PeruFest USA 2013

Have I mentioned that I LOVE Peruvian food?  Yes?  Well, I’ll say it again anyway!  PeruFest 2013 billed itself as a gastronomic adventure throughout the different regions of Peru.  Since I’d had a pretty good time at the Peruvian Independence Day Festival a few months ago (and, since there was a Groupon out for this one), I decided to check it out.  Luckily, I was not disappointed.

This event turned out to be much bigger than its predecessor.  So much so, in fact, that I didn’t get to taste dishes from all of the different food vendors (there were at least 20!).

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Right at the entrance, you’re greeted by the scent of freshly fried picarones (Peruvian sweet potato donuts).  These came from a stand called Lina’s.  These particular ones were made with quinoa, and were served with a very light-colored syrup with strong hints of citrus and passion fruit.

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Inside, there were a variety of restaurants, bakeries, bars, and caterers showcasing their Peruvian delights, while a live band played traditional Peruvian folk music.  It was so hard to choose, so we decided to go for the ones that looked the most delicious, or where the line to get some wasn’t terribly long.

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Our first stop was Mar y Tierra, which is in Downtown Miami.  They had a very good ceviche.  The fish was fresh, and it packed a punch.  I  got mine medium spicy, and still needed a drink right after.

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I was walking by this station by DelicaCecy Gourmet and told my companion that I wanted to try whatever they were serving here later.  One of the attendants overheard me and told me that they were serving seco de res risotto and lomo saltado risotto.  I couldn’t ignore the ingenuity of transforming 2 of Peru’s most well-known comfort foods into a gourmet dish.

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We got one of each.  Because, why not?  I would eventually come back for seconds and thirds of the lomo saltado risotto.  Despite it having the creamy, cheesy consistency of risotto, you could taste the Asian and Peruvian influenced flavors of an authentic lomo saltado in the dish.  The chunks of steak were incredibly tender and juicy.  The seco de res risotto was also quite good.  It’s amazing how they managed to mix two very different flavor profiles into one dish and make it work so well.

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Ceviche Box was nice enough to provide samples of their two ceviche offerings.  On the left was their yellow pepper ceviche, with a red pepper ceviche on the right.  Both were tasty, but the pink one edged the yellow one out a bit.  The sweet undertones of the red pepper really added something to the marinade.

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As I was walking by the food vendors outside, I noticed a woman chopping up some delicious-looking smoked pork.  The man standing next to her saw me close to salivating and asked if I wanted to taste.  I can’t even begin to describe how that pork tasted.  It wasn’t fall-off-the-bone.  So, if you’re the kind that likes your meat to fight back a little, you’ve met your ideal match.

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The name of the restaurant is Al Cilindro.  As the name of the restaurant implies, the meats get smoked in a big, black, steel cylinder.   The chef was nice enough to let me catch of glimpse of the cooking process.  In addition to the pork, he also roasts chicken this way.  The chicken was also incredibly tender and juicy, and the skin was crisp but not blackened.  It broke my heart when he said that they don’t actually have a restaurant here in Miami, only in Peru.  Why do you tease us so!?

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The next batch of picarones came from another vendor who was only in town for this event, and is located in Lima, Peru.  These picarones had the darker syrup that I expected from my previous experience with picarones, and were a lot heavier.  They were still really good, though!

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I was excited to see Mr. Chef’s table when I saw that they were serving shrimp ceviche in addition to fish.  The shrimp ceviche was in a yellow pepper sauce, while the fish was in the more traditional marinade.  I found the shrimp to be a little bit overdone, and I am wondering if they perhaps cooked the shrimp before marinating.  It may have been for safety, but who knows?  The fish was a bit too spicy for me.  It doesn’t take much to be “too spicy” for me, though.  My friends enjoyed it.

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Punto Limon was showcasing some delicious-looking ceviches.  I was too full try any of them by this time, but it was interesting to see an olive ceviche and a green ceviche.  I never did find out what made it green, though.

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Fusion Latin Cuisine had some braised beef that smelled amazing, but I was too full to try any.  I will have to make a note to check them out sometime again.

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We were all pretty well beyond full at this point, but noticed that Lima 51 (in Broward) had a consistently long line throughout the afternoon.  And, seeing as their ceviche looked positively spectacular, we summoned the Almighty God of Gluttony to come to our aid and help us with this one last push.  As it turns out, they had the best ceviche we had during our visit.  The fish had just the right texture that signified that it had been marinated long enough.  The rocoto and yellow pepper marinades were bold, but not overpowering.

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I recognized this lady’s picaron station from the previous Peruvian festival.  After having tried 2 other versions of picarones, we decided to try hers again.  Again, each were unique and good in their own ways, but I still think hers are the best.  They have the perfect combination of crispy outside and fluffy, chewy inside.  Her syrup had just the right combination of citrus and aromatics.  My friend also enjoyed her anticuchos (beef heart skewers), and has decided to try to replicate the flavor.  Good luck to her, but I won’t be touching any beef hearts!

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If you ever needed a breather from all the food, they were having horse-riding demonstrations outside.

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Or, kick back indoors and enjoy the live dancing and music!

I had a great time at PeruFest.  The food was great, and so was the atmosphere.  Just a bunch of people looking to eat and have a good time.  I can’t wait until next year!

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