Peru: All About the Ceviche, Starting with Chez Wong
I first learned about proper Peruvian food in Argentina. I was there for almost a month just after handing my book manuscript in, and as great as the food is there, there is only so much meat that I can eat. I was staying in a lovely hotel, the Fierro, and they recommended that I try some Peruvian food, particularly Sipan.
I wasn’t sure what to expect. I was of course familiar with ceviche (raw fish in tigers milk (leche de tigre – recipe soon) and accoutrements). I had heard of cuy (guinea pig) and other bits, but I was thoroughly unprepared for the freshness and vivacity of the food. It was bright and aromatic with the gentlest of heat. Plate after plate won me over, and I fell in love with Peruvian food there and then.
I tried as many Peruvian restaurants in Buenos Aires as I could, including those cooking Nikkei cuisine, that wonderful combination of Japanese and Peruvian that was created by the Japanese immigrants to Peru (most famously in the west, Nobu). Ever since, I have wanted to go to Peru, and where ever I could I would pick up Peruvian chillies so that I could play around at home. Peruvian restaurants started to open in London too.
Two weeks ago, I finally went to Peru for the Chowzter Latin America’s Tastiest Fast Feasts, Mistura and Latin America’s 50 Best Restaurants. Quite a week, actually just 5 days as this was all the time I had. I managed to fit in 4 tasting menus at 4 of Latin America’s best restaurants, a trip to an Amazonian restaurant and a trip to Chez Wong too. I am going to start there.
Chez Wong is a restaurant that operates out of Javier Wong’s home in the gritty La Victoria suburb. With 10 tables and a strict bookings only policy, don’t try to just turn up here, even if there is a table, they will just send you home. Javier Wong, a Peruvian of Chinese descent, prepares all of the food, and there is no menu.
Javier appears brandishing a large flounder, looking like a Peruvian Samuel L Jackson, and proceeds to prepare a wonderful plate of ceviche. We each get one very large plate of beautiful flounder and octopus sashimi. They had been resting in the leche de tigre for just seconds and the flounder was so tender and the octopus firm and very fresh. A little bowl of chopped rocoto chilli was placed on the side, which I sprinkled liberally on mine. Wonderful.
Next up was tiradito. More of a sashimi style and often served with chilli, Javier pressed the flounder slices flat with the knife, before brushing them lightly with sesame oil (using a leaf of some kind) and finishing them with pecans. There were slices of raw courgette served on the side.
After this Javier proceeded to the kitchen and started to cook in a wok over an open fire a concoction of mushrooms (these were frilly and to me looked like seaweed at first glance), more flounder and other bits that he had to hand. This changes every time, and the result on this occasion was an umami rich intensely smoky fish dish, where the fish was completely rare and light. I just had water with my meal but there are other options of course, pisco being the national drink, there is also beer on offer.
The whole experience is fun and delicious. Javier cooks like it is theatre and the food is very good. It is a must for any visitor to Peru who wants to experience the full spectrum of Peruvian cooking.
Chez Wong (a.k.a. Sankuay)
Enrique León García 114
La Victoria, Lima, Peru
Reservations: chezwong7 [AT] hotmail.com
See also Nicholas Gill’s review at New World Review (which in general is a brilliant resource for Peru based food travel).