Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Stir-fry in strange country

Lomo saltado, with chicken instead of beef
Upon arriving at Lima, I am burned out after 24 hours of flying but nevertheless eager to explore the Peruvian food scene. Dotted around the Centro Histórico are small, family-run comedores serving ordinary fare and a surprising abundance of vegetarian eateries. After roaming a few blocks on an empty stomach and seeing virtually identical menus, I finally stumble into one eatery and order away. Having not done any prior research of Peruvian cuisine my understanding and expectations are blank as a cloud. Will it reflect region-specific variations and  influences from Spanish colonial rule? Will it have the colors and fire of, say, Mexican cuisine? Well, fire may not score big in Peru, but regional diversity and international influences, yes.
Tallarín saltado
Little would I expect, however, the heavy influences of Chinese cooking here in Lima. Until I order it I realize that the name of the fried rice dish chaufa actually originated from the Cantonese specialty chow-fan. And lomo saltado, a dish that headlines practically all Peruvian menus, is essentially an Asian stir-fry with beef, onions, peppers and, interestingly, potatoes. Likewise, the tallarín saltado resembles what Americans would call chow mein. 
Tasty though the meal is, I am left confused, even disillusioned. Will Peruvian food continue to "surprise" me? Surely and fortunately it will, with many more surprises to come.