As promised, I’ll touch on all that tasty Peruvian food I ate last week. As I write this at my smaller country school, Korean middle-school girls channeling the look of 50s housewives with their aprons and bandanas are filtering in and out of my office with various Korean dishes- it’s cooking class day for their equivalent of Home Ec. The highlight is the naengmyeon, cold noodles in a salty, spicy sauce garnished with boiled egg and cucumber slivers… but I told you I’d talk about Peruvian food today, and that I shall. The structure I’ll take is to describe seven representative meals I had while I was there, without this spinning off into a novel-length post… hopefully.
Aji de Gallina with Rice and a Side of Rocoto Aji
My first stop was with my Peruvian host family, and my first meal was identical to my last Peruvian meal I had with them before I headed back to the states- Aji de Gallina. This dish is basically a cream sauce made with the meat of a hen, milk and liquefied bread, and plenty of delicious Peruvian yellow hot pepper, aji Amarillo. This remains my favorite Peruvian dish, and nobody makes it better than my host mom. As always, it’s served with a side of rice and Aji de Rocoto- a blended mixture of onions, garlic, and the genuinely spicy red rocoto pepper. Delicious.
Pollo a la Brasa
Once my host brother Carlitos returned from work that night, we headed over to our old stomping grounds of Chosica, a medium sized city outside of Lima, to go to one of the ubiquitous Polla a la Brasa joints that dot Peru, and which have started to make inroads even into the states in the WashingtonD.C. area. The menu is simple- fried potatoes and succulent, roast chicken covered in a blend of herbs and slow cooked over charcoal, all of it covered in a mixture of sauces of your choosing at your table… so good.
Papas a la Huancaina/Rocoto Relleno/Pastel de Papa
Upon returning to Lima proper, the first order of business was Ryan’s bachelor party, and we had a pregame meal at a swank restaurant, Brujas de Cachiche, underneath the bar we were beginning at- Huaringas Bar. Having lived in Arequipa, near the top of my culinary list was Rocoto Relleno, a beef and veggies stuffed hot rocoto pepper covered in white cheese with a side of Pastel de Papa- a tower of layered potatoes and cheese. The starter before that main course was a serving of Papas a la Huancaina, boiled potatoes and eggs served over lettuce and covered in delicious creamy huancaina sauce- a combination of cheese, liquefied bread or crackers, and that delicious aji Amarillo.
The specialty of Huaringas Bar is their Pisco Sours, by my book the best I’ve had in Peru, if a bit on the pricy side. This national liquor drink of Peru is made with Pisco, a clear moonshine-y liquor distilled from grapes, lime juice, bitters, and an egg white, blended with ice. Huaringas blends this recipe with a wide variety of fruits as well, including all kinds of jungle fruits I hadn’t heard of- most tastily the tart, kiwi-esque camu camu. These drinks are not cheap, but so delectable it’s hard not to run up a tab there.
Punto Azul- Tacu Tacu and Causa Rellena
Staying in Lima, particularly the Miraflores area, meant that it was just a matter of time before I hit up Punto Azul, my favorite seafood restaurant in the area, and perhaps the country. Everybody raves about the raw fish in lime juice dish ceviche, but for me the far and away highlight of the menu is their array of Tacu Tacus, a mound of fried beans and rice covered with a variety of creamy seafood-stuffed sauces. I also tried out their causa sampler, which was an excellent decision, as they deck out the the usual layered mashed potato dish with three different traditional pepper and seafood sauces. My only regret is not snapping a picture of it before consuming it (all of the pics in this post aren’t mine, unfortunately, because I never remember take out the camera before digging in).
Ryan and Yaeko’s rehearsal dinner was at La Panchita, which was another restaurant I unfortunately only got to know right before leaving Peru the first time. It’s famed for its anticuchos: juicy marinated and spit-grilled pieces of meat, traditionally and most deliciously cow heart. Besides those, we had a large spread of dishes, which served as a nice introduction to Peruvian food for those there who hadn’t had much of it, and a nice chance to catch up on some dishes for me- particularly the anticuchos and the assortment of Peruvian-style tamales, which are wrapped in banana leaves and have a firmer consistency and different style fillers than their Mexican counterparts.
Comida de la Selva- Jungle Food
On the Sunday before heading back to Korea, I met up with Emma, a fellow Peace Corps expat, and her boyfriend and headed over to El Aguajal, a restaurant specializing in comida de la selva- jungle food. They had an excellent menu option for those wanting to try (and/or catch up on) as much as possible- a huge platter full of an assortment of jungle dishes, from juanes (chicken and rice balls wrapped in banana leaves and steamed) to cecina (salted, cured pork), arroz chaufa (Chinese-inspired Peruvian fried rice, in this case with a jungle edge), spiced pork sausages, fried jungle fish, and tacacho- crispy fried plantains. The also had an assortment of jungle fruit juices, including camu camu, a fruit that was even incorporated into their salsa-like hot sauce, which was an excellent accompaniment to the salty selva food.
The last meal I had was with my buddy Salvador and his girlfriend Betty, who I’d been staying with for half of the trip. When I was leaving Peru the first time, La Lucha was a small, one-location sandwich shop in Miraflores, but with the help of Peruvian chef extraordinaire Gaston Acurio, it’s now spawned a franchise. The short menu of simple yet entirely delicious sandwiches is the same, from the fried pork and sweet potato deliciousness of chicharron to the signature beef, onion, and edam cheese La Lucha… a perfect way to end my culinary side tour of Peru (or the greater Lima area, anyway).