A new foodie mecca: A restaurant where lake algae and crispy piranha skin rule

[Peru] Somewhere between the courses of high-altitude lake algae and cooked Peruvian clay came a bowl of frozen piranha heads, their jaws open and razor-sharp teeth bared.

“You don’t eat the fish heads,” the waiter said, amused by my relieved look. Instead, they served as a vessel for two strips of crispy piranha skin resting precariously between the alien-like mouths.


Like much of the dishes at Central — chef Virgilio Martínez’s exotic Lima eatery where haute cuisine meets bizarre foods — the plate of piranha is meant to tell a story.

“The story of Peru,” Martínez had told me earlier.

Lima has long been on the culinary map, put there years ago by chefs such as Gastón Acurio, who helped take ceviches and pisco sours global. More recently, Martínez has added a novel twist. Using the mountains, deserts and jungles as his pantry, he is serving up dishes with ingredients heretofore consumed mostly by indigenous tribes in hard-to-reach regions of Peru.

His plates with rare fruits and vegetables, along with various things that squirm, seem to have touched a nerve. The World’s 50 Best Restaurants, a listing produced by the British magazine Restaurant and based on the opinions of culinary experts, ranks Central as the fifth-best eatery in the world and No. 1 in Latin America. Martínez also starred in an episode of the Netflix series “Chef’s Table.”

So what’s dinner like at one of the globe’s most unusual restaurants? It’s like Christmas morning, with each of the 17 courses a surprise gift.

The adventure here is mapped on the menu, with each dish listed alongside the altitude where its most interesting ingredient was sourced. Here are a few of the highlights…

 

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