A mashup of Peru’s greatest hits and where to find it in Tucson

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As prototypical of a Peruvian menu as an order of fries is for a burger, Lomo Saltado is one of the most recognized Peruvian dishes in the world, after ceviche.

With the literal translation of “jumping beef”, the dish uses elements unexpected in traditional Peruvian cuisine. Unfortunately, the “jumping” part of the title doesn’t come from a need to jump up and down while cooking the Lomo Saltado. It also contains no meat from a rare herd of bouncing cattle. Saltado rather refers to the stir-fry method used by the Cantonese cooks responsible for its design.

Lomo Saltado at Villa Peru (Credit: Jackie Tran)

Secondly, lomo, or beef, is rarely considered the protein of choice in Peruvian entrees. The Spaniards introduced it to their newly conquered land in 1538 and at first it was affordable only to the wealthy.

Given these factors, how did this Chinese-inspired, beef-centric delicacy break into the mainstream and become the poster child for Peruvian cuisine?

A fusion of cultures

The South American country’s location along the Pacific Ocean, Spanish colonization, and extensive geographic features make Peru an epicenter of cultural fusion and enjoy influence from almost every continent. Often overlooked by Americans in terms of cuisine, Peru has quickly been recognized as a culinary powerhouse by the rest of the world.

And they have the awards to prove it.

from Peru deserved ranging from “World’s Best Culinary Destination” to “World’s Best Cultural Destination”, making it appealing to foodie tourists and travelers of all kinds. Its capital, Lima, has also been named the “gastronomic capital of Latin America”. Fittingly, it is home to some of the highest rated restaurants in the world.

As the country’s list of accolades continues to grow, so does the demand for its signature dishes. While Ceviche is representative of the biodiversity of Peru, Lomo Saltado is relatively representative of the diversity of its people.

A symphony of flavors synchronized in perfect unison, Lomo Saltado is not just a plate of savory dishes but an embodiment of the cultural union that makes Peru, Peru.

Chinese

The mid to late 1800s saw a boom in trade across the Pacific Ocean and Peru became a player in the game. A need for labor brought about the Chinese diaspora in the country, which is why nearly 5% of the current population can trace their ancestry to at least one Chinese parent.

A Sino-Peruvian hybrid culture, called Creole, formed when the flood of immigrants adapted to their new home in a new country. From criollo, a new cuisine was born. Borrowing the Mandarin Term fan of chi or “to eat food”, chifa uses elements of Chinese cuisine with native ingredients from Peru.

Peru, meet the wok.

Chifa’s creations include Arroz Chaufa (fried rice), Tallarin (Chow Mein), Gallina TipaKay (sweet and sour chicken) and of course, Lomo Saltado.

Culinary genealogists and the curious can find Saltado’s first recipe in a cookbook published in 1903. Inside is a version of the dish with meat, rice and potatoes, but no onions. nor tomatoes. The Cantonese chefs then added the vegetables, putting the finishing touches on the modern Lomo Saltado.

Spanish

Dating back a few centuries to the 1500s, the Spaniards were on a conquistador tour of the Americas and had just visited Peru. With them they brought Catholicism, the Spanish language and cows.

The high cost of the newly introduced meat made it difficult for the plebeian class to access, resulting in only a few beef dishes in Peruvian cuisine. Over the years, its rarity has decreased along with its price.

By the time chifas (Chinese restaurants) began to take over the foodie scene in the early 1900s, steak was much more affordable and incorporated into their menus. Although no specific cut is unanimously agreed to be the best or quick-cooking cuts of beef such as tenderloin and skirt steak are often used.

The key to making a good stir-fry is to use a high enough temperature so that your protein of choice is seared and not cooked.

Nobody likes chewy steak, and what kind of Lomo Saltado would it be if the lomo wasn’t saltado?

Walter Salazar garnishing Lomo Saltado at Villa Peru. (Jackie Tran)

Walter Salazar garnishing Lomo Saltado at Villa Peru. (Jackie Tran)

Incas

No plate of Lomo Saltado is complete without the Inca contribution of yellow potatoes.

The love affair between the potato and Peru began nearly 8,000 years ago with the domestication of the potato by cultures that predated the Inca civilization. Abundant and filling the stomach, the tuber was considered essential, paving the way for early food preservation, storage methods and medicine.

Prepared as fries, the quality of the starchy, quintessentially Peruvian ingredient has the power to determine the overall quality of a Lomo Saltado.

There are different ways to serve potatoes. You could throw them in the wok and coat the fries with the remaining marinade juices, or they could be left crispy and placed next to the meat mixture.

Whichever way you choose, make sure it’s a well-fried fry. Even though people hate a chewy steak, the only thing they hate more is a soft potato.

Lomo Saltado at Don Pedro's Peruvian Bistro (photo by Adam Lehrman)

Lomo Saltado (Photo by Adam Lehrman)

Where to find it in Tucson

Culturally different from each other, geographically 3,000 miles apart, Peru and Tucson may have little in common. Where the two intersect is in their gastronomic endeavors.

Tucson was named America’s top food city in 2015, thanks to its agricultural history and the creativity of its chefs. The city’s culinary scene is quickly catching the attention of the global culinary community.

Sound familiar?

With a reputation for being serious about its food, it’s no wonder our restaurant landscape is rapidly growing to be more diverse.

Keep saving for that airfare, but in the meantime, check out these two local spots transporting Tucsonians to Peru with their take on this national staple.

Villa Peru

1745 E. River Road. #165

Villa Peru rang in its fifth year of operation on Friday August 12 with live jazz music and a ceviche festival. Fighting the urge to go for the ceviche, I ordered the starter listed at the top of the menu. You guessed it – Lomo Saltado.

Separated neatly into three distinct parts, the sautéed tenderloin, fries, and pyramid-shaped rice were layered so that no one component could overshadow the others.

My first spoonful went to the stir fry.

The beef was cut into shorter strips, slightly longer than a cube, and rested in a pool of dark brown soy sauce. Thick slices of red onions and tomatoes were added to it. Enough that you couldn’t miss them, but not so much that they overshadowed the meat.

Lomo Saltado at Villa Peru (Credit: Jackie Tran)

Lomo Saltado at Villa Peru (Credit: Jackie Tran)

Having had far too many experiences with tough fillets, I braced myself and took a bite. Warmth enveloped me almost instantly. There’s a reason Lomo Saltado is considered the nation’s comfort food, and I’ve experienced it firsthand.

The flavor of the soy sauce enhanced the flavors of the meat, giving it a much meatier taste. It also contributed to the tenderness of the beef, making chewing enjoyable rather than a chore.

Slightly wilted but robust enough to provide a textural experience, the red onions and tomatoes in the stir-fry would make any chifa chef proud.

To access Peru in your own backyard, simply enter Villa Peru.

For more information, visit villaperutucson.com.

Peruvian Inca cuisine

6878 E. Sunrise Drive #130

A diner will notice the differences between Villa Peru and Peruvian Inca cuisine the moment they receive a menu. The former simplistically lists its items with brief descriptions under each heading. Inca’s, on the other hand, treats its guests to a multi-page book filled with vibrant images of Peruvian food, landmarks, and its colorful owner, Fatima Campos.

Guy Fieri even makes an appearance.

Campos fell in love with Peru and her husband while traveling in South America. By marrying him, she acquired not only a husband but also a mentor in her stepmother.

Convinced that “the heart of a man goes through his stomach”, she learned to cook the dishes of her in-laws and fell in love again, this time with Peruvian cuisine.

Lomo Saltado at Peruvian Inca Cuisine. (Jackie Tran)

Lomo Saltado at Peruvian Inca Cuisine. (Jackie Tran)

Throughout its menu, you will find elements taken from family recipes in different dishes. One of them is in the Lomo Saltado. Stir-fried beef? Check. Fries? Right there under the beef. Rice? Recheck. Beans? Yes, it’s… wait, did you say beans?

Although unexpected, the bean adds a layer of richness to the dish that complements the already flavorful dish. Generously portioned, a pulse lover won’t be disappointed with the help they receive with an order of Lomo Saltado d’Incas.

Don’t forget to accompany your meal with a Pisco Sour. I heard it was a favorite of Fatima.

For more information, visit incasperuviancuisine.com.

A mix of Peru’s greatest hits

Peru’s road to gastronomic royalty was paved before them even before the Incas roamed the Andes. With customs from multiple continents as your vehicle and a colorful array of food enthusiasts as your driver, the rest of the world was bound to take notice of Peru’s remarkable delicacies.

While ceviche is commonly known as the first Peruvian dish, Lomo Saltado follows closely behind as the nation’s comfort food and a tangible model of the ethnic mix seen in the country today.

One could even say that it is skip to the top.

By taking ingredients from the Incas and the Spaniards, then bringing them to a crescendo with Chinese cooking techniques, Lomo Saltado is a celebration of thousands of years of history – all on one plate.

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