Ekeko is Peruvian God of Wealth. It looks like a troll that collects lots of valuables into its large pockets. I have never tasted Peruvian food, and hope to find the trough of wealth in this newly opened restaurant.
The renovation included Peruvian knick-knacks, big patchwork sea creatures climbed all over the walls, and projectors showing Peruvian countryside footage shot by the chef himself, Carlos Sotomayor. It only served an 8-course set dinner, with the menu changing monthly based on the lunar calendar. Each dish was accompanied by a card that explained the particular course’s socio-cultural place in Peruvian cuisine, a folk tale about its origins, or the chef’s own experience with it.
1 / Ceviche / sweet potato / cancha
Iconic dish from Peruvian cuisine. Originates from the ancient Peruvians which would use the juice of a citrus fruit called Tumbo and sea salt. With the influence fo the Japanese it evolved to the dish we have nowadays.
So what are the differences between ceviche in different South American countries? Ecuador was more like a fish soup, the fish was pre-cooked and served in a bowl along with a lot of liquid and tomatoes. It often contains shrimp, just like the ceviche in Costa Rica, which is served in a glass much like a shrimp cocktail. Chilean ceviche can be quite vile, where the fish is marinated to death. In Mexico, they eat ceviche in a taco shell. In Colombia, its has avocado and olive oil.
According to Chef Javier Wong, the Ceviche Godfather, “There is only one ceviche and it is Peruvian” Real ceviche, the Maestro explained, is fresh fish soaked in highly acidic lime juice for just a few minutes, and then served immediately. And there could only be five ingredients – fish, salt, pepper, lime and love.
Chef Carlos’ version was made with lime citrus with aji amarillo, which explains the heat and the yellow-reddish marinate. The main ingredients were fresh red snapper, steamed sweet potato, toasted dried maize (cancha) for crunch. Other accompaniments were red onion and pepper.
I find the ceviche a bit too wet. I liked mine lightly dressed so that the fish maintained its texture and firmness. I also liked ceviche with sliced fish more than cubes, but this is just a personal preference because I believe slicing increases the surface area the fish comes into contact with the sauce. But purists would argue that this would ‘over-marinate’ the ceviche like the Bolivian.
Complimentary oysters to use the same tangy sauce from the ceviche with the oysters.
2 / Octopus ‘causa’ / quinoa / avocado
Causa is a typical dish of cold mashed potato mixed with chili and lime juice. It is said to have originated during war times, when the housewives were trying to sell this to support the ‘Cause’ in Spanish ‘Cause’, and it is commonly believed they would hide papers with messages with messages to their husbands at war.
Causa is very unique Peruvian dish. Served cold as a starter, or as a light meal, it is a seasoned mashed potato terrine, stuffed with tuna, egg, shrimp, or avocado. It is often topped with ají or black olives.
Here, Chef Carlos used a toasted quinoa crust to encase the mashed potato ball. It was held in place using an avocado mousse and topped with more of the same. The octopus was served two ways, chopped and delicately put on top of the quinoa-potato balls, and sliced and put together with the sliced avocado.
I liked the avocado-octopus combination – lime and salt play on a buttery, chewy texture at the same time. Not a fan of quinoa, and definitely not a fan of toasted grains. It was like eating a savoury Ferraro Roche. When the course was served, a small like pot of apple cedar was lit and smoke from the smothering wood filled your space, but not the food. A little suggestion – maybe you can encase the food in the smoke for a while using glass bell cover to give more layers to the taste.
3 / Prawn ‘Anticucho’ / corn relish
‘Anticuchos’ is the product of the Afro-Peruvian fusion, it means skewers. Made originally from beef heart marinated and then grilled.
Anticuchos are popular and inexpensive skewered dishes that originated in the Andes during the pre-Columbian era. It started with cow’s hearts, cubed and marinated, skewered and grilled over flame. The modern dish was adapted during the colonial era between the 16th and 19th centuries, when the Spanish conquistadors introduced garlic as a seasoning, and it can now be found commonly in Peru.
Many cultures have similar food – kebabs, satays, kushiyaki, a skewer by any other name would taste just as good, with raw flames caramelising the natural fats on the meat, cracklings and burnt ends enhancing the flavours.
The Prawn Anticucho was a play on the word and concept – technically there was not skewer in the dish. Topped with corn, a relish of onion, red pepper, mayonnaise and paprika, it was grilled over charcoal fire on a corn leave.
The prawn was only half cooked. I don’t know if that was intended, I was too polite to ask, but I guessed for grilled dished, it should be slightly more done than this rawness. I liked this dish a lot due to the really good use of the relish and corn and smoking it over corn husks, but because it was still quite raw, it did not really turn into a ‘skewer’.
4 / Pork belly ‘chicarrón’ / butter beans / panca chili gastrique
This dish originates as well from the Afro-Peruvian cuisine, when they would render the pork fat to get lard, there would be small pieces remaining in the cooking pot and stay crispy. This is in fact the ‘chicharron’.
Chicharrón is a dish generally consisting of fried pork belly or fried pork rinds, and is popular in Andalusia, Spain, and in Latin America and other countries with Spanish influence. Chicharrón in Perú is boiled with seasonings and spices until no water remains, and then fried in its own fat.
Rendering animal fat and cooking the meat in its own fat is also featured in a very French technique of confit. It is a very simple cooking technique, but extremely difficult to perfect as you are altering the texture of everything – the flesh, the skin, the entire piece of meat.
Here, the pork belly tasted deep fried. All moisture was gone from the thin slices, but the result was not crispy bacon. It needed more sauce. It was chewy like leather. The pork rind, deep-fried pig skin, was not crunchy. The butter beans were the only thing on this dish that we chomped down gusto. This was by far our least favourite dish.
5 / Sudado / yellow chili / lager
‘Sudado’ which translates to sweat, is cooking fish in a spiced broth. Very typical along the coast of Peru, with many variations. This one honours the Northern coastal cuisine.
Sudado de Pescado (Peruvian Fish Stew) is a very common dish in Peru, which has enjoyed a very rich seafood catch from its coasts. I am sure every Peruvian mama has her own secret recipe and mix of spices.
There was different condiments that you can add to the stew – sliced chili, lime, parsley, and for the crunch, yuca crisps.
Chef used api amarillo to add the slight heat to the stew. Each stew was individually wrapped in a high-heat proof plastic and baked in the oven. The fish boiled in the beer broth and no flavour escaped in the process.
Add a bit of parsley, squeeze in a lime, and you have a very nice Red Snapper Sudado. No, it did not taste like a bouillabaisse. It was much lighter than a bouillabaisse. I like the subtle spices and clear taste of the fish stew. I can relate to that, borrowing the taste directly from the fresh ingredients and not from over powering the stew with spices.
6 / ‘Solterito’ / fava beans / olives / tomatoes / queso fresco
Salad typical from Arequipa in the south. Originally all items diced up and mixed together. Name stands for ‘single’, as it was meant to be eaten by the single men or women who didn’t want to gain weight and remain attractive to find love and get married.
Solterito (Peruvian Chopped Salad) is really simple to make, and you can make it with any combination. But you would need a bean, a fruit or vegetable and a salty cheese for a really good combination.
Chef’s version used Queso Fresco or fresh unpasteurised cheese similar to a ricotta. It is mild, salty and soft. And fava beans were used – luckily for Chinese we are not the race that can be susceptible to favism. Combined with chopped cherry tomatoes, black olives and red onions to spice things up, it was seasoned with good olive oil, salt and pepper.
7 / Beef cheek ‘saltado’ / mushroom rice
‘Lomo saltado’ is an iconic dish of the Chinese-Peruvian fusion, which now is a staple in our cuisine. Chinese brought their technique and incorporated it to the ingredients found in Peru. We now do a small variation incorporating the sauce and flavours but brought together in a different way.
Lomo saltado is a popular, traditional Peruvian dish, a stir fry that typically combines marinated strips of sirloin (or other beef steak) with onions, tomatoes, french fries, and other ingredients; and is typically served with rice. The dish originated as part of the ‘Chifa’ tradition, the Chinese cuisine of Peru, though its popularity has made it part of the mainstream culture.
This was the piece de resistance for the Chef. A really slow-cooked braised beef cheek was topped with cotton candy and laid on a luscious bed of mushroom risotto. Instead of stir-fry, the taste was all captured in a reduction that he would drizzled on top the cotton candy.
As quickly as a blink, the cotton candy melted into the sauce, revealing the rest of the ingredients – snow peas, and provided a sweet glaze on the beef. Nice little trick in terms of food presentation.
I find the sauce too rich, even with the sparingly small amount that was drizzled on. The cotton candy, for me, spoiled the whole dish. The sugar rush made the dish really whacky. The saving grace was the mushroom rice. It was al dente and infused with a very rich, woody flavour that can only be from mushroom. I did not even venture beyond a small bite of the beef cheek. It was too dry and tough.
Good intentions but the execution needed some more precision.
8 / ‘Suspiro’ / green apple / meringue / popcorn
‘Suspiro’ which translates to ‘sigh’ is a milk custard. It was made by the wife of a poet, who described the dish as soft and sweet as a woman’s sigh, therefore the name.
Suspiro de limeña, which literally means “Sigh of Lima Lady” was invented by the wife of poet Jose Galvez, Madam Amparo Ayarza. Galvez gave it its name because it is sweet and light “like a woman’s sigh”. Traditionally it is made up of a base of manjar blanco (caramelised milk custard) and a topping of meringue.
Chef’s version used a white milk custard, which I liked a lot, and meringue flats with green apple sorbet and apple slices with caramel popcorn sprinkles. So it was ‘traditional’ with the caramel taste from the popcorn, milk custard and meringue, but modernised with tart from the green apple.
The service staff was extremely friendly and knowledgeable of what they were serving. Chef Carlos moved around the floor to mingle with the guests, and constructing the final touches of major dishes in front of the customers.
I liked the decor, the atmosphere, and crowd – a eclectic mix of expats and some well-heeled locals. The food needs to mature, as I can see the kitchen scrambling to build the layers.
Given a bit more time, this place would show its potential.
20 Donghu Lu, near Huaihai Zhong Lu
Tel : +86 21 5404 8085
Date Visited : Mar 2018