“Searching for a Taste of Home: From Peru to Chicago and beyond”
Author: Ricardo M. Rizo Patrón
Program of Study: Master of Law (LLM), Law School
Description: In order to experience a taste from home, I began searching for Peruvian restaurants in Chicago. As will I explain in my podcast, not only my fellow countrymen, but people from all over the world living in the Windy City, as well as born and bred Chicagoans, will find a taste of home in Peruvian dishes, which are filled with flavors from Europe, Africa, Asia and Latin America.
Transcript (provided by author):
“Searching for a Taste of Home: From Peru to Chicago and beyond”
“Welcome to the ELI’s Finding Chicago Global Perspectives Podcast Series for AEPP 2022. I’m your host, Ricardo Rizo Patron, and I’m currently enrolled in the University of Chicago’s Law School. Today, we will be exploring the “Peruvian Food Scene” in Chicago.
I am from Lima, Perú, and I recently moved to Chicago a few weeks ago to pursue graduate studies, and I’ve fallen love with the city: the history; the people, the architecture and, of course, the food. I have enjoyed my share of deep-dish pizza and Chicago style hot dogs, but if there is something that Peruvians miss when we are away from home is our food.
So, I began my search for a taste of home in Chicago, and I am happy to say that I’ve found it, or as we say in Peru: “barriga llena, corazón contento”; full belly, happy heart. There are plenty of Peruvian restaurants in Chicago for any budget:
If you want to feel like you are eating in Peruvian soil, without leaving Chicago, “Taste of Peru” in Rogers Park is for you. Peruvian immigrant César Izquierdo opened the doors of “Taste of Peru” in 1998, serving plates with generous portions and honest flavors. By his own account “this is not a fufu restaurant”, but the flavors are to die for. Almost literally. When American Restauranteur Guy Fieri was asked by the Chicago Tribune: “Gun to your head: Where do you go in Chicago?” he said and I quote “Taste of Peru. Papa rellena, lomo saltado (…) brother I’m getting goosebumps talking about it.” (Liao: 2018). Enough said.
If you want to be part of the worldwide craze surrounding Peruvian cuisine, then Gaston Acurio’s “Tanta” in River North is for you. Hailed as “the patron saint of Peruvian COOKING” by the Chicago Tribune, Acurio’s mastery of Peru’s incredibly diverse ingredients has been recognized by the most demanding palates across the globe. In Tanta, you will find the gourmet side of Peruvian cuisine (Vettel & Pang: 2014).
These are two of the many Peruvian restaurants you can find in Chicago, which I hope you can visit. I promise you will find a taste of home. I am not only talking to my fellow countrymen in Chicago, but newcomers to the city from all over the world, as well born and bred Chicagoans. Please give me a few more minutes of your time to explain you why.
Both Chicago and Peru are characterized by their rich racial and ethnic diversity. This diversity can be seen, and tasted, in the food. As must of you are familiar with Chicago’s cuisine, let me talk to you a little bit more about Peruvian food. According to the New York Time’s critic Eric Asimov “(…) Peru has one of the greatest cuisines in the world. It is the original fusion food, having absorbed influences from almost every continent over the last 500 years and melded them with ingredients and dishes that provide a direct link to the Incas.” (Asimov: 1999). The history of two dishes will give you a taste of the diverse make up of Peruvian food:
First, the CEBICHE, one of Peru’s flagship dishes. As Gill explains, when the Spaniards arrived to the northernmost part of modern Peru, Tumbes, they found that the native population used an acidic fruit called Tumbo to marinate the fish (Gill: 2018). In their wisdom, ancient Peruvians had discovered that the Tumbo’s acid, like heat, denatures the proteins in a fish, essentially cooking it. Soon after, when the Spaniards established themselves in Lima, they included this acid marinated fish to their diet and added some ingredients they brought from the “Old World”, like onions and limes (Gill: 2018).
The “crowning touch” to the CEBICHE was given by Japanese immigrants, who came to Perú in the 1940’s. Renowned for their mastery with raw fish, Japanese immigrants decided to slice the fish into smaller pieces and minimize its exposure to acid from hours to seconds (Gill: 2018). And so, the modern CEBICHE came into existence, a truly diverse dish that combines, ancient knowledge from Native Peruvians, ingredients imported by Europeans, and Japanese cooking techniques.
Second, the TACU TACU, another of Peru’s most beloved dishes. As Vera says the TACU TACU was born in the southern valleys of Chincha and Cañete, where Africans slaves were brought to work on sugar and cotton plantations (Vera: 2021). In this tragic situation, African slaves managed to create a masterpiece with the leftovers from Spanish haciendas, which included ingredients brought from the Old World like rice and onions, as well as ancient local staples like canary beans and ají amarillo or yellow chili.
According to Peru’s Export and Promotion Agency, PROM PERU, the secret of TACU TACU lies in its humble origins: using yesterday’s rice and beans (PROM PERU: 2022). Once you have these, fry the rice, cook the beans, use ají Amarillo and onions to create a paste. Mix these and other ingredients in a pan to create a mass, which should be crispy on the outside and moist in the inside (Vera: 2021).
Not only the ingredients, but the name, TACU TACU, is evocative of the diverse background of this dish. As stated by Acosta González, one theory is that the name originates from the Quechua word “Tacuni”, which means mixing one thing to another (Acosta González: 2011). A second theory, advanced by Yeshayahu proposes that the name comes from the Swahilli word “Taka”, which means “food” (PROM PERU: 2022). Whatever the case, there is no doubt that TACU TACU draws from Peru’s rich racial and ethnic diversity.
Now let’s get back to Chicago. In the Windy City the cuisine is also a clear manifestation of its diversity: deep dish pizza, flamed saganakis and jibaritos. Food from all the over world adorn the neighborhoods of Chicago: Vietnamese and Ethiopian in Uptown, Mexican in Pilsen, Greek in Near the West Side, among many others. It’s hard to decide where to eat next time in Chicago right? I want to propose a partial solution: eating in a Peruvian Restaurant. You will find flavors from Asia, Africa, Europe, and Latin America in a Peruvian dish. A literal and metaphorical melting pot, like Chicago. It does not matter if you are a Peruvian, a newcomer to the city from any part of the world, or a Chicagoan born and bred, you might find a taste of home in a Peruvian dish.
Thank you for listening to my podcast. Until next time, signing off from Chicago, Ricardo Rizo Patron from ELI’s Finding Chicago Global Perspectives Podcast Series
ACOSTA GONZÁLEZ, M. (2011, April 2). Historias del tacu tacu, un “calentao” preparado por manos morenas. El Comercio. https://elcomercio.pe/gastronomia/peruana/historia-tacu-tacu-calentao-preparado-manos-morenas-noticia-736393/?ref=ecr
ASIMOV, E. (1999, May 26). Peruvian Cuisine Takes on the World. The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/1999/05/26/dining/peruvian-cuisine-takes-on-the-world.html
GILL, N. (2018, December 4). A History of Peru in 9 dishes. Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown. Created by: Roads & and Kingdoms and CNN. https://explorepartsunknown.com/peru/a-history-of-peru-in-9-dishes/
LIAO, H. (2019, December 10). How Cesar Izquierdo started a premiere Chicago Peruvian restaurant. Medill Reports Chicago. Northwestern University. https://news.medill.northwestern.edu/chicago/how-cesar-izquierdo-started-a-premiere-chicago-peruvian-restaurant/
PROM PERU (2022, January 21). A mixture of Peruvian and African flavors: the history of Tacu Tacu. PERU: Ministerio de Comercio Exterior y Turismo. https://peru.info/en-us/gastronomy/news/2/12/a-mixture-of-peruvian-and-african-flavors–the-history-of-tacu-tacu#:~:text=%E2%80%9CThe%20word%20tacu%2Dtacu%20arises,by%20the%20Inquisition%20of%20Lima.
VERA, N. (2021, June 12). Three Generations of Fathers, One Timeless Afro-Peruvian Breakfast. Food52. https://food52.com/blog/26274-my-family-recipe-tacu-tacu-and-lessons-in-fatherhood
VETTEL, P; and PANG, K. (2014, January 2). Dining in 2013: Happy surprises, big loses. Chicago Tribune. https://www.chicagotribune.com/dining/chi-dining-year-review-20130102-20140102-column.html
Addicted to Gloves by radiotimes feat. BoHeart & Colin Mutchler. http://dig.ccmixter.org/files/radiotimes/19763