Ethnic 101: Authentic Peruvian food

Monday, September 10, 2007

September is Hispanic Heritage month so ABC7's Hungry Hound travels to a South American restaurant. He concludes his year-long "Ethnic 101" series this week with a peek into an authentic Peruvian kitchen.

For the past 12 months, we've showed you how to order and eat Korean barbeque, South Indian dosas and Vietnamese soup. This month, we wrap up our ethnic eating series with a look at Peru. There are about a half-dozen options in Chicago-- including one on the Northwest Side where starch, beef and seafood rule.

Just a few things to remember when ordering off of a Peruvian menu: be ready for staples such as rice, corn and potatoes. At the lively Ay Ay Picante - in the Mayfair neighborhood on the Northwest Side - Peru's culinary influences are on full display.

"They've taken the native, the Spanish, the Japanese, Chinese, and Italian ingredients, and mixed them together in just a beautiful fashion," said Ray Young, Ay Ay Picante.

Start off with palta rellena, essentially a half avocado stuffed with potatoes embedded with peas and shredded chicken. Ceviche offers an assortment of seafood - such as shrimp, octopus, calamari and tilapia - marinated in lime juice and Peruvian rocoto chiles. It's served with - no surprise - two kinds of potatoes and corn.

The humitas resemble tamales, that is, they're basically corn steamed in husks.

"Humitas are a lot of fun. They look like tamales, but they don't taste like tamales. They can be a little sweet or they could be salty, they have both."

Papa a la Huancaina is one of the most traditional starters. Boiled potatoes are sliced thick, topped with a creamy sauce containing milk, olive oil, lime juice and peppers; it's topped with hard-boiled eggs and olives.

Parihuela could be misinterpreted as a fisherman's stew: the assorted seafood is cooked with a Peruvian corn beer and indigenous spices, and makes almost a meal in itself. Other great seafood main dishes include skewers of tilapia, shrimp and peppers.. or seared tilapia draped with onions, mushrooms and peppers - a clear nod to the Spanish Basque influence.

There's also plenty of meat in the Peruvian diet.. consider lomo saltado: sliced filet is sauteed with tomatoes, onions and garlic, plus soy sauce and vinegar. The chef then adds french fries, and serves it with white rice. A classic Peruvian dish combining influences from several countries.

"Rice and potatoes, almost every dish. Lots of starch, and then meat, of course meat."

Remember, as with all of our "Ethnic 101" stories, when you go to the restaurant, just ask for the "ABC 7 special menu," and they'll give you a condensed, translated version featuring only the items we just showed you.

Ay Ay Picante
4569 N. Elston Ave.

other Peruvian restaurants in Chicago:

Rinconcito Sudamericano
1954 W. Armitage Ave.

Machu Picchu
3856 N. Ashland Ave.

Rios D'Sudamerica
2010 W. Armitage Ave.

Cafe Salamera
6653 N. Clark St.

Taste of Peru
6545 N. Clark St.

Shark Seafood
6430 S. Pulaski Road

Peru Inkas Restaurant
11 W. Main St., Bensenville

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