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Thi'd Up in Peruvian Food

Chowhound and prolific food scout, Thi Nguyen has outdone himself in his new role as one of the food critics for the Los Angeles Times; producing a "full" monty as it were in today's Food section. Thi takes up the entire back page (I mean - Sherry Virbila only gets 2/3rds of a page) with a paean to Peruvian food in Los Angeles. Way to go, Thi! And it seems like you've mastered that "writing in the 3rd person" deal pretty well.

http://www.latimes.com/features/food/...

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  1. Wholeheartedly agree. Excellent article--made me want to go try all those places and enjoyed reading it.

    hp
    http://ravenouscouple.blogspot.com

    1. Excellent article, and BTW, a SV vs TN match would have an easy winner.

      On a side note, the "chaufa" rice reminded me of the word "chifa", commonly used in Peru to refer to Chinese restaurants in general. Not surprisingly, both are closely linked:
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chifa

      5 Replies
      1. re: RicRios

        There's actually a specifically Chinese-Peruvian place in Northridge, on Devonshire somewhere between Reseda and Topanga Canyon - didn't make the top ten, but it's an interesting examplar.

        But yeah, Chinese, Japanese techniques and ingredients are everywhere.

        1. re: RicRios

          I can't remember if this made the final cut, but the listed influences, from various sources, for Peruvian cooking include Chinese, Japanese, Middle Eastern, African, Spanish, Dutch, Portuguese, and Italian...

          1. re: RicRios

            Chau fan means fried rice in Cantonese.

            1. re: Melanie Wong

              If the wikipedia article above is correct, the words are imported from Mandarin and adopted by the Cantonese expat community:

              " Mandarin words were used in the creation of the name "chifa" (as Mandarin "chi" in Cantonese is either "heg", "sek" or "yag", a far cry from the chosen pronunciation). This is an interesting trivia that highlights the prestige of Mandarin (then not yet the standard official language of China, only that of the Mandarin official class) in a 19th and early 20th century overseas Cantonese community."

              1. re: RicRios

                Yes, I read the wiki before I posted and I take it with a grain of salt. I'm just pointing out that the Cantonese words for fried rice didn't need to be imported from Mandarin. It's been called that for eons in Canton long before Chinese landed in Peru.

          2. Great article by one of the LA Board's most astute and knowledgable food critics.
            But let's at least give a little credit regarding the length and size of the articles - SIV wrote about one restaurant, while Thi was reviewing two, yet alluding to about five more, and had to do some explanation regarding the various food items as a concept, unlike her not having to deal with an explanation regarding say a lamb shank or hamburger.
            Now if he would just do the same thing regarding coffee that started one of the longer posts on this board in recent times, including the new intelligensia on Abbot Kinney.

            2 Replies
            1. re: carter

              I'm not saying Thi didn't have more territory to cover in his Peruvian masterpiece - just that the LAT's editor saw fit to assign him to cover something with that breadth and length - (when Sherry normally gets the "lioness's" share of the ink) was definitely noteable to me.

              1. re: carter

                Intelligensia in Venice set to open end of this week/beginning of next week.

              2. Thanks guys, thanks a lot - it really pleases me to hear that you guys liked it. It's strange, with these things - it's so unlike the boards. You labor forever, you wrangle over cuts, and then you put it out there and then.... it almost vanishes. No comments, no discussion, you have no idea if anybody ever *read* the thing or not.

                I actually wish there was some way to do "director's cuts" of these things - I had literally 40 pages of notes on this thing, and there's just a stunning amount of awesome stuff from the interviews on the cutting room floor, so to speak.

                Mo-Chica is major. MAJOR. Big-time, world-shaking major. Writing in the third person doesn't let me say things like, "I was sticking my head onto the bottom of the lamb shank stew and licking each godlike droplet while trying to keep myself from entering into an epilectic fit of pure ecstacy", which was basically what I was doing. Like, Chung King major.

                Servorg - did you see the Priyani review last week? I was just thinking of you, actually - I think it'll suit your tastes *precisely*.

                13 Replies
                1. re: Thi N.

                  "Servorg - did you see the Priyani review last week? I was just thinking of you, actually - I think it'll suit your tastes *precisely*.

                  I did see it, Thi. I just have to give it a try when my wife won't be with me for dinner. And I have to say that the photo of the lamb shank that accompanied your Peruvian review had me "lusting" in my mind (with all due apologies to Jimmy Carter)!

                  1. re: Thi N.

                    Great job!!! :DD We must be on the same wavelenght... anyone of the places you visited do a killer Causa LimeƱa? We are addicted to Pollos el Brazero's version which is a little rustic... but is still divine! :D

                    http://www.flickr.com/photos/dommichu...

                    --Dommy!

                    1. re: Thi N.

                      Great article! I can't wait to try Mo-Chica.

                      1. re: sku

                        Oh, and Thi, one bone I have to pick, how could you write up Puro Sabor and neglect to mention the amazing picarones, the pumpkin doughnuts in syrup. Not only are they one of the best things on the menu, they may be the best restaurant doughnuts in LA.

                        1. re: sku

                          I did write it up. In the original draft. in the original draft, there was a whole paragraph comparing the relative merits of Puro Sabor's picarones and Danessi's picarones. In the original draft, there was a whole extra section on lomo saltado, with a tour, and cultural commentary. In the original draft, the discussion of Puro Sabor ran on for about 4 extra paragraphs.

                          The original draft was also slightly over twice my word limit.

                          Actually, the *original* original draft was triple my word limit.

                          Incidentally: they're a pumpkin-sweet potato blend. And the syrup is palm sugar. And they're *fantastic*.

                          1. re: Thi N.

                            So what was your conclusion with regard to Puro Sabor vs. Danessi's picarones?

                            1. re: sku

                              ...and is there anyway you'd consider releasing a copy of your original draft? I'd love to see all of that work you put into it...sort of a writer's cut of the piece.

                              1. re: sku

                                I imagine that the LA Times considers that their property. But, Thi can weigh in on that for the definitive ruling.

                      2. re: Thi N.

                        The L.A. Times doesn have comments? Because the SF Chron has comments for all online version of all their content. For example, here's a recent restaurant review that has 10 comments: http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article...

                        1. re: Ruth Lafler

                          No, they don't -- and honestly, it's one of the things that keeps me reading the online LA Times. Surf over to our local paper (www.ocregister.com) and read the comments and you'll see why I'm so happy for there NOT to be comments.

                          1. re: Das Ubergeek

                            Oh, I agree: the comments sections of the SF Chron are populated by some of the nastiest trolls and curmudgeons around. But if you can ignore them, there are some good comments and in the food section, sometimes some good tips. And sometimes if you follow a story, the trolls get their comeuppance (most notably, the Hans Reiser murder trial, where the trolls swore he was innocent, trashed the wife he was tried and convicted for murdering and said she must be hiding in Russia -- right up until he took the police to her body), which is always satisfying.

                            1. re: Ruth Lafler

                              I just can't read comments... it just raises my blood pressure. But I'm glad to know the information is there, I just see the signal-to-noise ratio as too low to bother.

                              The LA Times blogs have comments, of course... and the two papers (the Register and the Times) cater to, shall we say, different ends of the political spectrum. Which shouldn't matter on a food article but you should see the ghastly replies on any article in the Register about a Vietnamese or Mexican restaurant.

                              1. re: Das Ubergeek

                                What's funny about the SF Chron comments is that even though the paper caters to the moderate-to-liberal side of the spectrum, the comments sections seems to be mostly populated by Dittohead-types and libertarians. I think they really relish the opportunity to speak their minds in an atmosphere they feel is otherwise oppressive to their views.

                      3. Thi Nguyen is to Jonathan Gold as Kevin H is to Irene Virbila

                        1. Nice, although I wish that the Times realized that they have readers that live outside of the Westside-Valley corridor. Eg, El Rocoto in Gardena or Kotosh in Lomita. Maybe they think we all subscribe to either the Daily Breeze or the Press Telegram.

                          Although I was surpised that they included one in Norwalk.

                          8 Replies
                          1. re: mlgb

                            Geographic distribution of the reviewed restaurants has little to do with the Times, and everything to do with me. I claim complete responsibility.

                            I did go to Kotosh, and also both El Pollo Inka in Lawndale and Gardena (because I heard they were better than the more northerly El Pollo Inkas) - they just didn't make the top 10 of the sidebar.

                            There were always a choice, for the sidebar list, between even geographic representation and the putting in the ones *loved*. My personality dictates: put in the ones you love. (Incidentally, I tried... uh... 25 places, at least? Surprisingly, only 3 or 4 were bad to mediocre - very high hit rate, in general.)

                            There's some vague hints I had in some interviews/research that, for some reason, better Peruvian places were to be found in the northern parts - there are some comments, here and there, of OC peruvians driving north into Hollywood/the Valley for Peruvian - but I could never substantiate to my satisfaction. Nobody I talked to seemed to have any understanding of the distribution of Peruvian immigrants and restaurants in L.A. - there's probably a sociology dissertation in there somewhere. Why is it that Koreans have a Koreatown, and there's East L.A. and San Gabriel Valley, but no Perutown?

                            1. re: Thi N.

                              "Why is it that Koreans have a Koreatown, and there's East L.A. and San Gabriel Valley, but no Perutown?"

                              I have a theory, which I'll give to you right now at cost, not trying to make any money here.
                              There are centripetal societies, and then there are centrifugal societies.
                              Experience tends to prove South American expats belong in the latter group.

                              1. re: Thi N.

                                >>...there are some comments, here and there, of OC peruvians driving north into Hollywood/the Valley for Peruvian...<<

                                That's funny - I have a buddy from a small seaside town in Peru who lives in Westlake Village - he prefers El Recoto in Gardena and drives all the way from his home to location on Artesia for his fix. To each his own, I guess...

                                1. re: bulavinaka

                                  Weird... does he not realize there is a branch in Cerritos by the Mall? Neither branch has impressed me much...

                                  --Dommy!

                                  -----
                                  El Rocoto Restaurant
                                  11433 South St, Cerritos, CA 90703

                                  1. re: Dommy

                                    He likes the Gardena branch much better.

                                    1. re: bulavinaka

                                      I was at the Cerritos branch tonight and I think we were the only non-Peruvians there.

                                      It was okay but not as good as the food I had in Peru. Except perhaps the lucuma ice cream, I wonder where they get it?. I did like the lamb shank.

                                      1. re: mlgb

                                        You can buy lucuma puree in any number of places. I can walk around the corner to El Gaucho market and buy it from the freezer -- as well as acerola, cacao fruit, acai, etc.

                              2. re: mlgb

                                Is there any chance you could reveal if Kotosh and El Rocoto are worth a visit, say, for those of us who rarely go west of Western?

                              3. What makes Thi so great, and so much more important than SIV, is that he's reviewing places that (generally speaking) are never mentioned or reviewed by other media outlets.

                                I mean, heck, SIV goes around reviewing mainstream places like Drago Centro, Westside Tavern, etc. -- reviews I can get from just about any old fishwrap or magazine.

                                2 Replies
                                1. re: ipsedixit

                                  except... The District published Anticucheria Danessi on April 8th: http://thedistrictweekly.com/tags/ant...

                                  J Gold published Mo-Chica on May 27th: http://www.laweekly.com/2009-05-28/ea...

                                  PalB's chix has been written to death... etc.

                                  1. re: TonyC

                                    http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/568058
                                    "That's so 2008, that report is so 2000-late"

                                    Miles is definitely a chowhound and blogger reader.Very smart of him.

                                    Thi's writing is excellent, he has doppler chowdar, and is bringing a new sensibility to an otherwise tired or non-hounding group of food writers. These are great places he's writing about and the Peruvian report is a new narrative.

                                2. What an eloquent and interesting article! This is Chow writing at its best. The article's inspired me to start trolling for cheap tickets to LA this summer... I can't wait to try these places.

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. I'm surprised at the interest in Peruvian food given that 95% of people traveling to and reporting on food on the South America board go to Argentina.

                                    12 Replies
                                    1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                      Hi Sam. From what I gather in an informal poll based on South American expats here in the Westside portion of LA, Peruvian food is the favorite. Folks I run into somewhat regularly from Chile, Brazil and Argentina love Peruvian cuisine. A buddy from Peru considers it the best as well (of course:)) Of these four countries that I mention, I would say that Peruvian eateries are the most common in LA, followed by Brazilian, Argentine, then Chilean. I think maybe Argentina is so popular because it's more European in flavor/culture? You know South America far better than I do, but my assumption is that because Peru has suffered from deep economic problems, not to mention the political issues that have persisted for decades, the effects on its society and the cities' infrastructures have suffered. Ultimately, Peru hasn't presented nearly as favorable of a climate for tourism as say Argentina has. It seems those Peruvians that had the ability and desire to leave their country did so in droves back in the 80s through the early 90s because of the chaotic and dismal environment there, and it seems many ended up here in SoCal. So I guess at least in LA, we are blessed by the number of small Peruvian eateries operating here.

                                      1. re: bulavinaka

                                        Yes, I'd agree that Peruvian food is the best in South America, followed by Brasilian. Whatever else he may have done, Fujimori really got the country back on its feet by getting rid of the Sendero. In the mid-80s, the life and lights were literally out in Lima. By the mid-90s as you say, things got way, way better. No insult to you gauchos out there, but I just don't see why so many hounds travel to Argentina instead of Peru.

                                        1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                          I think when one looks at Fujimori relative to his contemporaries and previous generations of leaders in S.A., he was a saint. Particularly when one considers how he practically single-handedly pulled Peru out of collapse, I think the backlash that he experienced in recent years is a real insult to his legacy. Many expats who experienced the suffering prior to Peru's resurrection still have deep respect for the man, but I think the political forces currently in power are willing to deflect their impotencies and use Fujimori as a reason why all things are wrong now.

                                          >>No insult to you gauchos out there, but I just don't see why so many hounds travel to Argentina instead of Peru.<<

                                          I've been to neither, but given it's environmental and cultural diversity, I think I would find Peru to be fascinating. Not that I'd snub Argentina - it seems incredible too - but particularly as a Chowhound, I think for S.A., it would be tops on my list too.

                                          1. re: bulavinaka

                                            I'd love to meet you, but have to say, don't come to Colombia for the food. For food, definitely Peru and maybe Brasil. And it would be fun for me to try Peruvian food in LA.

                                            Bit of racism as well against El Chino. And Peru went back to its past corrrupt guys from the rosca. Sad.

                                            1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                              It's funny about how folks in Peru may feel about El Chino. The Peruvians I run into seem to embrace Peruvians regardless of their ethnicity. This always gave me the impression that maybe this was Fujimori's key to success there - no stigma attached to his ethnicity. It IS really sad that things seemed to have reverted back. So much lost after so much gained.

                                              If you're ever in LA, I'd be glad to stand in line with all the other LA Hounds to have a shot at spending time eating with one of our patron saints!

                                      2. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                        I love Peruvian food, but I'm going to Argentina. Why?

                                        Penguins
                                        Elephant seals
                                        Iguazu Falls
                                        Glaciers
                                        Tierra del Fuego

                                        Plus, I'm super altitude sensitive, and I think most of the things I'd like to see in Peru are at elevations where I would be miserable (although Machu Picchu is "only" 8,000 feet). I think if I were going to plan a trip to Peru I'd have to start with a week in the Sierras first, just to start the acclimation process.

                                        1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                          If you really want to go and do Peru (do you Peru?) then you can always look into getting an Rx for acetazolamide, (Diamox) and/or dexamethasone for assistance in getting over the hump (as it were).

                                          1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                            Great reply. But that all means not hanging around Buenos Aires. Most of the South America visits are to Argentina - almost all of those to Buenos Aires. I've had the best times foodwise in cities like Salta and Jujuy. Don't know what you'll find in the far south, but it should be the greatest of adventures.

                                            1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                              Thanks! Yeah, I'm spending minimal time in Buenos Aires. I don't find big cities interesting in and of themselves (I'm not into shopping and nightlife), so there has to be something else specific to spend more than three days (I spent eight days in Rome, but you could easily spend two weeks in Rome: one week focusing on "ancient" Rome and one week on "Renaissance/ecclesiastical" Rome and still have done only an overview).

                                              There are some chowhound reports on Ushaia, Tierra del Fuego, but I'm not expecting too much. In Igauzu I'm probably going to be staying on the Brazilian side, so hopefully I'll get some Brazilian cuisine under my belt.

                                              Meanwhile, the Bay Area has many Peruvian restaurants to keep me satisfied until I can nerve myself up (or drug myself up) to tackle Peru.

                                              1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                                While I didn't go to the Argentina side of Patagonia, I did go to Punta Arenas on the Chilean side. The one must-try I think is conger eel (congria) and you would never know it's an eel. The fisheries also specialize in king crab but chances are that if you are there in tourist season it isn't freshly caught. I assume they also do the grills (parillada) which is fine if you like meat, meat, meat. The lamb should be excellent.

                                                Hopefully you will get up the nerve to go to Peru, if you go straight to the Sacred Valley towns such as Ollantaytambo or Urubamba it's "only" 9,000 feet and most people do okay even without drugs. It's Cusco where you start to pass out and get nausea.

                                                1. re: mlgb

                                                  Thanks for mentioning king crab -- after googling around I determined I'll be there (in Chile as well, for a few days) at the beginning of the main king crab season (September), so I'll be sure to look for it.

                                                  Fortunately, I love lamb.

                                                  1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                                    Chilean food can be heavy, if you just want pure seafood be careful of "chupes" and the heavy cream and cheese sauces..unless you like those too!

                                                    Peruvian food is sooooo much better!