Sus-something de what now…? I wasn’t entirely sure what I was ordering, given that it was my first day in Lima and still determined to fake my way through speaking Spanish. Reader: I do not speak Spanish. But when the affable server with the dessert tray—the most affable kind of server there is—pointed at a jar of what would seem to be butterscotch pudding and declared it “típico de Lima,” that was good enough for me. I’d just completed back-to-back overnight flights to arrive at this particular cevicheria, and it was nothing short of a balm for the travel-weary to indulge in a childhood comfort while still earning points for authentic food tourism.
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But that first bite was no Proustian-level nostalgic moment. That was a revelation. A very threshold was thereby crossed; two eras of my life, before and after. I would have it again, had to have it again, before the day was through. Sweet and sonnet-worthy, Suspiro de Limeña is what happens when pastry chefs and poets get together.
Sigh of the Lady
First, the poetry, and unpacking this unusual name. Amparo Ayarza, wife of Peruvian poet Jose Galvez, is credited with the dessert’s creation in the mid nineteenth century. Galvez himself, evidently a gastronome and a romantic, gave it its lyrical title. “Suspiro de Limeña” translated means “sigh of the lady.” Specifically, sigh of the lady from Lima, but if I have my way, ladies and gentlemen the world over would have equal and ample opportunity to swoon about it.
Related Reading: A Beginner’s Guide to Peruvian Cooking
And swoon-worthy it is. Butterscotch pudding does not do it justice, for the base is more silk than custard, and more richly flavored and nuanced than anything that might come with a peel-off lid. The base is indeed a typical Latin American preparation, a variation on manjar blanco or blancmange, a custard of caramelized sweet milk and eggs, similar to a thickened dulce de leche.
The topping is where this humble dessert goes from pedestrian to poetry, adorned by shiny peaks of meringue spiked with port wine. At once decorative and heady, giving an ethereal quality to an otherwise deceptively simple preparation. A dusting of cinnamon completes the dish, a whiff of sweet smoke and spice to revive the languid lady.
Where to Find Suspiro de Limeña—and How to Make It
I would seek out Suspiro de Limeña several times more before my days in Peru were up. You, too, can seek it whether in Lima or at Peruvian restaurants outside of Peru, from Brooklyn’s Surfish to San Francisco’s La Costanera.
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Price and availability varies.
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You won't have needed to go to pastry school to pipe out poetry-worthy peaks.
The Curious Cuisiniѐre offers one such recipe for Suspiro de Limeña for your make-at-home pleasure.
Simple. Just like this haiku I wrote in its honor:
Life was empty, then
Suspiro de Limeña
Now, full and happy
Header image courtesy of Sergio Amiti/Getty Images.