A misorder of a magnitude to be reckoned with
Café Tostado doesn’t look like much from the outside. Indeed, it looks like nothing from the outside. Just a dark, empty, doorwound in a whitewashed cement facade, like so many other storefronts in Lima’s Barranco district. No clouds of drool-inducing roast smoke billow. No happy people chow down, oblivious to the world for their love of pork. Nothing to indicate what’s going on inside.
Heck, from the outside, we can’t even see the inside of Café Tostado—the door is mostly blocked by an abandoned piece of soot-coated kitchen storage equipment, and the morning sun is at the wrong angle to shine within. If it hadn’t been recommended by our AirBnB hosts, we would have walked right by.
Inside, Café Tostado is surprisingly charming, covered in the wreckage of a cowboy garage sale. Kitschy paintings of roosters and stallions vie for wall space with tools meant for the kitchen or the barn or a serial killer’s torture room. Splotched, faded photos of determined-eyed macho men butt up against frying pans coated with layers of black char that trace meals past like geologic strata. The one-story building is partially roofless, leaving the sun free to filter into the kitchen through an approximation of a skylight made of rippled plastic panels.
As we prepared for our travels through Peru, Todd got highly motivated to habla some Español. For the last several months, he’s been listening to Pimsleur audio language lessons, learning Spanish as he bikes to work (he assures me this is safe since he only has a headphone in one ear), as he pulls weeds, and as he chops vegetables for dinner.
The result: He’s added mumbling in Spanish to his already prolific mumbling in English. It’s actually been more impressive and effective than it sounds.
We’re at Café Tostado for their only-on-Sunday-mornings chicharrón breakfast sandwiches that our AirBnB hosts tipped us off about. After just three days in Peru, this carnivorous breakfast option has normalized.
So, even though I know more menu Spanish and have boned up on Peruvian dishes, Todd takes the lead on ordering because he’s able to string words together into actual thoughts. And, it’s morning, the only—and I mean only—time of day I’d rather not talk.
Which is when Todd’s mumbling comes to bear.
Shortly after he orders for us, a plate arrives—so large it’s really a platter—loaded with what must be more than two pounds of long-cooked pork belly, half of which is shimmering and slightly shimmying fat. On the side, a dozen slices of roast sweet potato. A pint-sized soup bowl of salsa criolla, with slices of aji amarillo heralding its spiciness. And a basket loaded with warm loaves of crusty bread.
This is lots and lots of food. And not healthy food either. This is hearty food. Determined-eyed cowboy food.
Despite the abundance, I’m a little disappointed. I had visions of breakfast sandwich dancing in my head, and instead I’m faced with a some-assembly-required breakfast kit.
“Where are our sandwiches?” I sulk at Todd.
Somehow, between morning mental fog, second-language mumbling, and blind pork enthusiasm, Todd figures he ordered—or at least didn’t refuse the waitress’ suggestion—of dos porcións of chicharrón, with all the sides. He’s not certain that sandwiches were even an option. He also suspects that the pile in front of us is just one porción, and we have some reevaluating of Peruvian serving size to do.
It turns out to be ideal. I build my own breakfast sandwich, with double the sweet potatoes, all the crispy skin I can bogart, and less (but still plenty) of the slabs pork fat. I nibble at my perfectly proportioned sandwich, forking the fiery onions straight from the bowl like a side salad.
And Todd gets a bone to gnaw on. No sandwich comes with that.