You are using an older browser version. Please use a supported version for the best MSN experience.

From drug den to delectable: Lima's La Mar

AAP logoAAP 12/09/2016 By Elise Scott

Lima's La Mar Avenue was once so dangerous, local taxi drivers would refuse fares there.

Now, it's home to some of Peru's most innovative food and exciting entrepreneurs, including one who has developed a vegan menu so elaborate it would outshine any inner-city Melbourne cafe.

Speckled with car mechanics, the street was once a hub of drug runners and crime.

The jagged glass cemented as makeshift barbed-wire on tall front fences provides a clue not all was as harmonious 15 years ago as La Mar now seems.

Mainly known for its cebicherias - which serve the traditional Peru dish of ceviche - the avenue is now branching into the trendy and organic.

One entrepreneur taking at least partial credit is Jonathan Day, a Lima-born bread enthusiast who ditched his acting dream to open an artisan bakery.

Nicknamed Chola, Day returned from studying acting in London with a craving for good bread and, after a couple of years selling his handiwork at a beachside resort, set up el pan de la Chola.

With his two sisters and brother-in-law Gabriel Briceno, the quartet hand make almost everything they sell and anything they can't is sourced from local producers.

"This was never an idea, it was out of necessity," he tells AAP.

"I had an urge for eating good bread and there wasn't good bread."

It's decked out in metal and wood, feels like a bustling inner-city cafe and serves up simple, tasty bread and indulgent pastries.

There's a vegan chocolate bar, yoghurt made from scratch and Lima's only 100 per cent sour dough bread without commercial yeast.

Just down the road, past an immaculately presented organic supermarket, you'll find Armonica - the creation of another young entrepreneur Solange Martinez.

Her vision too was out of necessity, after spending much of her life sick with food intolerances.

While major cities in developed countries like Australia caught the healthy-food bug years ago, Peru is yet to be infected, leaving anyone with dietary requirements few eating-out options.

Martinez is on the front-line, creating a menu that invites anyone dairy-free, gluten-free, sugar-free or just health-concious to enjoy tasty meals, smoothies and deserts.

"For me, it's a place where I can share health with the people," Martinez says. "It's not a business for me."

The menu includes gluten-free pasta made from quinoa and rice, a range of ice creams whipped up with fruit and almond milk and vegan chocolate brownies and cheesecake.

The spread is colourful and deceiving. It seems unlikely anything that healthy could look that good.

And the biggest surprise: it tastes almost exactly like the real thing with no chemicals, preservatives and, in most cases, no dairy or added sugar.

"I want people to eat whatever they want in a healthy way," she says.

La Mar is also handing Martinez a healthy-food community, with friends gradually opening fresh juice places and other gourmet stalls.

"We are so happy because we have a lot of people here," she says. "It's cool that people are valuing this food."

But while stories like theirs are popping up all over the Peruvian capital, Lima hasn't always handed its young people opportunities.

Day and Briceno grew up in the 80s and 90s, when internal conflict and terrorism led to extreme poverty and widespread fear in Peru.

"We lived in very hard times," Day says.

"As soon as we had the opportunity to leave, we left.

"And now it's different, people want to stay here, it's a city of opportunity."

Briceno blames the poverty and terrorism for stamping out the middle class, and with it, local communities.

Neighbourhoods disappeared, there were no local bakeries, no local meat stores or cheese stores, he says.

Peruvians were either rich and went to university or were poor, he says. There was no in between.

Peruvians are now finding out there are other activities they can do.

For Briceno, quitting his university-qualified job to take on the bakery was the best decision he's ever made.

"I didn't feel like what I was doing was real," he said.

"But here when you see someone take bread and say it's really good, I feel that I'm part of something that is real."

IF YOU GO

GETTING THERE

Lima is about 19 hours from Sydney with one stop. There's no direct flight to Lima, with visitors required to stop over in Santiago. LATAM Airlines (www.latam.com) offers flights with two stops - through Auckland and Santiago - from $A2100. La Mar Avenue is just a couple of suburbs from Lima's tourist district Miraflores.

STAYING THERE

Lima's Miraflores tourist district offers a range of hotels of differing standards. The Marriott, just set back from the waters edge, has luxurious rooms starting from $US427. Visit www.marriott.com.

PLAYING THERE

There are plenty of taxis in Lima to get around the city. If you're worried about organising activities or transport, booking a tour is a simple, stress-free way to take it all in. Condor Travel (www.condortravel.com) offers several tour options - from two days exploring Lima to two weeks venturing into other parts of Peru. Remember Lima is in the southern hemisphere so its seasons line up with Australia.

* The writer travelled as a guest of PromPeru

image beaconimage beaconimage beacon