When I think of “breaking bread” with friends or family, I always think of my dad – he taught me that a meal can be simple, and sharing a chunk of good crusty bread, a piece of cheese, and a bottle of wine with the ones you love is essential to good living.
Whenever I’m traveling, I always make sure to try the local bread, preferably from small bakeries. I also prefer artisanal bread, where I know the baker has taken care to use high quality, nutritional ingredients and has taken the time necessary to develop flavors in a natural way.
Now that I’m in Lima, I followed my sister’s recommendation and went to El Pan de la Chola, an artisanal bakery in Miraflores. And now I’m hooked.
Artisanal bread is made by an artisan baker – a craft person, who is trained to the highest ability to mix, ferment, shape, and bake a handcrafted loaf of bread, and who understands the science and art of developing good flavor, texture, and color in bread.
The self-taught artisan baker is Jonathan Day (nicknamed “la Chola” by his friends). An industrial engineer by education with a background in theater studies in London, Day is making the bread he wants to eat – and that evidently lots of people want to eat based on his large following. He learned how to make bread in England, also under the tutelage of a German baker, and he picked up techniques during his stint in San Francisco.
Day works in an open kitchen, like a theater stage, where you can watch him in action. During my visit, he was gracious enough to explain several of his bread-making techniques. He talked about his craft and his bread while cutting, weighing, and shaping dough with well-practiced flair.
As I took photographs and tried to stay out of his way, I realized that a key ingredient to Day’s bread is his dedication. It’s evident from the way he describes his art that he loves what he does – and he is proud of the final product. He is also speaks proudly of the people who work with him and help make his bakery a success.
El Pan de la Chola – and the photogenic baker – have been the subject of many local and international newspaper and magazine articles. Day’s somewhat of a celebrity baker. A couple of weeks ago, Buzzfeed (the global social news and entertainment website), listed El Pan de la Chola as one of 25 bakeries in the world you should try before you die.
After meeting and watching Day work, however, I bet he would humbly say that if there’s a celebrity here, it is his bread.
The difference between Day’s bread and the bread sold at the many dozens of bakeries in Lima is that he only uses water, flour (he mills his own organic whole wheat flour in-house), and Peruvian sea salt. There are no improvers, dairy, or fat added for flavor. Day has perfected his own starter (mother dough), a natural leavening agent, which lends his bread a distinct, complex flavor and texture, and a crust and crumb that cannot be replicated by commercially harvested yeast.
This master baker says that making bread is a simple thing, yet it requires close attention to important techniques. He also emphasizes that you need time to develop flavor, especially during the fermentation process. Unlike commercial bakeries, where bread is made quickly (1-3 hrs), Day’s artisan bread goes through fermentation and resting stages that can last 24 – 48 hours. As a result, Day’s naturally leavened bread is easier to digest, nutritious, and simply delicious.
The types of breads for sale are listed on a blackboard above the cash register. They are also displayed on the counter. I’ve tried the unbelievably airy and tasty focaccia, the 70% whole wheat with sesame and flax seeds peasant loaf, and one with pecans and raisins. All are awesome.
To eat in, you can order tostadas – perfectly toasted thick slices of bread accompanied by artisan butter and orange marmalade, which is sweet and bitter at the same time. Or you can order high quality olive oil with hummus or avocado instead.
If you’d rather have a sandwich, you have a handful of choices. I’d recommend the palteado – ripe avocado with fresh tomato slices on focaccia bread, with only olive oil and Peruvian sea salt (from Maras, Cusco) as condiments. The portion is big enough for sharing, but I ate the whole thing 😉
Maras Salt (Sal de Maras) is a natural salt that comes from an ancient ocean trapped underground, which feeds a spring at 10,000 feet above sea level in the Sacred Valley of the Incas, Cusco. The warm water spring seeps into thousands of terraced salt ponds. Maras salt is hand-harvested, it has not been chemically bleached and has no preservatives or additives.
For dessert, I’ve had the decadent brownie made with 70% dark chocolate. It’s a must. And to wash your food down, there are freshly made veggie and fruit juices; Peruvian artisanal beer, and wine. But the coffee is my favorite drink here. Day grinds Peruvian organic coffee using his Italian workhorse of an espresso machine – La Marzocco. I order the double cappuccino.
If you happen to be in the area, don’t miss the experience at El Pan de la Chola.
Now, I’m off to get me some pan y café!
Address: Av. Mariscal La Mar 918, Miraflores. Hours: Tues – Sat, 8 am to 10 pm and Sun, 9 am to 6 pm.