Shocking sandwich smackdown in Lima

Think of Peruvian food and you’re likely to conjure food porn fantasies of tart ceviche or steamy lomo saltado. But, in Lima at least, Peruvians are gaga for sandwiches, day or night, eaten at mealtime or in between bar-hopping stops.

Dining too often at Lima’s nuevo fusion fancy restaurants, with their near U.S. prices, would bust our budget anyway. We save some cash by gravitating to where locals feast on sanguiches of a carnivore’s dreams. Our goal is to put a few of Lima’s revered sandwich institutions to the (taste) test.

El Chinito's chicharrón sandwich, Lima, Peru

El Chinito's chicharrón sandwich, Lima, Peru | Photo by Lauren Girardin

Behind the counter at Sanguchería El Chinito, men carve away at mountains of meat, as they have for decades. We admire our chicharrón sandwich when it arrives—the roast pork glistens, a few orange slices of roast sweet potato peek out, and the salsa criolla of spicy, vinegary onions is poised on the side, ready to provide punch.

But as we bite in, we are reminded that a sandwich’s wonder relies on the bread as well as the filling. This roll is coarse and crumbly to an extreme, and would need a good dose of meat jus to save it. And, to be fair to the bread, the meat, for all its glistening, is dry as well. As I people-watch the room, I see that many Limeños are eating their sandwiches open faced, half the bread rejected and uneaten.

That was breakfast. Later that same day, after a tour through the musty boneyards of Monasterio de San Francisco, we hit a wall, the kind easily induced by Lima’s squelching humidity. Conveniently, we’re just a few steps away from the saloon-style swinging doors of El Cordano, another ancient Lima sandwich stalwart.

Classic El Cordano, Lima, Peru

Classic El Cordano, Lima, Peru | Photo by Lauren Girardin

One of the many things El Cordano is known for is its jamon del pais, or Peruvian country ham—pork roasted after being smothered with aji (hot peppers), cumin, oregano, and more. And who are we to say no to the well known?

El Cordano's jamon del pais sandwich, Lima, Peru

El Cordano's jamon del pais sandwich, Lima, Peru | Photo by Lauren Girardin

Though she serves it, the waitress warns us away from the salsa criolla, saying “Es muy picante!”— magic words to us. This sandwich is bounds better than the one this morning, packed with flavorful porky goodness on bread that, while overly abundant, is passable. It’s a solid sandwich, enhanced by El Cordano’s charming and chill atmosphere.

Sandwich prep at El Cordano, Lima, Peru

Sandwich prep at El Cordano, Lima, Peru | Photo by Lauren Girardin

A couple days later, we’re in search of one last sandwich from another esteemed, old school contender to round out our smackdown. We’re off to Bodega Bar Juanito, as advised by the reliable stomachs of Jeremy and Eva of Forks and Jets. Since it’s also Sunday night, when most Peruvians turn homebodies, almost no restaurants are open, so a sandwich makes sense. But, our smackdown plans are thwarted, as Juanito’s is either closed for the evening, as a few folks suggest, or we missed its unassuming door.

Dejected and hungry, as we walk toward our AirBnB home in Barranco, we’re drawn to the glowing, modern Sandwiches Monstruos, a walk-up place we’d noticed because it was always mobbed by a crowd of people and idling cars.

Sandwiches Monstruos in the Barranco neighborhood, Lima, Peru

Sandwiches Monstruos in Barranco, Lima, Peru | Photo by Lauren Girardin

Our Spanish is still spare, so we’re not sure what the menu’s two top sandwich filling options even are: pavo and chancho. The man behind the counter says they’re both good, so we default to the first on the menu, and remember to ask for it “sin lechuga,” so we avoid the deadly-to-us lettuce.

Sandwiches Monstruos' pavo sandwich, Lima, Peru

Sandwiches Monstruos' pavo sandwich, Lima, Peru | Photo by Lauren Girardin

This is the sandwich we’ve been waiting for. Pavo, it turns out, is turkey. Roasted, just-carved, juicy, savory, perfect turkey. The roll is simultaneously crusty and soft, structurally sound and proportionally perfect, ultimately just a wallflower that doesn’t interfere with the meat. The young upstart wins the smackdown.

Yes, that’s right. Turkey beat pork. Get your carnivorous head around that turn of events.