Peru sets the table
With APEC in Lima, eatery brings ceviche, pisco sours to Beijing
When China’s President Xi Jinping went to London last year, pictures of him eating fish and chips and sipping a pint of Greene King IPA with the British prime minister went viral in China.
Over the weekend, the president wasin Lima, Peru, for the APEC summit, where both affairs of state and the dinner menu were hot topics.
So we might wonder: Could Peruvian ceviche and pisco sours be the next big thing in Beijing?
“That would be cool,” says Francisco Chia, who by pure coincidence last weekend was hosting the grand opening of Beijing’s new nighttime Peruvian restaurant, Pachakutiq. (The name is a mouthful: The original Pachakutiq was the ruler of Cuzco who launched the Inca era of conquest that spread an empire across much of South America.)
Several Lima restaurants are routinely ranked among the world’s best, and Peruvian fare is trendy around the globe.
Except in China, that is. There are a handful of Peruvian eateries in Shanghai and Hong Kong, but except for summer pop-ups, Peruvian food has yet to create much excitement in China’s capital.
Chia has been eager to change that. He’s been part of two pop-up ventures, and the second one has just migrated to Sanlitun Soho, where it takes over the Cafe Flat white space in the underground level from 7 pm.
After a three-week soft opening, Pachakutik cranked up the volume on Saturday night.
As a live band played and sang Peruvian music, Chia’s team ran from table to table with trays of tart pisco sours and eager explanations of the food. Helping him run the place are his sister Maria, a Tsinghua MBA holder like Chia, and brother Juan Carlos, who is now earning the same degree when he’s not rattling a cocktail shaker full of pisco.
Ceviche and more
The menu, much expanded from the previous incarnation, still stars classic ceviche — the globally popular seafood appetizer that’s “cooked” in a marinade of souped-up lime juice. The cloudy puddle of marinade in the bottom of your bowl is known here as “tiger’s milk”. If you want to pass for a real Peruvian, you’ll slurp it down like soup after you nibble through the chunks of fish, shrimp and veggies.
Expats from the land of the Incas are finding plenty of authenticity on the menu.
For example, there is causa, a savory puree of potato and yellow peppers with lime juice. Pachakutiq’s version is prettier than Peruvian home cooking — salmon, fish ceviche and grilled octopus are used as decorative toppings instead of undercover fillings, but the ingredients and flavors would be perfectly familiar to any Peruvian granny.
Our sampling of the menu started with a beauty: Stuffed squid with crab, cream cheese, almond, anise, curry sauce and cream. We’ll think about the gym tomorrow.
Today’s hippest Peruvian plates are based on Nikkei cuisine, a fusion inspired by immigrants from Japan, where fresh seafood is equally revered — and Peru’s treasure trove of limes, corn, aji amarillo (yellow chilies), starchy yuca tubers, all kinds of potatoes and the “superfood” quinoa that Peruvians have been eating for centuries. Nobu Matsuhisa has been using elements of this fusion cuisine since the late 1980s in his various Nobu restaurants throughout the world.
Tiradito is a plate of raw fish with subtle differences from ceviche. The fish is sliced, not cubed, and the sauce is applied just before serving, so the fish is not chemically “cooked” by the marinade. We tried the yellow-pepper version, with seabass, “tiger’s milk”, coriander, cucumber and radish. Sesame seeds give the dish an almost smoky finish.
Anticuchos — Peru’s answer to China’s chuan’r — are slices of beef heart deliciously grilled on a skewer, served with potatoes, corn and chimichurri sauce.
Other dishes reflect the impact of Peru’s other immigrant communities.
Lomo saltado is a stir-fry of marinated beef, tomato, yellow pepper, vinegar, coriander, onion and fried potatoes. Typically served with rice, it originated as part of the chifa tradition among Chinese settlers and has flowed into the mainstream food culture.
Europeans obviously came to Peru, too, including Italians as well as Spaniards. They are represented on the Pachakutiq menu by fettucini in yellow-pepper cream with beef tenderloin, Parmesan cheese and a little jalapeno pepper.
Dessert options, if you saved room, include crema volteada, a Peruvian creme caramel or flan, made with condensed and evaporated milk, eggs, sugar and vanilla.
A richer variation ( queso helado) has three milks, plus coconut and cinnamon.
But the fun dessert— and this restaurant is all about fun— is the molten lava cake, which comes with the vanilla ice cream you expect and a surprise flambe with pisco. It is a WeChat photo that should bring a hailstorm of likes if you snap before the flame goes out. There’s plenty of time, really.
Clockwise from top: NikkeiNikkei-style tiradito with tunatuna, grgrilledled anticuchos (beef heart)heart), salmonsalmon-mango ceviche with crispy coconutcoconut, yellow-yellowpepper tiradito with seabass.
Francisco Chia hosts the opening of Beijing’s new nighttime Peruvian restaurant, Pachakutiq.