Sunday, December 31, 2006

Mi Perú: Barranco

Yes, we were in Peru collecting data for this blog and eating till we simply could eat no more.

Welcome to our first post-Peru post.

If I'm writing about Peruvian cooking, why not start my gastronomic tour of Lima at a place called Mi Perú?

Located in a corner of the Plaza Butters in the seaside district of Barranco, Mi Perú is a small, traditional, family-run restaurant that has a limited but excellent menu. It's blue facade proudly wears its name and the year of its founding.

I first heard about Mi Perú about a year ago, and put a post about it on this blog. The link is at the end of this post.

For almost a whole year, I have been eagerly awaiting my first visit to Mi Perú.

Often, expectations lead to disappointment. I am glad to report, this beloved restaurant met all my expectations.

Inside, Mi Perú doesn't seem like much. The daily specials are listed on a chalkboard. There are not too many tables, and less booths. One wall is covered with countless business cards from previous diners. Shelves line the walls, holding wines and spirits. They make a mean Absolut and tonic there, which I didn't expect.

The decor is somewhere between quaint and kitsch. Some of the decorations seem as if they may have been hanging since the restaurant opened in 1972. But, don't get me wrong. The atmosphere is warm and inviting, a cozy kind of place, full of regulars who banter with the staff.

Open only for lunch, the restaurant fills up daily, so if you're going, it is better to get there earlier than later, or you run the risk of not getting a table. The service is as to be expected at this type of small, family-run restaurant that is also very busy. Items are brought to your table as soon as they appear from the kitchen.

The joint closes when the food runs out.

Make sure to click on the photo below to get the full effect of this wonderful crab dish.

Mi Perú has one great specialty, concentrado de cangrejo, made with small crabs typical of Northern Peru, cracked open and cooked just the right amount of time in a reduced herbal tomato sauce that impregnates the crab meat with its rich flavor.

This is truly one of the great dishes we sampled on our recent trip to Peru, and what serendipity it was in such a huarique, or hole-in-the-wall. With all due respect for the holes-in-the-wall of the world. They often have the best food, as in this case.

I was graciously invited to visit the kitchen of Mi Perú. The owner and founder, Aida Cerreños Vázquez, was busy working in the small space where culinary perfection was being realized. Her late husband opened the restaurant over 30 years ago, and now she and her two sons run it. She learned her technique for cooking crab in this fashion during her childhood in Northern Peru, although she's now been living in Lima most of her life.

Just in case I wasn't convinced, I was shown exactly how fresh the crabs were.

Mi Perú also specializes in ceviches. I also saw some people devouring a roe omelette.

As I said, Mi Perú lived up to all my expections. In flavor, atmosphere, hospitality, and price, it was an excellent demonstartion of solid, flavorful, home-style Peruvian cuisine at its best.

Click here to read more a previous post about Mi Perú.

Mi Perú
Especialidad en Concetrados de Cangrejos y Cebiches
Avenida Lima 861
Esquina Plaza Butters


Click here for the Peru Food main page.

TAGS: Peru, Peruvian, food, cooking, cuisine, cocina, comida, gastronomía, peruana

Friday, December 08, 2006

Just A Teaser

Houston 4:05 p.m., November 27.

Lima 11:35 p.m., November 27

Click here for the Peru Food main page.

TAGS: Peru, Peruvian, food, cooking, cuisine, cocina, comida, gastronomía, peruana

Monday, December 04, 2006

Peru Food Conducting Research In Situ

Yes, folks, if you have been wondering what is going on with this blog, we are currently in Peru conducting research, eating far too much, taking lots of pictures, and when we get back home, we hope to have some very good posts to share with you. Happy holidays!

Click here for the Peru Food main page.

TAGS: Peru, Peruvian, food, cooking, cuisine, cocina, comida, gastronomía, peruana

Monday, November 06, 2006

Gastón Acurio Interview Part 2 at Klephblog

In this second and final half of his interview with Gastón Acurio, journalist C.J. Schexnayder continues his conversation with this leading Peruvian chef.

Gastón outlines his philosophy for his flagship restaurant Astrid & Gastón, as well as for his cevichería, La Mar, and his plans for expansion to the US market. Here's a preview:

Where did the idea for La Mar came from?

La Mar was that idea for the type of cevichería we wished we could go eat at. We said, lets build a cevichería in the style of the classic type of cevichería but offer the highest quality food and service.

So we wanted it to be open, we wanted music. We wanted some of the chaos... but have it with a unified design, with top-quality products. And lets make it a cevicheríathat we can do here but we can also do anywhere else in the world.

How did you turn that concept into reality?

We built La Mar and I spent one year with it completely finish but we did not open it. We were creating the concept, doing the manual operation, training the staff.

We needed to create a system so that anywhere in the world, you could take our system, add the fresh ingredients, the fresh fish and whoop – you would have the best ceviche in Lima.

Click here to continue reading the conclusion of this interview with Gastón.

Click here for the Peru Food main page.

TAGS: Peru, Peruvian, food, cooking, cuisine, cocina, comida, gastronomía, peruana

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Video: Peru Food

WARNING: This video is not intended for the hungry.

Video: ausum
Running Time: 10:41

Click here for the Peru Food main page.

TAGS: Peru, Peruvian, food, cooking, cuisine, cocina, comida, gastronomía, peruana

Friday, November 03, 2006

Gaston Acurio Interview at Klephblog

Yes, another post about Gastón Acurio.

Journalist C.J. Schexnayder recently posted Part 1 of a two-part interview he had earlier this year with Gastón at his excellent site,
Klephblog, and it is certainly worth a read. Gastón discusses the state of Peruvian cuisine in Peru and the world, his philosophy for his organization, and his transition from a chef of French cuisine to a leading proponent of Peruvian food. Can enough be said about this 'leading light of Peruvian cuisine'?

If you haven't found it yet, here is part of the interview:

What is the state of Peruvian cuisine?

Right now, in Peru, we are living in the middle of a gastronomic revolution. There is a boom in cookbooks, restaurants and cooking schools. We are the reference for the rest of South America. When people from other countries look at Peru they say, "The thing they do well is cook." Our approach to food is a model for the rest.

Is that happening in the United States as well?

Yes. We have seen a lot of attention in the last year to Peruvian food. A lot of journalists, food journalists, have come to write about it because it is the up and coming cuisine in the world. We are where Mexican food was a quarter-century ago.

In the last three years we have seen Peruvian restaurants emerge as some of the best restaurants in the United States. That has never happened before. We are seeing high-end fine-dining Peruvian restaurants opening in Seattle, San Francisco and Washington D.C.

How has that affected Peru’s culinary situation?

More people are starting to realize cooking, and cooking Peruvian food, is a good way to make a living. When I started cooking I had to go to Paris to study because there wasn’t even one school in Lima. Now it is a bit fashionable.

Today there are 22 cooking schools in Lima. We are producing more than 1,000 cooks annually trained in schools here in Lima. And they all have work. Not all here in Peru but all over the world. Right now it is selling point to be a chef from Peru.

How has the popularity of Peruvian and Novo Andino food affected the restaurant industry?

Right now there are about 500 Peruvian restaurants in the world. What we would like to see is that expand to 200,000 in the next 20 years. Which is not impossible when you look at other cuisines that have taken off in the past. There are much more than 200,000 Mexican restaurants in the world today and those restaurants increase the exports of products from Mexico.

It is not just what these restaurants are buying. These restaurants led to an acceptance of Mexican cooking and now you find fajitas and tacos and the ingredients to make them in supermarkets everywhere. People are cooking these dishes in their homes. Not all of this comes from Mexico but there is a greater demand for Mexican products as a result.

Click here to read the complete interview with Gastón.

Click here for the Peru Food main page.

TAGS: Peru, Peruvian, food, cooking, cuisine, cocina, comida, gastronomía, peruana

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Video: Gaston Acurio Discusses Rescuing Lima's Traditional Street Food

The Panamanian chef, Elena Hernández, was recently in Caracas for the V Salon Internacional de la Gastronomía. She loves Peruvian food, and is a great admirer of chef Gastón Acurio. At her blog, El Amor Por La Cocina, Elena reviews the event in Spanish and posts loads of pictures.

During her visit to Caracas, Elena was able to speak briefly with Gastón before he presented his new project: rescuing Lima's traditional street food. She posted a video of her conversation in Spanish with Gastón.

Here is my rough translation of what Gastón discusses, with many thanks to Elena for letting me use her video.

As the video begins, Gastón is graciously explaining to one of the visiting chefs about a type of tool or technique. This part of the video is hard to understand.

Then we hear Elena ask: What are you going to discuss today?

GA: Today, I am going to speak about a project that seeks to rescue the traditional street food that existed in Lima for centuries. Sadly, this has been lost due to the massive influence of foreign fast food, especially American. What we are seeking is for both culinary proposals to be able to coexist in harmony; but, in particular, giving this traditional type of food the value it deserves, especially in a city like Lima. Cities require public arenas and elements unique to them. For example, just like the crepe you find in Paris, the hot dog you can get in New York, or the arepa you should be able to find in the streets of Caracas, Lima has many foods unique to it and they should form part of the streetscape of the city. That's what I'll be talking about.

Elena Hernandez: Will you send a greeting to the people of Panama, since you're going to open a restaurant there soon?

GA: Yes, we're on our way! We hope you like ceviche and tiradito!

Click here for the Peru Food main page.

TAGS: Peru, Peruvian, food, cooking, cuisine, cocina, comida, gastronomía, peruana

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Culinary Fusion in Peru: Associated Press

Associated Press recently reported on CNN and other media outlets about the current culinary scene in Lima.

The article focuses on the overwhelming theme of Peruvian food, that it is the quintessential fusion cuisine, the intersection of indigenous, Spanish, European, and Asian culinary traditions.
Peruvian cuisine combines flavors, techniques, and traditions that come together to create what some consider among the world's best.

In the AP article, writer Leslie Josephs highlights several restaurants in Lima, including Sankuay (also known simply as Chef Wong), the almost secretive restaurant on the ground floor of the chef's own home , where you knock at the door to be let into the ten-seat establishment. Why is this unlikely location getting so much media attention? Much has to do with chef/owner Javier Wong's special skill with seafood. His ceviche is said to be among the best in a city teeming with the best ceviches. AP calls his place, "a speakeasy for ceviche."

AP describes Chef Wong's ceviche-making techniques: "In a metal bowl he stirs [onion,] cubes of fresh raw flounder, juice from acidic Peruvian limes, aji (Peruvian chilies), salt and ground pepper." Chef Wong doesn't garnish his ceviche with sweet potato and large-kerneled corn like others do; but, "Wong's ceviche is salty and the unorthodox use of ground pepper gives the dish a crunch. The fish's texture is not lost but enhanced by the juicy mix's strong flavor."

Chef Wong or Sankuay
Enrique León García 114, Santa Catalina, La Victoria,
between block 3 and 4 of Avenida Canada.
Monday to Saturday, lunch only.
Median price per plate: S/. 40
Beverages: Only sodas or bottled beer, no corkage fee.

Costanera, an elegant Asian seafood eatery is also mentioned. Owner Humberto Sato is the known as one of the chief proponents of Peru's Nikkei cuisine, which fuses Japanese and Peruvian flavors. Both cuisines celebrate fish and shellfish, so it is a happy marriage.

AP recommends the "chita a la sal, a white ocean fish baked in a thick coat of salt". The description of the presentation is mouth-watering: "The salt-encrusted fish is dabbed with rum and served flaming. The waiter taps a knife with a spoon to break open the shell of salt and serves generous portions of the buttery fish into deep bowls."

"Small dishes of hot butter, garlic, olive oil and parsley, and ginger and green onion are also served, each presenting a strong and delightful enhancement to the fish, which smacks against your molars when chewed."

Costanera 700
Avenida del Ejército 421, Miraflores
Phone: 421-7508

Rafael Restaurant, housed in a Miraflores mansion, and headed by young chef Rafael Osterling is also mentioned in the article. This chic restaurant embodies fusion: among the specialities are "sashimi, pizza, grilled octopus and gnocchi." AP recommends the "spaghettini with marinated lobster in a garlic confit, served with lemon and basil." They also suggest any trip to Rafael's is incomplete without "the crunchy shrimp tempura appetizer in a sweet and spicy sauce over a salad of cucumber, mango, avocado and Cajun-spiced nuts."

Rafael Restaurant
San Martín 300, Miraflores
Phones: 242-4149, 241-2834

Toshiro Konishi's Peruvian Japanese fusion restaurant, Toshiro's, is another restaurant listed in the article. Konishi regularly represents Peru in food festivals worldwide. AP recommends, "a flounder tiradito sliced so expertly thin that the plate's design shows through. It's served with a sauce of soy, green onion and rocoto, a spicy Peruvian pepper."

Avenida Conquistadores 450, San Isidro
Phone: 221-7243

Of course, no article about contemporary Peruvian cusine is complete without mentioning one of the stars of the modern Peruvian kitchen: Gaston Acurio and his
Astrid & Gaston Restaurant in Miraflores.

Astrid & Gaston Restaurant
Cantuarias 175, Miraflores
Phone: 444-1496

Click here for the Peru Food main page.

TAGS: Peru, Peruvian, food, cooking, cuisine, cocina, comida, gastronomía, peruana

Monday, October 30, 2006

Video: Cancion Criolla De Yapa

In Peru, when you go to one of the traditional markets and buy something, at the end of the transaction the vendor will throw in something extra for free. This is called the yapa.

Since October 31 is the Día de la Canción Criolla, a day celebrating this typical Peruvian music, I decided to post two more videos, the yapa, a little extra for lovers of this genre.

In this first video filmed for Peruvian Independence Day, two great female voices, Cecilia Bracamonte and Cecilia Barraza, join together in song. One of them even takes her shoes off and starts dancing!

Potpurri Criollo, Cecilia Bracamonte and Cecilia Barraza

This second video is a homage to the criollo greats of yesterday and today compiled by a lover of Peruvian criollo music who has an excellent Spanish-language blog, Blog Criollo.

Criollos de Ayer, Hoy y Siempre,
Javier Hernández, Luis "Pochi" Ríos, and Ronald Díaz

Click here for the Peru Food main page.

TAGS: Peru, Peruvian, food, cooking, cuisine, cocina, comida, gastronomía, peruana

Friday, October 27, 2006

Video: Celebrating Peruvian Music and Día de la Canción Criolla, October 31

Most people associate October 31 with Halloween, or Día de las Brujas; but, since 1944, in Peru October 31 means one thing: Día de la Canción Criolla, a celebration of one of the most loved Peruvian musical manifestations.

As Peruvian food is a fusion of many flavors and traditions, música criolla, or criolla-style music, is a fusion of rhythms and experiences.

This style of music, prevalent along the coastal regions of Peru, blends the sound of guitars from Spain with the drumming of the cajón, the box-like percussion instrument popularized by Afro Peruvians since the earliest period of Peruvian colonial history. Criollo music is markedly different from the Andean rhythms that are so widely-known outside Peru.

October 31 was chosen as a date to celebrate criollo music since October is also el mes morado, the purple month, in which Peruvians revere their most beloved religious icon, El Señor de los Milagros, the Lord of Miracles.

There is a direct link between the devotees of El Señor de los Milagros, and lovers of all things criollísimo, which includes criollo music as well as criollo cuisine.

Criollo music fuses the instruments of Spain and Africa with the voices of Peru. Classic criollo melodies include the vals, or walz, the festive marinera, the lively festejo, the lamentful tondero, and curiously, the polka.

In commemoration of the 2006 Día de la Canción Criolla, I have posted some excellent videos that provide insight into this uniquely Peruvian style of music.

This first video offers images of the Lima of yesteryear. Alicia Maguiña Málaga sings Long Live a Peaceful Peru, an ode to her country.

Viva el Perú y Sereno, Alicia Maguiña Málaga
Video: criollisimo

Two giants of música criolla in a classic Peruvian vals, combining guitars, cajón, and powerful voices. They sing With You Peru, a tribute to Peru and its people.

Contigo Perú, Arturo el Zambo Cavero and Oscar Aviles
Video: criollisimo

In this next video, one of my favorite singers in this genre, Eva Ayllón, sings Misstep, a song about a lover scorned longing to return to the one who spurned her.

Video: jonasin21

Once again, these two giants of Peruvian music sing another classic song: My Name is Peru.

Yo Me Llamo Perú, Arturo el Zambo Cavero and Oscar Aviles.

Finally, Chabuca Granda, one of the greatest composers of the canción criolla, sings an ode to the city of Arequipa in a vals with a marked Andean influence. The video shows lovely images of this city known as La Ciudad Blanca, the White City.

Arequepay Si Quedaos, Chabuca Granda
Video: jaimechuqinaupa

Source: RadioProgramas del Peru

Click here for the Peru Food main page.

TAGS: Peru, Peruvian, food, cooking, cuisine, cocina, comida, gastronomía, peruana

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Ceviche Festival in Chorrillos: October 27

The much loved and appreciated Isabel Quispe Aquino, purveyor of what Gastón Acurio has deemed 'the best parihuela (seafood soup) in the world' is organizing the First Ceviche Festival in Chorrillos, a seaside district of Lima. Doña Isabel has organized the vendors in the Mercado Modelo Number 1 to clean up the area for those visitors coming to sample some of the best and most fresh seafood available in town. If you like ceviche, or seafood, you shouldn't miss this opportunity.

Photo: María Elena Cornejo at Mucho Gusto Perú.

Click here to read more about Doña Isabel and her famous parihuela.

Festival del Cebiche
Mercado Modelo Número 1
Alejandro Iglesias 633, across the street from the Banco de Crédito, Chorrillos
Friday, October 27
11:00 a.m. until the food runs out

Click here for the Peru Food main page.

TAGS: Peru, Peruvian, food, cooking, cuisine, cocina, comida, gastronomía, peruana

Sunday, October 22, 2006

World's Longest Turrón de Doña Pepa

The World's Longest Turrón de Doña Pepa.
Radio Programas del Peru

As part of the El Señor de los Milagros festivities, the Municipality of Lima presented the world's longest turrón de Doña Pepa, measuring a whopping 105 meters/345 feet long. Expert bakers were responsible for creating this Lima pastry, traditionally eaten in the month of October. The turrón weighed over 2,000 kilos or 4,000 pounds.

Click here for the Peru Food main page.

TAGS: Peru, Peruvian, food, cooking, cuisine, cocina, comida, gastronomía, peruana

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Oktoberfest in Lima

Photo: Oktoberfest Peru.

Ja, it's that time of year to think about drinking lots of German beer, eating bratwurst, and doing the chicken dance. Ja, even if you're in Lima.

Five years ago, a group of German expats living in Peru decided to celebrate the traditional Oktoberfest. Little did they know that this would turn into an event of such magnitude that in 2005, 10,000 revelers consumed thousands of liters of beer, as well as 1,500 kilos of German sausages, 5,000 pretzels, 600 kilos of potato salad, and 400 kilos of sauerkraut.

Photo: Oktoberfest Peru .

In addition, to the drinking and eating, there will be dancing to traditional oom-pah-pah music played by German musicians in town for the festivities.

5th Oktoberfest Peru 2006

October 20 to 22

Vértice de la Cultura del Museo de la Nación (the grassy area located next to the museum entrance)

Avenida Javier Prado corner of Avenida Aviación, San Borja

10/20 from 8 p.m: Opening of Oktoberfest by the German Ambassador.

10/21 from 3 p.m: Food and dance all day. At night, Orquesta Sarabandha.

10/22 from 1:00: Typical breakfast and family afternooon. Music by Zugspitzmusik from Garmisch- Partenkirchen.

Click here for the Peru Food main page.

TAGS: Peru, Peruvian, food, cooking, cuisine, cocina, comida, gastronomía, peruana

Saturday, October 14, 2006

October in Lima: The Purple Month

In Lima, October is known as el mes morado, the purple month. Why? Purple is the color worn by the faithful who follow the processions of the most venerated religious image in Peru: El Señor de los Milagros, the Lord of Miracles, a uniquely Peruvian image of Jesus Christ.

During October, in the colonial center of Lima, this image is taken from its home church, Las Nazarenas, in a series of processions to other historic colonial churches. The smell of incense, the steady beating of drums, and the footsteps of the faithful accompany these processions which wend their way along the narrow streets of colonial Lima as they have for hundreds of years.

Photo: Radio Programas del Peru

The origins of this image of Christ date back to 1651. According to religous belief, in that year, there was a group of African slaves from Angola living in the area known as Pachacamilla, where Las Nazarenas Church now stands. The slaves had been converted to Christianity and one of them, unnamed in the history books, painted an image of Christ on a wall of a building where the new converts converged to pray. The image struck a chord among the slaves, who began to bring offerings to leave before it. In 1655, an earthquake of such magnitude struck Lima that most of the city was destroyed. The building where this image of Christ was housed collapsed except for one wall: the wall where a few years earlier that Angolan slave had painted the image.

Photo: Peru 21

For 15 years, the wall with this image of Christ was abandoned to the elements. In 1670, a neighbor found the image and began to worship there. He rebuilt the shrine for the image and according to belief, as a result, the man was cured of life-threatening tumor. From that point on, the entire Pachacamilla district began to worship the image, believing it to be miraculous.

Photo: Radio Programas del Peru

Most of the faithful were descendants of those Africans brought as slaves to the plantations and haciendas of coastal Peru. One of the rituals that began during this period was that every Friday evening people would gather at the site of this image, bringing flowers, lighting candles, burning incense, and playing music on harps and with the traditional Peruvian cajón.

Photo: Radio Programas del Peru

Within time, these celebrations reached the ears of Church leaders in the Archbishop's Palace, where they were seen as a threat to the established order. The Viceroy himself ordered the image painted over in 1671. The legend of El Señor de los Milagros continues: an Indian man was brought under guard to the site where the image was being venerated in order to paint it over. As he approached the image, brush in hand, the man began to tremble and shake. He was unable to carry out the order. Another painter was brought in, this one a soldier, and he too was unable to paint it over. The more the authorities tried to paint over the image, the more the local people protested. Finally, the Viceroy revoked the order and ordered a proper chapel built on the site.

Photo: Radio Programas del Peru

Since that time, the image became a focal point for popular veneration. In 1687, another earthquake struck Lima, once again destroying much of the colonial center, including the chapel that had been built to house the image. Once again, the one wall with the image remained standing while the other ones collapsed. Popular fervor led church leaders to order a painting of the image, which was taken out in a procession for the first time the 18th, 19th, and 28th of October, 1687. Since that year, the image has been taken out of its home church in a series of processions to other colonial churches during those dates.

Photo: Radio Programas del Peru

El Señor de los Milagros was named the patron of Lima in 1715. That was also the first year the image was given the title by which it is known today: El Señor de los Milagros de Nazarenas.

So, what does this have to do with food? Well, as to be expected, there are special foods associated with such an important religious occasion. Three of the most traditional Peruvian foods eaten at this time are turrón, anticuchos, and picarones.

Turrón de Doña Pepa

Photo: De Pan y Todo

No one really knows the origin of the sweet layered pastry popularly called turrón de Doña Pepa. Legend has it that was invented by the lady in a wealthy Lima family, although others claim that its origins are with a cook of African descent known as 'ña Pepa. What is known about this unique style of turrón (since there is a similarly named dish in other Spanish-speaking countries, although all are different from one another) is that it has long been associated with the celebrations in honor of El Señor de los Milagros, when this sweet is consumed with almost religious devotion.

Anticuchos on the grill.

Photo: Traveling Man

Anticuchos, grilled meat on a skewer, are another popular food during the month of October. According to researchers, the name comes from the Quechua word antikucho, meaning 'Andean cut' or 'Andean mix'. Prior to the arrival of the Spanish, these types of brochettes were made with llama or other local meats. In the 1500s, the Spanish began preparing something similar to the modern day anticucho, substituting beef for llama.

Once again the influence of Africans resonates in Peruvian culinary and cultural history.

The Spanish would give their African slaves the parts of the cow they wouldn't eat themselves. This included the beef heart. The slaves took the beef heart and seasoned it heavily prior to marinating it and then grilling it in imitation of their masters. Over time, the beef heart anticuchos would become the Peruvian favorite. They are still one of the most popular street foods available in Peru, and during El Señor de los Milagros, anticucho sellers set up grills in the late afternoon, tempting passersby with the aromatic smells of seasoned grilled meats.

Picarones with syrup.

Photo: Radio Programas del Peru

Finally, picarones are pumpkin fritters that are also eaten as late-afternoon street food during El Señor de los Milagros celebrations. This is another dish that has its origins in the colonial period. Some believe they are a local adaptation of Spanish buñuelos. Picarones are made of squash or pumpkin dough and sweetened with chancaca, raw cane sugar melted into a syrup. I have a post about picarones which includes a recipe for this tasty dessert.

This short video clip shows El Señor de los Milagros
being taken out of Las Nazarenas Church.

During el mes morado, the purple month, Peruvians demonstrate their loyalty not only to their religious beliefs but also to their culinary traditions.

Click here for the Peru Food main page.

TAGS: Peru, Peruvian, food, cooking, cuisine, cocina, comida, gastronomía, peruana

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Huacatay: The Indispensable Andean Herb

Photo: William S. Justice at USDA.

Huacatay, huacatay. Pronounced 'wah-kah-tie', it is sometimes called Peruvian black mint. This herb is central to much Andean cooking and is the Peruvian cousin of the marigold, a version of tagates minuta. Huacatay has very aromatic leaves which are ground into a paste (usually with a mortar and pestle) that adds flavor and depth to many Peruvian Andean dishes.

Photo: Jordi Recasens Guinjuan at Ví­a Rural.

Aside from adding flavor to many dishes, a spicy
ají can also be made with huacatay.

Here is one recipe that comes from
SN Janin at Astray. I don't have access to the fresh ingredients, but I do my best with the bottled versions.

Ají­ de Huacatay

125 grams
ají­ mirasol

1 medium sprig

(saltwort) leaves

Roast the ají mirasol whole, then cut in half and remove fibers. Wash and grind in a mortar and pestle with washed huacatay and paico leaves until you obtain a smooth paste.

Season with salt, a little oil, and beat well.

Serve with boiled potatoes or large-kernel corn, and meat.

Huacatay in a bottle.
Photo: La Bodega Peruana.

Nowadays, there are many companies in the US that import Peruvian food products including huacatay. A cheese and huacatay sauce is also easily made by blending soft farmer-style cheese (I use Mexican queso fresco), huacatay from a bottle, and evaporated milk. This sauce is good over boiled potatoes.

There is another post on this blog about huacatay at this link.

Click here for the Peru Food main page.

TAGS: Peru, Peruvian, food, cooking, cuisine, cocina, comida, gastronomía, peruana

Friday, October 06, 2006

Restaurant: Pescados Capitales in Miraflores

The Seven Deadly Sins by Hieronymus Bosch, c.1485
Museo del Prado, Madrid

Among the first e-mails I received after starting this blog was one asking me about Pescados Capitales in Miraflores. The writer had heard it was one of the best seafood restaurants in Peru. In the past year since I've been working on Peru Food, I've been sent other questions about this restaurant and I've learned much about it despite the fact I have yet to eat there personally.

First, Pescados Capitales is a play on words. In Spanish, pecados capitales refers to the seven deadly sins. Pescados, of course, means fish.

Second, the restaurant doesn't only serve innovative seafood dishes, it accompanies them with a healthy dose of vice and virtue, as well as a good sense of political humor.

Dishes at Pescados Capitales are named for either one of the
seven deadly sins or the seven heavenly virtues, or after key players in the Peruvian political dramas of the moment. Peruvians are known for their deft sense of humor and this restaurant capitalizes on that.

Back in January,
Marí­a Elena Cornejo wrote the following review for CARETAS magazine, subsequently posted on her blog, Mucho Gusto Perú.

Pescados Capitales: The Temptation of the Tine
Marí­a Elena Cornejo

As you walk into Pescados Capitales, a sign welcomes you with this saying: "There are seven heavenly virtues and sevens deadly sins, (in Peru) cats have seven (not nine) lives, and there are seven days in the week. That way, you have seven days in which to sin."

Temptation begins as you begin reading the weekly menu. The names of their weekly specials are related to current political events in Peru and depend on whatever creatures seem to be prevalent that week in the churning Peruvian political seas.

Ví­ctor Chang Say, his sister Zue, and his brother-in-law Nguyen.
Marí­a Elena Cornejo

In this devilish gastronomic name game there are some loyalties to be kept despite the political storms. These dishes include the classic sins, the ones committed with religious regularity, as well as the cardinal virtues: Temperance is a stupendous tuna tiradito, while Gluttony is a majestic chita served on a bed of scalloped potatoes.

Other dishes worth mentioning include Pride, a saffron calamari risotto; Envy, a lenguado in a shellfish sauce; and, Impatience, grilled tuna served with a chickpea salad.

If you don't have a reservation, you wait at one of eight small tables while sampling salty cancha and conchitas al bloody mary, courtesy of the house. The bar area needs to be urgently expanded.

The Regular

Writer Guillermo Giacosa is one of the most perseverent sinners. Weekly, he alternates between Gluttony and Infidelity (swordfish with shrimp risotto), among the stars of the menu.

"This kitchen continues to surprise me," he says, "It is innovative, fun, and has great atmosphere. The servers are always alert to the diners' needs, even if its not their table. You just raise your hand and instantly, someone is by your side to take care of you. I really appreciate the service there. I love the food but the service is impeccable."

The Hosts

Ví­ctor Chang Say, his sister Zue and his brother-in-law Nguyen are the owners, hosts, and managers of the restaurant.

MEC: What is Pescados Capitales greatest virtue?

PC: Our honesty. If we say we're serving lenguado, then we give you lenguado. We don't try to camouflage fish by soaking it in milk or using other culinary tricks.
MEC: Why seafood?
PC: Because fish can be prepared so many different and heavenly combinations.
MEC: What is your current goal?
PC: To expand the consumption of other types of seafood, like anchovies, and fresh-water fish like trout, doncella, and dorada.
MEC: When did you open your first restaurant?
PC: Back in 1997 in Madrid with a pollos a la brasa, roast chicken restaurant. We were the first ones to use charcoal to cook the chicken.

Pescados Capitales
Avenida La Mar 1337, Miraflores
Phone: 421-8808

Price per dish: Between 30 and 50 soles
Corkage: 20 soles for wine, 30 soles for spirits.

Click here for the Peru Food main page.

TAGS: Peru, Peruvian, food, cooking, cuisine, cocina, comida, gastronomía, peruana

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Shanghai: Peruvian Voted Restaurant Personality of the Year

Eduardo Vargas
Photo: Maggie Lu, Shanghai Star

In the 4th That's Shanghai Readers' Food+Drink Awards, organized by That's Shanghai Magazine,
Eduardo Vargas, the Peruvian expat chef and restaurateur living in Shanghai, was voted Restaurant Personality of the Year. Here's what That's Shanghai has to say about Eduardo:

"Restaurant Personality of the Year: Eduardo Vargas

With his friendly personality, witty humor, interesting ideas, and a successful restaurant empire (including Azul, 239, City Diner and iiittt!) Vargas is a larger than life character, and a worthy winner of our first Restaurant Personality of the Year Award."

Cuisine by Eduardo Vargas.
Rodeo Magazine

Eduardo is a 33 year old Peruvian who has lived in China for the last four years. His Azul Tapas Lounge & Viva New World Cuisine is on the radar as worth a visit in Shanghai.

I love this quote from the Shanghai Star article:

"He said starting three restaurants in a totally strange city was like having your first baby - Everything is new."

According to the Shanghai Star, Vargas is the son of a Peruvian diplomat whose cuisine has been influenced by long stays in Japan and Singapore.

Not surprisingly, the Shanghai Star also details Vargas' educational history: two degrees, one in business and the other in food and beverage management.

Vargas hopes to open more restaurants in the Shanghai area.

Azul and Viva
18 Dongping Lu
Xuhui District, Shanghai
Phone: (021) 6433-1172

239 Restaurant & Bar
239 Shimen Yi Lu, near Wei Hai Lu
Phone: 6253-2837
Open: Daily, 5 p.m. to 1 a.m.
Saturday & Sunday , 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.

The City Diner
146 Tongren Lu, near Nanjing Xi Lu
Metro: Line 2, Jing'an Temple
Open: Daily, 24 hours.
Phone: 6289-3699

Click here for the Peru Food main page.

TAGS: Peru, Peruvian, food, cooking, cuisine, cocina, comida, gastronomía, peruana

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Andean Food Festival at San Isidro's Swissotel

Cuy, roast suckling pig, and beef play a pivotal role in Chef Escalante's Andean cuisine.
Photo: Perú 21.

According to a recent article in Perú 21, the Fourth Annual Chinchero Food Festival was recently held at San Isidro's landmark Swissotel.

Chef Mario Escalante, a native of the Sacred Valley village of Chinchero, presented the cuisine of this scenic village located in the Urubamba Valley near Cuzco. The dishes he prepared were variations of specialities prepared for special occasions in Chinchero.

Of course, any Andean special occasion requires cuy. Chef Escalante's cuy is baked and, according to him, his secret ingredient is huacatay, an aromatic herb commonly used in much Andean and Peruvian cuisine. The cuy was prepared with seasonings including garlic, cumin, pepper, and ají amarillo.

Photo: Swissotel.

Chef Mario also used various Andean legumes in his dishes. There was an Andean salad, made of wheat, haba (a type of broad bean) and tarwi (a legume known as Andean or pearl lupin), a quinoa salad, and the classic solterito de habas served with fresh cheese from the region.

Main dishes included revuelto de moraya, made with a freeze-dried tuber and meat, and tarwi puree served with roast suckling pig seasoned with ají panca, ají amarillo, and other spices. For dessert, there was quinoa con leche (similar to the traditional rice dessert, arroz con leche), sauco cake, and mazamorra de maíz, corn pudding.

Click here for the Peru Food main page.

TAGS: Peru, Peruvian, food, cooking, cuisine, cocina, comida, gastronomía, peruana

Monday, October 02, 2006

Restaurant: El Olímpico in Huancayo

As a child living with my grandparents in this Central Andean city, I remember that El Olímpico was THE restaurant in town.

Photo: Achalaw.

Located in the heart of Huancayo, almost at the corner of the two main streets, Avenida Giráldez and Calle Real, and across the street from Huancayo's Cathedral, El Olímpico is not a fancy place. Yet, it has an almost mythical reputation.

Photo: Achalaw.

Over the years, I have heard that El Olímpico is not quite the place it used to be. Nonetheless, as these pictures attest (courtesy of Luiscar at Achalaw fotolog), this restaurant still offers very tasty meals.

Photo: Achalaw.

The word achalaw means 'beautiful' in Quechua. I don't know the Quechua word for 'delicious' but I do remember that as a boy, the food at El Olí­mpico was considered the most delicious restaurant food in the city.

Photo: Achalaw.

Restaurante El Olímpico
Avenida Giráldez 197-199, Huancayo
Phones: (64) 21-9515, 21-2024, 21-5719

Click here for the Peru Food main page.

TAGS: Peru, Peruvian, food, cooking, cuisine, cocina, comida, gastronomía, peruana

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Inca Kola: The Curious Peruvian Cola, Or The Story Of The Little Cola That Could

Photo: Lall

What is that strange yellow beverage everyone is drinking?

It's the first question a Peruvian food newbie asks when confronted with Peru's ubiquitous soda: Inca Kola.

It's a drink people either love or hate, but personal preferences aside, it has an interesting history in the annals of the global carbonated beverage world. It really is the tale of the little cola that could.

What many may not know is that the extremely sweet (some say the taste is similar to bubble gum or pineapple) and brightly yellow soda (some say it looks like, well, I'll let you figure that one out) is one of just a handful of locally produced colas in the world that was never able to be beaten by the world's number one soft drink: Coca-Cola.

Despite years of trying to dominate the Peruvian market, Coca-Cola finally gave up and decided it had to buy a share of Inca Kola because it simply couldn't outsell it.

The Lindleys in the early years.
Photo: Inca Kola

It was back in 1910, when a young English couple arrived by boat in the port of Callao to start a new life in Peru. Settling in Rimac, one of the most historic districts of Lima, José Robinson Lindley and his wife Martha opened a small shop where they sold homemade carbonated beverages.

Retro Inca Kola
Photo: Inca Kola

In 1935, Lima was celebrating 400 years since its founding, and the Lindleys decided to produce a unique drink to commemorate the event and their new homeland.

José Lindley had learned of a concoction based on hierba Luísa, lemon verbena, and began experimenting with different mixtures, fussing with the ingredients and the levels of carbonation until finding just the right formula. Thus was born, Inca Kola, a fruity soda that was launched with this catchy slogan:

Inca Kola, sólo hay una y no se parece a ninguna.
Inca Kola, there is only one, unlike any other.

Isaac Lindley
Photo: Inca Kola

By 1945, Isaac Lindley, José and Martha's son, improved the technology and expanded Inca Kola's reach in the Peruvian market. Within a few short years, Inca Kola was the leading bottled beverage sold in Peru, in part because it appealed to the Peruvian sense of national identity. After all, how many sodas are named after the Incas?

Photo: Matito

For years, Coca-Cola and its arch-rival Pepsi tried to dominate the Peruvian market, but despite their vast resources, they were never able to overtake Inca Kola as the preferred soft drink of the Peruvian public.

Inca Kola cleverly marketed itself as the nationalistic soft drink option, and Peruvians drank it by the gallons. Knowing the Peruvian market, Inca Kola targeted small mom-and-pop shops and restaurants, offering incentives and marketing assistence. Partly due to national pride, partly due to its sweet flavor, and partly due to its cost (less than its rivals) Inca Kola became the leader of the Peruvian soft drink industry. One of its key marketing strategies was to convince Peruvians that Inca Kola was a much better complement to Peruvian food than either Coke or Pepsi.

Finally, in 1999, Coca-Cola and the Corporación José R. Lindley entered in a strategic alliance whereby the multinational purchased 50% of the company for a rumored $300 million.

Inca Kola bottling plant.
Photo: Inca Kola

From its small, almost artisanal origins in Rimac, Inca Kola now has the largest soft drink bottling plants in Peru. Wherever you go in Peru, from coastal beach towns, to Andean villages thousands of feet above sea level, to the hot steamy jungle towns, Inca Kola is still the preferred soda of Peruvians.

Inca Kola and its current slogan:
El Sabor del Perú, The Flavor of Peru.

Photo: _e.t

Peruvians love their Inca Kola. There is a sense of pride that a soda in a small, poor country was not able to be overtaken by the most important beverage company in the world. Fast-food restaurants like the Peruvian company Bembo's switched from Coke to Inca Kola, and even McDonald's had to come to a unique agreement with Coca-Cola to allow both beverages to be sold in its restaurants, something unheard of in the fast-food restaurant industry. Inca Kola was like the persistent lover that had come into the marriage between McDonald's and Coca-Cola. In Peru, Big Macs are eaten with Inca Kola, not Coke.

US Inca Kola has its own slogan:
The Golden Cola

Photo: Fresh Electrons

What has really surprised me is that in the past few years, Inca Kola is now available in many Latino-oriented supermarkets here in Los Angeles. Any Peruvian restaurant in the United States worth its salt sells Inca Kola. And, Inca Kola is now bottled at a Coca-Cola plant in New York state. This is due to the deal the Lindleys made with Coca-Cola.

Haute Inca Kola.
Photo: Inca Kola

Inca Kola has a mystique in Peru and I'm sure dissertations have been written about it. When the partnership between the two companies was clinched in 1999, the Lindleys came out winners. Not only had they earned an incredible sum of money, they were also awarded bottling rights at their plants for all Coca-Cola products sold in Peru, and Coca-Cola agreed to use its formidable marketing muscle to expand Inca Kola into markets outside of Peru.

For those who read Spanish, there is a great excerpt of an article
in the Peruvian magazine Etiqueta Negra by Marco Avilés and Daniel Titinger (who allowed me to translate, The Ceviche Route in an earlier Peru Food post).

They tell story of M. Douglas Ivester, Coca-Cola's CEO who arrived in Lima in 1999 to work out the final details in the new joint venture. As part of the ceremonies, Ivester had to drink a glass of Inca Kola at a press conference which became a Peruvian media frenzy. It was the symbolic defeat of Coca-Cola in Peru. Quite simply, Coke was not able to convince the Peruvian public that it was a better soft drink. The next day's newspapers all had photos of Iverson splashed on their front pages with the caption: Coca-Cola's President Toasts with Inca Kola. In the cola wars, the Third World David had beaten the First World Goliath.

Rumor has it that Iverson hated the taste of Inca Kola, calling it too sweet, and some have less than kindly attributed this statement to him: Looks like pee, tastes like bubble gum.

That may be the case, but 28 million Peruvians can't be wrong.

Click here for the Peru Food main page.

TAGS: Peru, Peruvian, food, cooking, cuisine, cocina, comida, gastronomía, peruana