This Restaurant Proves Peruvian Is Definitely InMay 27, 2020
Although it is only beginning to make a blip on our radar, Peruvian cuisine is rich and multifaceted, with influences from China, Japan, Spain, and Africa. Peru is home to the aji amarillo, a yellow pepper with a fruity bite named as the “most important ingredient in Peruvian cooking”, and is home to a cuisine that would excite any Filipino’s palate.
Cocina Peruvia is a great addition to Manila’s expanding selection of restaurants, introducing us to one of Latin America’s biggest culinary gems.
Chef Him Uy de Baron walks us through each plate. Peruvian food, he explains, is similar to Filipino in many ways, particularly with the Spanish and Chinese elements – though here, their contributions are still segregated for the most part. “With Peruvian [however], it’s a true fusion – you’re not only combining ingredients from different regions, but also cooking techniques.” Cocina Peruvia strives for authenticity, even importing ingredients when possible. But the fare is casual and relaxed, and very “street”. Wanting to showcase the diversity of the cuisine, we are served up a feast of their best dishes.
Though variations of ceviche can be found all over South America, the Peruvian version distinguishes itself with the addition of sweet potatoes; cancha, or corn nuts; and the use of leche de tigre, or “tiger’s milk”, as its marinade. Two variants were on the table: first, the Ceviche Pescado, which had cubes of jack fish, mango, and sweet potatoes, topped with slivers of red onions and cilantro. In the Ceviche Nikkei , salmon, cucumbers, and crumbled bits of fish cracklings join the party, all bathing in a soy and coconut milk-infused leche de tigre. A warmer starter on the other hand is the Chupe de Pescado, a seafood chowder that’s equal parts creamy, citrusy, and smoky, with subtle heat from aji amarillo.
A trio of antichucos, essentially meat kebabs, bring a festive element to the table. A bright, cumin-fragrant marinade imbibes skewers of corazon, or beef heart; pollo, or chicken; and gindara. To really please the inner carnivore, go for the Pollo a la Parilla, their take on grilled chicken, and the equally juicy Pork Ribs a la Parilla. Both come in huge portions, with lots of robust flavors all the way down to the bone. Their meat is perfect as is: moist and succulent inside and nicely charred outside. But the sauces, made in-house, are what complete the experience: a creamy sauce of aji amarillo; an aji verde sauce – similar to the former, with a distinctly fresher zing and with the heat intensity dialed up; and a decidedly zesty chimchurri redolent with herbs. Salsa criolla – a salad of thinly sliced onions and tomatoes similar to our own ensalada – serves as a palate cleanser between bites.
Chef Him introduces us to the homier side of the cuisine as well. A true fusion dish, the Arroz con Mariscos appears similar to paella, but stir-fried – the grains are light, fluffy, and individually coated with flavor. Equally hearty is the Seco de Ossobuco, which has cubes of extremely tender beef shank surrounding an orb of tacu tacu – a croquette filled with a mixture of beans, chili, and rice that’s perfect for mopping up the stew’s juices.
With Chef Miko Aspiras in charge of the desserts, one can expect to be served up something quirky and creative. First up is his take on the classic cookie, Alfajores – here, the dulce de leche comes as a sauce that’s cleverly laid on the side to look like it was splatteres from afar, and three delicate shards of biscuits hide a scoop of mango-graham ice cream and polvoron crumbs. Their Panna Cotta especially stands out – binatog (!) and bits of a charcoal corn muffin rest on a thin layer of cream, itself with a concentrated dose of corn flavor that’s simultaneously sweet and salty.
Peruvian cuisine is a testament to food as a dynamic reflection of culture, subject to change and development as history unfolds. Despite the geographical difference, the flavors feel familiar, always balanced, and ultimately, delicious.