Latin America is the destination I hope to tick off my bucket list of places to see. Friends who have traveled that far have all told of stories about how beautiful and picturesque the sights of Rio de Janeiro, Macchu Picchu and Patagonia are.
Frankly, a culinary tour around these Latin American capitals will be as good as it gets for me. But for now, I guess I will have to simply be content with a sneak peek into Latin American cuisine in Manila. Most people who have been in that part of the world attest that the Filipino palate will enjoy Latin American cuisine easily. From Mexican, Brazilian to Peruvian cooking, most dishes are served with flavorful rice, hearty meats and loads of tomato salsa.
Mexican food fortunately has been around a bit longer, and therefore more easily found around town. There’s one restaurant we frequent called Hermanos Taco Shop right smack at a gasoline station on Granada Street in San Juan. Hermanos is a modest, brightly colored resto with an almost diner-like feel that has been around for a number of years. The place modestly offers burritos, enchiladas, and quesadillas that are both filling and delectable.
For a more Tex-Mex feel though, we often head off to Army Navy, B&T, or Tex-Mex at the quieter food court in SM Megamall.
Another Mexican resto that we’re raring to try is El Chupacabra. Sometimes, a burrito or taco oozing with fresh salsa and a soda is just the perfect meal on a hot summer day.
The Brazilian churrasco caught on for a bit with cowboy-outfitted servers going around tables serving grilled meat and chicken from long skewers. In Brazil, churrasco is the term for a barbecue that uses a variety of meats, pork, sausage and chicken on skewer grilled in a churrasqueira. There are a few churrasco restaurants about town mostly at The Fort and Makati.
With all these choices, I still wonder when we’ll have a Chilean or Argentinean restaurant in the city.
For so long a time, my brother insisted that we ought to try out the Peruvian Kitchen Don Andres on Sgt. Esguerra in Quezon City. It was quite surprising that the restaurant serves family size platters that can be shared by at least a couple. For starters, we ordered the appetizers that were all delectable. Our favorite was the pescado (fish) or shrimps in ajillo, cooked in heaps of minced garlic and olive oil. Our other favorite was the octopus, Pulpo Al Olivio, served with crackers and Botija olive spread.
We also thoroughly enjoyed the ceviche mixto, a mixture of seafood marinated and cooked in acids or vinegar. Don Andres’ ceviche was not too biting as to make you cringe at its sourness. In fact, it was more citrusy than sour.
The appetizers are all served with a splatter of Peruvian popcorn called canchas. Looking more like unpopped kernels, the corn bits are in fact very starchy and still covered in a crunchy crust. To fully savor the appetizers though, order a cerveza or sangria to best balance the tartness and savor the perfumed aroma of these dishes.
For the main course, the servers first put three sauces on the table: Aji Green Sauce, Spicy Orange Mayo and Chimichurri. We had the lomo saltado, a sautéed dish of sirloin strips, onions, potatoes in brown sauce—much like a salpicao—and the roast chicken that goes perfectly well with the three sauces. But it was dessert to cap off our dinner that made the meal vastly memorable. Try the alfajores, a serving of shortbread cookies filled with Dulce de Leche. If you’ve ever bought Good Shepherd’s version of this cookies, then Don Andres’ version is a fresher one. The clincher still was Tres Leches, a sponge cake, with a creamy icing, served on top of fresh milk, then glazed with Dulce de Leche. It was milk, on milk over milk. If at all, our first peek at Peruvian cuisine in Don Andres certainly didn’t disappoint.
And until I finally set foot in South America, I’ll happily settle for a peek into Latin American cuisine for now.