SOMERVILLE (CBS) – In southern Peru, the ruins of Machu Picchu sit high on a mountain ridge, fairly intact for a 15th-century relic. In Union Square, Somerville, Machu Picchu sits on Somerville Avenue, a roomy restaurant offering an authentic taste of Peru — complete with Andean music (and not just flutes).
Peruvian food relies on a few staple crops — corn and potatoes, especially — and is heavily influenced by Spanish cuisine, so most of the ingredients at Machu Picchu are familiar, but the dishes themselves tend toward strange combinations I haven’t encountered before. Bisteck A Lo Pobre, for example, consists of steak with fried plantains and a sunny side up egg… and french fries… and rice. Palta Primavera features avocado halves, filled with chicken salad. A few less common cuts of meat, like beef heart and tripe, make an appearance. Perhaps the most surprising section of the menu is the page that is vaguely Chinese-influenced. Several dishes are described as Chinese-Peruvian fried rice. Another choice features spaghetti and soy sauce. Later, I learned that these dishes are examples of a cuisine called Chifa — what 20th and 21st century Chinese immigrants created with the Peruvian ingredients available to them.
We started off our meal with an obligatory Pisco Sour, Peru’s national cocktail. Chile, however, also claims creation of this drink, which contains Pisco (a grape brandy), lime juice, egg white, simple syrup, and bitters. The bitters on mine formed a heart — a nice touch, or maybe just a lucky pour. Regardless of its true origins, it’s a very satisfying drink!
One of my favorite parts of the meal was the complimentary snack, cancha — giant toasted corn kernels. Hot, salty, and crunchy, these goodies are absolutely addictive. If cooked too long, would these pop into giant pieces of popcorn?
As for the entrees, we weren’t disappointed. We chose a ceviche (raw fish marinated in lime juice) — a national dish of Peru, says the menu — and carapulcra, one of the dishes described as an ancient recipe. The ceviche was light and fresh, worthy of representing its country as a national dish. The carapulcra, a stew of dried potatoes and chicken, was hearty and comforting, a simple dish making use only of staples that could have been found in Incan times.
The live music seemed to carefully navigate the border between tacky and festive. While some might find it irritating, I thought it added to the restaurant’s charm and its ambience. The service was flawlessly friendly, and every dish was a small adventure into the Lost City of the Incas.
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Rachel Leah Blumenthal is a Somerville-based writer, photographer, and musician. She writes about food on her blog, Fork it over, Boston!, and runs Boston Food Bloggers, a networking community. For more information, visit RachelBlumenthal.net.