Peruvian food might not be something that you have had many opportunities to get down your gullet. Here in the UK, there is only a handful of dedicated restaurants, and it won’t come as a surprise that none of them are in Manchester- well, not yet anyway.
Mama Pacha is the new pop-up concept which is set to open in the basement of Sandinista in the next few weeks. It is the brainchild of Jose ‘Papi Jose’ Wong, who was blown away by the culture, people and flavours of Peru. Mama Pacha sets out to bring a little taster of the cuisine and culture of the South American country right into the centre of the city.
If you want to get to grips with the concept a bit more, the clue is in the name. “Mamma” describes the family element to the cooking in this region. As in many cultures, the mother is central to the family dynamic, and it is her food that brings everyone together. Any chef with Peruvian roots will tell you that his or her dishes have been directly inspired by mummy’s cooking – and Jose is no different.
“Pacha” means plentiful which is a response to the fruitful natural larder that is the landscape of Peru – from the rich seas of the Pacific to the fertile lands of the Amazon rainforest and the Andes. Together, these words make “Mama Pacha”- a local name for the Earth Goddess who presides over planting and harvest, a bit like Mother Nature over here.
From this name, we learn that at Mama Pacha there will be a focus on everything natural, with an emphasis on freshness and a focus on a cuisine which is steeped in a long and eclectic history.
It is safe to say we are pretty excited but do not think you are alone in not having the foggiest idea what Peruvian food is and consists of. So, as we wait in anticipation of the arrival of Mama Pacha, I am going to give you the 411 on the food of Peru, so you know what to expect.
In short, Peruvian food can best be described as diverse. It has roots in the Inca people but also has influences from every corner of the globe. Peru has a rich 500-year history of immigration which has brought with it tastes, methods and flavours from Spain, Africa, China, Japan, Italy and France just to name a few.
Diversity can also be found in the landscape and the ingredients it produces. The Pacific Ocean, the Amazon Rainforest and the Andes mountain rage all meet in one country which makes it like no other place in the world. The fertile forests produce 20 different fruits, and the coasts are home to 2000 species of fish – which makes up 10% of the world total. The result of this is a cuisine which is unique, epically varied and continually evolving.
There is also a focus on freshness. Food is bought, cooked and eaten within a few hours and the local people say that fridges in Peru are reserved only for milk and beer- and this is a mantra Mama Pacha is set to live by.
I think the most famous dish to come out of Peru that we might recognise over here would be Ceviche. This is considered to be the national dish, and it consists of raw, diced fish (one of the 2000) which is marinated in lime juice and spices. The acid in the lime juice theoretically ‘cooks’ the fish and kills harmful bacteria, but keeps its delicate texture intact.
Pisco is the national drink of Peru. It is a fortified wine which sits in that sweet spot somewhere between a wine and a spirit and is comparable to a white port. It can be drunk on its own but can also be used as a cocktail ingredient. The Pisco Sour would be the most famous cocktail and is made in most bars in the world- but Mama Pacha has created an extensive cocktail menu for the pop-up with will heavily feature Pisco as well as other Purvian drinks and liquors.
Another dish which is famous in this part of the world would be Lomo Saltado or stir-fried beef. This dish is almost as renowned as ceviche and is a perfect example of diversity and fusion in Peruvian cuisine as the method of stir-frying is appropriated from China. This dish takes thin strips of beef or alpaca (and if you think that is bad, please note they eat Guinea pig in Peru), with soy, onions, tomatoes and chillies. This is typically served is crispy potatoes and is a happy marriage of east and west.
Aji de Gallina is a creamy chicken stew (a bit like a mild curry) made with cream, ground walnuts, cheese and aji Amarillo (chilli paste). It is best served drenched over rice and is often served with black olives and a hard boiled egg- sounds weird but I promise it is delicious.
You will find these traditional dishes plus many more on the menu. Mama Pacha will open in the basement of Sandinista on Tuesday 9th October- so watch this space for more details!
Mama Pacha, 2 Old Bank St, City Centre, Manchester M2 7PF
0161 832 9955