less adventurous eaters out there might be a bit less-than thrilled. We tried cuy (guinea pig), anticuchos (cow’s heart kabobs), a pisco sour, and Inca Kola (the delicious—and cheap—Coca Cola of Peru)–among other things.
We didn’t try ceviche at Mistura but Lima is known for some of the best ceviche in the world so it’s definitely a must as well. Basically it’s raw fish that is “cooked” in acid by marinating in lemon and lime juice and served on shells. The locals eat it with corn nuts and that’s definitely the way to go—gives it some much-needed salt and crunch.
As you can see, I could go on forever where food is involved. The bottom line is that sometimes local festivals and events in foreign countries can seem a bit daunting, what with all of the warnings of pickpockets and scams alike. However, the reality is that 99.9% of the people you come across at things like this are nothing but friendly and excited to share their culture with you. Don’t let the media instill fear in you that will prevent you from having the experience of a lifetime.
Mistura wasn’t expensive at all by US standards. If you’re planning a trip, check the tourist board website of your chosen destination for events taking place during your travel dates. Odds are, something fantastic will be going on and you’ll get to experience something vastly different than that museum or landmark that’s on everyone else’s itineraries—and at half the cost!
CAITLYN WITHOUT A COMPASS