Peru the day

Susana Contreras, who co-owns El Tumi with her husband and son, prepares the Peruvian dish <i>aji de gallina</i>.

Susana Contreras, who co-owns El Tumi with her husband and son, prepares the Peruvian dish aji de gallina.

Photo By Allison Young

El Tumi is open Monday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.

Peruvian cuisine reflects local practices and ingredients including influences from the indigenous Inca and cuisines brought in with immigrants such as Spanish, Chinese, Italian, German and Japanese. The three traditional staples of Peruvian cuisine are corn, potatoes and chili peppers. Staples brought by the Spanish include rice, wheat and meats—beef, pork and chicken.

El Tumi is a simple place that seats about 40. The menu has a nice selection of beef, chicken and seafood ranging from $6.95-$18.95. There are also soups, sandwiches and appetizers ($2.95-$8.95). The service is friendly and efficient. The first thing on the table was chips and salsa with huacatay, a native Peruvian herb related to marigold and tarragon, with an aroma somewhere between mint and basil. Among thousands of native herbs, huacatay has given Peruvian seasoning its unique zest from Incan to contemporary times. It was cool green in color and had just a bit of heat on the finish, very tasty.

I started with a beef dish, lomo saltado ($11.95), which has Asian influences, consisting of strips of sirloin marinated in vinegar, soy sauce and spices, then stir-fried with red onions, parsley and tomatoes. It’s served over white rice with French fries that look more like potato wedges. The flavor was subtle and savory while the fries added another texture.

Next, aji de gallina ($9.95), a chicken dish that’s slightly spicy and bright yellow from the famous aji amarillo peppers, and rich from the unusual cream sauce made with ground walnuts. This dish is traditionally served over rice, with boiled yellow potatoes and black olives. This was a thick, hearty, savory dish that had layers of flavors from garlic to Parmesan cheese to an almost sweet-spicy finish on your palate.

Then, I had ceviche de pescado ($12.95), marinated white fish. The fish was tilapia cut into small pieces marinated in lemon juice with tomatoes, peppers, onions, garlic, ginger, Peruvian spices and chopped cilantro. Unlike many ceviches, this was served on a plate atop a sweet potato with yellow corn on the side and finely sliced white onions on top with just a little of the marinade, not floating in a bowl with the marinade, like a more typical ceviche. The fish was tender, with citrus, garlic and a little heat.

There’s no alcohol on the menu, but there are traditional Peruvian drinks like chicha morada ($2.45) made by boiling water with purple corn, fruits, cinnamon, cloves and, finally, sweetened with sugar and lime juice. In Peru, the purple corn has been used for centuries. Purple corn is fast approaching classification as a functional food, an integral component of the diet that provides energy and essential nutrients. Served over ice, it had a sweet, spicy taste and was refreshing.

They also serve Inca Kola ($1.75), one of the most emblematic brands in Peru. Inca Kola stands as a pride symbol for the Peruvians. Also known as Inca Cola or “the Golden Kola,” it’s a soft drink with a sweet soft flavor from an herb called “Hierba Luisa.” The yellow, carbonated drink offered flavors like pineapple, a little bubblegum, and even some cream soda. It’s an acquired taste.

Take a trip to South America with your palate at El Tumi. We are fortunate in Reno to have the ability to try different kinds of foods from different parts of the world. You should challenge yourself to try a different kind of food each month, whether it is another culture’s food or just that strange-looking fruit that is in the produce section. You never know what your new favorite food could be, so just get out there and try something new.