Comfort Food from Peru

There is something about food, no matter what culture you come from, that evokes such strong emotions in people. I can think of few other things that people will happily spend hours of labor preparing, only for it to be devoured in mere minutes, sometimes without appreciation for the one who cooked the meal. And what is it about cravings? What is it about cold, rainy days like today, that drive people to seek out their favorite comforts, even if they are settling for something less than the best? It may not be like how Mom or Grandma used to make it, but at this particular time, it’s somehow good enough.

Today was one of those days for J. Miguel. He took me to a hole-in-the-wall Latino restaurant in Arlington, Virginia called El Puerto Restaurant, located in the Columbia Pike area and specializing in “authentic” Bolivian and Peruvian cuisine.

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Before I go further, I have an embarrassing confession to make: I’m not a huge fan of Latino cuisine. I like Tex-Mex just fine, but I know it’s far from traditional. I think the few true Latino foods I have come to appreciate can be limited to papusas, salteñas, fried plantains and fried yuca. And trust me, I’ve been adventurous, having even tried anticuchos (cow hearts). There is that one time I had a fabulous Cuban lunch in Miami, but other than that isolated experience, I tend to like the fusion dishes, such as what José Andrés prepares, although those come with a pretty hefty price tag attached to them.

Anyway, there are a few Latino restaurants in the area that J. Miguel has taken me to that I have liked, but this was my first time at El Puerto Restaurant, and I went mostly for J. Miguel who, on this cold, damp, dreary day, needed his Peruvian food fix. He splurged on an appetizer and two dishes: Palta A La Reyna (avocado stuffed with chicken and a special sauce) and for his main course, Chupe De Camerones (shrimp and rice soup) and Arroz Con Marisco (rice mixed with fresh seafood, similar to paella). His eyes were definitely bigger than his stomach, but then again, that’s what cravings do to you. They are powerful feelings and reactions.

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Not feeling adventurous on this un-spring-like day, I settled for fried yuca, which actually didn’t disappoint, especially with the spicy green chili sauce that came on the side.

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While the meal itself was nothing worth blogging about, it was J. Miguel’s inner drive to have something familiar that touched me today. I remember living overseas in South Korea and just dying for a true Western meal. I would travel an hour and a half to a restaurant in downtown Busan, Korea that made decent Italian food; it wasn’t great Italian food but it was the closest thing I could find in this foreign land so different from where I came from. So I can empathize with the need to taste something that reminds one of home, for I remember being in similar situations as well.

There is just something about food that evokes strong reactions within us humans, both physically, mentally and in a sense, spiritually as well. It’s hard to describe, but everyone’s experienced it before.

Will we be going back to El Puerto Restaurant any time soon? Probably not. Despite the dishes’ appealing appearance (which I thought looked very colorful and rich), it just didn’t hit the spot for J. Miguel. Maybe it was how the rain outside made it feel even darker inside the restaurant. Maybe it was because our Bolivian waitress added her own tip to the bill, something that kind of turned J. Miguel off. Or maybe it was because his craving for something from home was so intense that very few things would have satisfied him today. Whatever it was, he didn’t find exactly what he was searching for, but somehow it seemed get him by and quiet the restlessness inside him. After lunch, we went home and took a nice, cozy nap with Gato snuggled at the foot of the bed, keeping our feet warm. What else is there to do on a cold, rainy spring day but indulge in comfort food and naps?

The warmth and sun can’t come to Northern Virginia and Washington, DC soon enough…

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