Make room on the menu, Thai and Vietnamese. Peruvian cuisine is the latest ethnic fare that chefs are adding to their menus.
“Peruvian is one of the many regional cuisines that operators are calling out on menus. This comes as diners become more interested in and open to trying more ethnic cuisines,” said Lizzy Freier, editor of menu analysis at Technomic Inc. “Now that Latin foods like Mexican are mainstream, operators are looking further south for inspiration.”
According to Technomic’s MenuMonitor data, “Peruvian” mentions have grown more than 12 percent on U.S. menus over the last two years. Peruvian menu mentions appear in nearly all segments, but the majority comes from traditional casual dining, followed by fine dining. In addition, in the last two years, mentions of ceviche, the traditional Peruvian cured seafood dish, grew 2.5 percent on U.S. menus.
At Tanta, a casual Peruvian concept in downtown Chicago, the menu, created by celebrity Peruvian chef/owner Gastón Acurio and Tanta Chicago executive chef Jesus Delgado, features dishes that reflect the diverse landscape and ethnicities that make up Peru’s culture.
Among the most popular dishes are Cebiche Clásico, white fish cubes mixed with lime juice, salt, onions, cilantro, ají limo and garlic, served cold; and Anticuchos de Corazón, cubed beef heart marinated with anticuchera sauce (ají panca, vinegar, cumin, garlic, ground pepper) and served on a stick with large-kernel Peruvian corn called choclo, fried potatoes, rocoto sauce and a chunky salsa called chalaquita.
“In Chicago, there aren’t many Peruvian restaurants, so guests are very excited when they have the opportunity to enjoy the flavors of our country,” said Delgado, who is a native of Peru. “The bright, fresh ingredients in our ceviches, tiraditos, anticuchos and other authentic Peruvian dishes keep our guests enticed and coming back for more.”
Ceviche is marinated fish or other seafood, common in Latin America, although Peru has its own distinctive versions distinguished by the country’s signature chile varieties. Tiraditos are raw fish slices — Peru’s interpretation of Japanese sashimi. Anticuchos are grilled meat skewers, traditionally made with beef heart.
Though diners are more adventurous than ever, Peruvian cuisine is still very new to them, and Delgado admits he sometimes has to temper offerings for American tastes.
“One of the biggest challenges is having to adjust the heat and salt levels,” Delagado said. “Also, introducing different cuts of protein to guests, such as beef heart and tongue — two meats that are very popular in Peru.”
Acurio is also behind La Mar Cebicheria Peruana, a five-unit Peruvian concept that elevates humble Peruvian food to fine-dining fare.
“The great thing about Peruvian cuisine is the fusion of flavors,” said Ken Cazenas, executive sous chef of La Mar San Francisco. “Americans have already appreciated the flavors of Chinese, Japanese and Latin cuisine. In short, that is all available in Peruvian food.”
Peru, like the United States, has a long history of immigration from many countries. Chinese immigrated to the country in the 19th century as indentured servants working in coastal cotton and sugar plantations, and Japanese immigrants were attracted a century ago by prospects of work building the country’s railroad.
Ceviche is among the most popular dishes at La Mar San Francisco. Cazenas prepares his with a rotating selection of sustainably caught fish and shellfish briefly marinated in leche de tigre, a citrus-based marinade.
Peruvian food is also showing up on menus of general American and Latin American restaurants.
Inspired by a trip to Peru four years ago, chef Louis DiBiccari recently added ceviche to the menu at Tavern Road, a New American restaurant in Boston. His simple take on the signature Peruvian dish is fish dressed in horseradish, cucumber, lemon and olive oil and served with homemade potato chips.
“Everywhere you went, people had their own twist on the dish,” DiBiccari said. “So I had to include my rendition when I launched Tavern Road’s street foods menu.”
Since adding it in April, the ceviche has remained one of Tavern Road’s best-selling dishes. DiBiccari also offers a Peruvian chicken dish, and plans to add other Peruvian dishes in the future.
“One day I’d love to add a fried guinea pig dish,” he said. “And maybe an alpaca dish.”
Similarly, at Del Campo, an elegant South American grill in Washington, D.C., chef Victor Albisu’s eclectic menu features several Peruvian dishes. Among the offerings are the Corvina Ceviche, with avocado, ramps, grilled corn, celery and Peruvian chile dressing; Peruvian Chicken, a slow-roasted chicken marinated in Peruvian spices and served with crispy yuca, ají amarillo, aïoli and green chile purée; and Octopus Causa.
Causa is a cold Peruvian dish of potato purée topped traditionally with avocado and tuna fish. Abisu’s version uses grilled octopus and lump crab instead of tuna.
“Peruvian cuisine is really poised in the kind of evolution of dining in this country,” said Albisu, whose heritage is part Peruvian. “[It] can really be an interesting next step for diners and chefs.”