The high altitude of Doris Rodriguez de Platt's Andean homeland is said to cause its residents' hearts to grow in order to extract enough oxygen from the thin air. That her heart may be literally larger than most would not surprise the customers at Andina, in Portland.
Mamá Doris, as she is known, oversees her family's restaurant with the kindness and concern of a mother hen. And while talking tableside with customers about the cuisine of her native Peru, consulting with chef José Luiz Cossío de La Puente (whom the family recruited from Peru), or teaching Spanish classes filled with details about Peruvian food to the staff, she continues to be the impassioned teacher she was before her family opened Andina.
Peruvian food is a true fusion cuisine, taking bits and pieces of its past and combining them in exciting, often unusual ways. Spanish influence is seen in arroz con mariscos, a shellfish-and-rice dish resembling paella.
Grilled marinated beef hearts became a national dish after African slaves on sugarcane plantations found ways to tenderize the tough meat.
Asian ingredients appear too, a legacy of Chinese and Japanese laborers who came to work the mines in the 19th century; the restaurant's grouper with ginger, shiitake mushrooms, and chiles is an example.
The fresh tastes of this food are being embraced throughout the West, with Peruvian restaurants popping up all over ― from progressive places such as Andina and San Francisco's Limón to simple eateries like Los Balcones del Peru in Los Angeles, Mi Lindo Peru in San Francisco, and El Chalán in Seattle.
"The restaurant represents our family: two cultures together," Rodriguez de Platt says. "I love to see wonderful Oregon fish and produce cooked in a Peruvian way. The delicious dishes we make are a tribute to Oregon, and to my country of Peru."
INFO: Andina ( $$$; lunch Mon-Sat, dinner daily; 1314 N.W. Glisan St., Portland, OR; 503/228-9535)
• Ají amarillo. A yellow chile with a slightly sweet flavor and plenty of heat. Available in this county in jars or as a puréed sauce at many Latin markets.
• Pisco. A brandy distilled from several different grape varieties grown in South America, it is the national drink of Peru and comes in many styles―from smooth and sippable to rough and fiery. (Chile also produces pisco, although Peru contends that the Chilean version is not real pisco but a Chilean brandy that needs its own name.) Pisco became popular in California during the Gold Rush, when Peruvian miners there extolled its virtues to fellow fortune-seekers.
• Salsa rocoto. Ají rocoto is a chile somewhat like a red jalapeño. Salsa rocoto is a puréed sauce made with this chile and is available at many Latin markets. Asian Sriracha hot sauce makes an excellent substitute.
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