In the constant search for healthy, natural food options that are also very tasty, made with love and the closest thing to homemade, we head over to food apps on our phones, in search of comments or recommendations. And I say this because my own girlfriend can spend up to 45 minutes on her cellphone looking for lunch or dinner options
But, sadly, we have forgotten to return to our foundations, our traditions- to the most elemental parts of our history, our ancestral legacies. For example: the amazing Peruvian picanteria. And if for a moment you think: “mmm Picanteria … that must be greasy, smelly, heavy to digest.” You are very wrong. Especially when considring La Nueva Palomino.
Picanterias are a part of the Arequipa culinary tradition: they are temples of good food. Built with recipes improved through the centuries, indigenous-mestizo-Spanish wisdom, sophisticated convent techniques and with key elements such as: chili peppers like rocoto, shrimp and guinea pigs, corn and güiñapo (germinated purple corn), potatoes and chuños, huacatay; and Arequipa’s papaya and tumbo fruit.
Places to eat with the “chupe philosophy”: meaning, prepared with ancestral knowledge. The picanteria food has a tinge of sanctity; out of all exaggeration, it is healing food. If you are vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free, keto, paleo, or basically a meat lover, this is the place for you and your friends with various diets.
Trust me, I have gluten dietary restrictions and ate with absolute pleasure, nonchalance, and great surprise. You just need to tell your waiter what you are looking for, or the great Monica Huerta, the owner of La Nueva Palomino who will personally make sure you are well served.
So, because of the pandemic, many of us no longer visit restaurants or only specific ones. Let me reassure you and tell you that La Nueva Palomino is amazing and mind-blowing with its biosafety requirements. I guarantee you that not even in Lima have I seen such a demand for safety and cleanliness: it was worthy of admiration and, above all, a much needed relief. Monica explained that she hired a series of expert professionals to guarantee and certify the care for both her guests and her team, which has not been easy, fast or cheap; however, it was indispensable.
The restaurant has been reconstituted in areas: pick up and delivery, waiting area and dining area. The owner says that if the requirement is to reduce the capacity by 40 to 50%, she made sure to cut it by 60%. In addition, she showed us how in all the dining areas, the ceilings are high and the spaces open. She has removed the typical tablecloths and menu cards; and has sent to make special tables that are easy to disinfect with each use.
She has thought of everything, even when choosing, each table has the QR code incorporated so that those of us who prefer to navigate the menu can do it on our own screens; or posters, ad hoc, so that the elderly can read the culinary offer. La Nueva Palomino has rigorously trained its staff to take extra care, more than necessary, without losing their affection and attention to detail. And when it comes to home delivery service, Monica has a special team of her own.
As soon as we got there, we went through a rigorous exterior disinfection process. And Monica quickly greeted us with a sweet heart that we did not expect. She gave us hours of time, information and effort that many owners do not offer. She gave us a tour, including the garden and organic farm.
She even cooked and showed us, step by step, how to prepare: soltero de queso and the incomparable ocopa de camarones. The first, which might seem simple, is not; it’s packed with little tricks and flavor. Beyond being a simple salad with finely chopped vegetables in which you mix everything – carrot, boiled egg, corn “wawito” (very fresh), broad bean, fresh cheese, olive oil, Arequipa onion, tomato, parsley, pepper and vinegar, accompanied by potato and sweet potato- is a synergy of flavor. So very different from cafeteria or fast food salads.
The ocopa took longer because it required ancestral techniques learned historically and more sophisticated ingredients such as Arequipa shrimp from the Majes Valley -quite different from sea shrimp in size (almost 25cm), color and particularly very tasty-, ají mirasol “jaspeado” (a traditional way to toast), huacatay plant, onion, garlic, “egg yolk” potato, previously prepared “jaspeado” shrimp, walnut, cumin, vanilla cookies and “jasepado” garlic.
But, here I must stop and comment on something that is essential: La Nueva Palomino does not use a single blender, mixer, stoves, heaters or appliances that accelerate the culinary processes. Absolutely everything is prepared by hand with a “batan” (stone mill) or to firewood and fire. The urgency of the world has to stop here, it must; because it is a luxury, quite like if you are experiencing a cooking museum; even the devil would wait for the food at this restaurant. By this I don’t mean that things are slow; what I’m saying is that everything is done with ancient techniques.
The preparation marveled us; it seemed like a movie where everything happened very fast (due to her expertise) and at the same time very slow, the smells captivated and anticipated the mind for something that was announced as coming from divinities.
At this point we were full; but Monica offered us quinoa with tenderloin, a dish that I assure you will leave you speechless: almost like a three-cheese risotto, but quinoa instead of rice; and the softest and most flavorful beef. She was not done giving, of course not; her generosity is endless.
She gave us the traditional queso helado and queso helado with papaya Arequipeña… and we learned that there will always be a place in the stomach for such heavenly desserts. It is not a joke; they were delicious. The patient technique is what made them so flavorful; the first one is just made of milk, sugar and ice and the addition of Arequipa papaya for the second.
When we were already overflowing with gratitude, she let us know that we needed to try a little more: buñuelos and picarones. They were soft, very well harmonized, with a very delicate gourmet flavor.
If you want a historical experience, one that is provided with a lot of care, love and good treatment – as well as, rich and healthy food – you better eat at La Nueva Palomino. I guarantee that you will be admired by the process, more than satisfied and with a happy heart.
Perhaps you even leave with the desire to cook what you ate there. For this, they have implemented the sale of original supplies in La Recova, a beautiful little corner shop. I almost forgot: what they don’t grow or raise right there, they buy it from local producers because it is extremely important for them that everything comes out of the ground and is fresh; that it is not processed in large plants with preservatives and flavorings. This is the La Nueva Palomino philosophy.
All photos: Maria Alejandra Baraybar