Peruvian causas and anticuchos in the land of tacos and mole
Ceviche: Pieces of fish marinated in lime juice, onions and chiles. Unlike Mexican ceviches, in which fish is “cooked” in lime juice for hours before serving, Peruvian ceviche is served raw (this is the Japanese influence). To try: The clásico, with grouper or the mixto with shellfish.
Anticuchos: Grilled marinated meat or fish on a skewer, a streetfood favorite. To try: crocante, deliciously crunchy fried shrimp with a tamarind sauce, served on a bed of crunchy rice noodles.
Causas: Spicy potato puree topped with fish. to try La Mar’s mixta, which will allow you to sample all the causas they offer.
Sudados: Seafood stew, traditionally made by fishermen after a day on the sea. To try: fusión, with grouper, sweet potato, tamarind, aji amarillo and coconut milk.
The space is huge, and the staff too: 140 seats, 60 employees. Garbed in androgynous, vaguely Asian uniforms--black Nehru vests over white t-shirts and black pants--a young set-up crew moves with great efficiency, arranging chairs, folding napkins and laying sinuously designed knives and forks on dark wood tables.
Menu primer: try the ceviche, anticuchos, causas and sudados for a taste of Peru.
With Brazilian trip-hop CD playing in the background and futuristic skyscrapers out the floor-to-ceiling windows you could be in Hong Kong, Los Angeles, any number of sleek, modern centers around the globe. As it is, we're in Mexico City's Santa Fe, ready to embark on a culinary journey for points far to the south.
La Mar Cebicheria, is the new outpost of the Lima, Peru-based restaurant of the same name. And, it's the latest venture of Peruvian cuisine's most ardent promoter, the world class chef-entrepreneur Gastón Acurio.
Acurio's young protégé Diego Oka is the chef at the Santa Fe branch, and like his indefatigable mentor--who currently operates or is opening restaurants in eight Latin American countries and Spain, and has designs on the US --Oka is eager to see Peruvian food take its rightful place alongside cuisines like French, Thai and Mexican as globally recognized gastronomic heavyweights.
There are many similarities between Mexican and Peruvian cuisines. Both are the product of centuries of acculturation; Japanese, Chinese, Spanish, Italian, and, of course, Incan flavors characterize Peruvian food. Both rely on chiles.
"If the chiles disappear," says Oka, "the cuisine disappears." The aji amarillo is the most important Peruvian chile, but far from the only one. The aji lima is akin to Mexico's habanero. The aji rocoto is like the chile manzano. Aji panca is a cousin of the guajillo.