Taste of Perú This Week at MB Convention Center

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"Towards the internationalization of Peruvian cuisine" is the unofficial motto of the first Taste of Perú Gastronomic Festival being held at the Miami Beach Convention Center this week.

"We want to show our diversity," says Julio Rodriguez Mendizábal when asked what he hoped to achieve with the event. Julio is President of the Peruvian Chamber of Commerce of South Florida, which has orchestrated this five day event (started on Saturday and runs through Wednesday). "We have a lot to show -- ceviche, papa a la huancaina - more than 5,000 dishes from different regions. We have the fusion with the Chinese, the chifa; with the Japanese, the mariscos from the Spanish..."

Rodriguez estimates "there are over 150 Peruvian restaurants in Miami Dade, Broward, and Palm Beach", and "in the next ten years there will be over a thousand. We are growing so fast in this business." Then he was off to help dish out food to the crowds that were quickly filling the hall.

El Pollo Inka was drawing big lines for its' causas and pollo a la brasa. The Peruvian restaurant started as a rotisserie chicken place in Doral's Airport Center Mall 15 years ago, but has expanded to a full service dining establishment.

Still, I asked the owner of El Pollo Inka, if pollo a la brasa wasn't a recent Peruvian staple. "It was always around, but in the '50s a couple of Swiss men living in Peru upgraded it." (The men he speaks of are Roger Shuler and Franz Ulrich, who in 1950 invented and registered the patent for the machine to cook the chicken on a specific type of rotation grill). But he really wanted to tout his national cuisine. "People are discovering Peruvian food all over the world," he said before reminding me that there are "more than 355 types of potatoes," and that "ceviche is over 4,000 years old".

The ceviche at the Center was super fresh, the bass cut into big chunks and invigoratingly soaked in lime juice with a neat heat bite. We drank the leftover ceviche liquid from the syrofoam bowls -- leche de tigre! tiger's milk!). We also drank Cusqueña, Franca, and Cristal beers, the clove-heavy chicha morada culled from boiled purple maize, and Inca Kola, the yellow, carbonated, sweet lemon verbena soda that is iconic in Peru. Sips of pisco sour made with the super premium Pisco O followed (more on this brand of pisco tomorrow).

Pardo's Peruvian Cuisine, Sabor a Perú, El Tumi de Oro, and El Gran Inka were also serving tasty fare, along with a few other restaurants. Biggest and most central booth belonged to La Cofradía, where Operating Partner Rodrigo Rojas told me there would be a new menu coming to the restaurant real soon - in time for its' upcoming fifth anniversary celebration.

The festivities continue today with Master Classes and Workshop on Peruvian cuisine taking place from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Hours on Tuesday will be noon to 9 p.m., and Wednesday the whole shebang closes down at 5 p.m. Tickets are $35 in advance, $50 at the door -- but only $10 if you can convince them you're under ten years old. For tix call 305-741-8099.

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