Romance in a New Normal: Treat Your Loved One to Peruvian-Inspired Treats
It seems almost unbelievable that just one year ago, couples were celebrating Valentine’s Day by making reservations for crowded restaurants and afterwards seeing a film in-theater. While everything about that, has changed, love remains in the air as we hunker down at home with those we love most. If you’re looking for a unique and beautiful way to celebrate the holiday with your significant other, consider the gastronomic bounty of Peru. The South American nation has imported romance in its flavors and preparations.
POLLO FOR TWO
When considering this humble rotisserie chicken - a delicious dish, yet often relegated in our minds to a weekday grocery store meal, you don’t instantly conjure romance. Peru, however, mastered the most delicious preparation of a roasted chicken around: pollo a la brasa.
The savory chicken, introduced in Lima during the mid-20th century and then expanded worldwide, begins simply, as it’s slow-roasted over a wood-stoked flame. But the ease of preparation is deceptive. The fire roasting seals in the juices and the skin is deliciously crispy. Then, it is cut down and served, traditionally with thick-cut french fries, fresh veggies, or a simple salad.
Now, what’s so romantic about this simple meal? A whole bird, with its fixings, is the perfect amount to share and even save the leftovers. And, it’s easily picked up or delivered, making it perfect for an at-home Sunday Valentine’s. You and your partner can, of course, savor the chicken by itself, but why not spice up the evening with more Peruvian flavor? The Euro/South American influence on the dish really shines with the traditional sauces, and the aji verde is where you’ll find an addictive romance. The spicy, bright green salsa is the perfect pairing for the savory blackened meat. While fiery, you’ll soon find yourself unable to take another bite without adding some to the chicken - request extra!
Southern California is a world capital of imported food trends, so pollo a la brasa isn’t a fantasy food. In fact, there are several restaurants roasting chickens right now for delivery or takeaway. Pollo a La Brasa on Western Avenue, a Koreatown institution, has served thousands of hungry diners for a generation. The simple menu and no-frills atmosphere often features long lines and very happy diners. The restaurant is considered a Los Angeles “must-try”. Make a prompt order for this Valentine’s dinner.
In the Beach Cities, The Chicken Shack reigns supreme for all birds a la brasa. The slow- roasted chicken, made with care for over a decade in Hermosa Beach, is the highlight of the menu, but the Shack offers all things Peruvian for diners, including specialties ceviche, lomo saltado and Peruvian-Southern California fusion foods like the “Shackadilla” a chicken quesadilla made with the famed roasted meat.
Best of all? The Chicken Shack is featured on several app-based delivery services, making its journey from the restaurant to your table as simple as picking up your smartphone.
While these two Peruvian restaurants are known for offering pollo a la brasa, there are close to 100 eateries on the West Coast featuring the dish, so you’ll find a location nearby no matter where you are in the Southland. El Pollo Criollo thrives in La Puente. In the West Valley, Limeña Peruvian Eatery is a newer option in Thousand Oaks and venerable El Pollo Inka is a chain with locations in Lawndale, Gardena, Rancho Palos Verdes and more.
While several nations lay claim to originally producing chocolate, it’s in Peru, with its long history cultivating and utilizing the cacao bean that chocolate has found its most crave-worthy form. Peruvian chocolate is often named the world’s finest, and a larger portion of Peruvian chocolate exports are single-origin and fair- trade than any other nation. So, skip the heart- shaped box of mystery truffles and elevate your dessert experience.
Ancient cultures in South America originally used cacao beans to make a strong, bitter drink similar to coffee. As European influence spread over the continent, cacao was blended with sugar and made solid, and the chocolate we know today was born. Much of today’s cacao comes from Africa, so single-origin Peruvian chocolate is an excellent way to taste the crop as it exists in its natural habitat. Cacao varieties in Peru have dramatic differences attributed to their growing region - similar to wine grape varietals - so trying a variety of chocolates from the country can be a gastronomic journey.
Another fun fact about this high-quality treat that will interest couples looking to maintain healthy habits: Chocolate is considered a superfood. Nutritionally dense and packed with wellness-promoting ingredients, chocolate (in moderation) is a healthy dessert choice, so feel free to have one more piece.
For something a little more indulgent than a dark chocolate bar, wash down your meal with an Inca Kola, Peru’s fun national soda drink. Flavored with lemon verbena, the wholly-Peruvian soda is intensely sweet, vibrantly colored and very unique. It’s been referred to as the “champagne of colas” due to its golden hue and intense flavor, so why not skip the bubbles and toast this “bubbly” (many first-time drinkers liken its flavor to bubble gum).
A BOUQUET FROM THE SKIES
No Valentine’s celebration is complete without fresh flowers to symbolize devotion and love; and no better flower represents this devotion than the Peruvian Lily, or “Lily of the Incas.” Native to Peru’s towering mountain meadows and now cultivated worldwide, the colorful varieties of these lily blooms will bring a smile to any loved one’s face. And while this may be a showstopping example of a Peruvian export, it’s only one of the countless native species Peru has given to the world, including potatoes, tomatoes, cacao and, more recently, quinoa.
The flowers, thought to represent playfulness and companionship, are the perfect way to take a breath during an already stressful year, reflect, and enjoy the company of your loved one. Add these lilies to your floral centerpiece or present your partner with a fresh bouquet and you’ll be sure to win this Valentine’s Day.
-Alan LaGuardia, Brand Publishing Writer