Text and Images by KF Seetoh @ Makansutra
This is a brand of popular South American chow we cannot easily get here in Singapore. Don’t ask me, I don’t know why. Peruvian chow is steeped in heritage and they are regarded as the masters of ceviche – a dish of fresh raw fish or seafood “cooked” in lime, onions, chilli peppers with a bed of salad. If you like your sashimi with vinegar and wasabi, ceviche will appeal. And they have over 4000 types of potatoes of which a few hundred are currently known to be edible. A bag of local Peruvian potato chips is not your usual garden variety potato NTUC supermarket type, they are in a league of their own.
Their cuisine has influences from Spain, Africa and even Japan. Many years ago, Chinese settlers and culture arrived (believed to date back to the 1400s when Admiral Cheng Ho sailed the seas) and today, Chifa is what they termed to be Chinese food. Their little Chinatown in central Lima (Peru’s capital) is infested with cheesy old fashioned Chifa restaurants (chow mien, chow fan, sweet sour meat, spring rolls, wanton soup etc…) with entrances adorned in feudal oriental touches like lanterns, fake Imperial Palace doors, lion statue door guards and with generous splashes of red…which is why I am not shouting about their Chifa cuisine.
The enigmatic Gaston Acurio, Peru’s living culinary hero
I was there specifically to meet culinary organisations like Arpega, the culinary division of their Chamber of Commerce, their food tourism folks, for a comfort street food project I am embarking on. They have food soldiers and visionaries like Bernado Roca Rey (President of their chef association Arpega), and Adolfo Perret Bermudez and Daniel Tejada Villacorta (Gatronmy President and VP of Camara De Comercio De Lima). I also had the pleasure of meeting Gaston Acurio, the enigmatic son of a former senior politician. He ditched his law degree and his father’s hopes of an entry into politics and, almost almost single-handedly, reinvented and rediscovered the Peruvian food roots and internationalise Peruvian ceviche cuisine. This man has his very popular TV show, owns and co-owns a string of Peruvian eateries, cebicherias (ceviche restaurants), and even Madam Tusan, a Peruvian-Chinese fusion restaurant in Lima. He is also the creator of the Mistura Food Festival, a collection of all the comfort and street food chefs and organic producers of fine ingredients. Up to 200 vendors descend onto Mistura in September each year and celebrate that food heritage. It sells a few hundred thousand tickets each year.
The easy peasy feel of La Mar draws in their upper crust seeking a laid back Gaston meal experience
After a 15 minute chat with Gaston ending with a nod of approval and support for my ideas, he said “let me arrange a meal for you at my restaurant”, I nodded in approval too. La Mar is a typical, yet not-so, cebicheria with Gaston touches and is found in eight cities in the Americas. The wait staff is knowledgeable and friendly, the menu has classic and modern renditions of Peruvian culinary icons and the place (a slate and woody covered porch) is patronised by the upper crust seeking a down to earth meal feel.
A Japanese touch of tuna sashimi with ponzu and ceviche sauce..borrowed from their Japanese food heritage
We started with a collection of potato chips in a bag, all Peruvian grown, and washed it down with their national favourite poison, Pisco, made of sugar lime, egg white and this very potent transparent liquid. Bliss. Then they rained down a series of old and new ceviche dishes like baby scallops with lime, onions, tomatoes, coriander and seaweed, on a scallop shell, tuna sashimi with sesame seeds on ponzu sauce (Japanese vinegar) with horseradish strips. I liked the calamari fritters with sweet potato and onions doused with lime sauce and chilli. There was also grilled seafood over green mashed potatoes with a rich seafood sauce. An hour and 7 dishes with 2 Piscos later, I was rocking to the salsa rhythms coming off the noise machines inside La Mar. An unctuously heady meal I will gladly have again. Time is neigh for your cebicheria in Singapore, Gaston.
The scallop ceviche was so easy in and totally refreshing, especially when downed with the limey Pisco, their national …
Cebichería La Mar Av. La Mar 770, Miraflores, Lima, Peru +51-1-421-3365