(Peruvian) Food For Thought
It was a normal morning at work. I was just about to get started on some customer reports until my dad called to tell me about this cool LA Times article on a hip and fairly new Peruvian restaurant, Rosaline. Curious and excited to see what the buzz was about, I went ahead and read it. The article itself was very well-written, as it visually described a decent amount of Peruvian food staples, along with some new fusion dishes I had never heard of—but seemed to get the most praise. Phrases like, “It’s hard to have a bad time here”, and more made me smile with pride. While it did not sound like the traditional Peruvian restaurants I have been to and love, I decided to try to be open to this new concept. However, I was still confused and intrigued as to what this new fusion actually consisted of so I went on Yelp and searched the restaurant. Centered in the busy and contemporary West Hollywood, I more or less got a better idea of what this place was about. With its neon pink sign, hanging succulents, photo op ready walls and decor, and tiny-modernly-decorated and placed food servings, this was by no means a traditional Peruvian restaurant.
What really confirmed my suspicion was a review by a Yelper himself saying, “Rosaline...is lean, mean, and must be seen. This is no antediluvian Peruvian place. It's hip, it's hot, it's everything most Peruano joints are not. No jalea, no chaufa, and no wrinkled weathered ladies in Pork Pie Hats bringing you warm cusquena beer.”…Spiraled into a warp of never ending thought and emotions, I was not quite sure how to take that comment. While the rest of the review was actually positive and praised Rosaline, it hit me that not many people really know what Peruvian cuisine is really about. Not trying to turn this into a history lesson, but the great and ancient Incan Empire of Peru was conquered by Spanish conquistadors led by Francisco Pizarro. From that conquest, Peru became open to many other cultures that eventually settled and highly influenced its culture now in areas like language, religion, and of course, food. In particular, Spanish, Chinese, and Italian food culture dominantly integrated and morphed itself into what the Peruvian cuisine is now. Its distinctive plates like lomo saltado, arroz Chaufa, pollo a la brasa, papa a la huancaina, ceviche, and many more represent Peru. These new fusion dishes like poke ceviche, Chaufa paella, or plates that are named as traditional dishes do not nearly resemble them one bit in pictures. I count myself as lucky to experience some of the food first hand in Peru throughout my childhood, but when I came to the States, the story changed. Finding some restaurants were hard, and finding authentic ones were harder. While my family was able to find amazing restaurants like Lola’s in Glendale, El Rocoto in Gardena, or Pablito’s in Burbank, they do not nearly get half the hype or praise that restaurants like Rosaline get.
Why is that? Is it that people do not know enough about traditional staples? Or do people not like them? Or do they prefer the new fusion, trendy, and hipster Peruvian places? Do people really need an unnecessary organic baby kale salad and quinoa-avocado toast with their meal? Is an arroz con pollo with some pisco sour not good enough? Or is it that the restaurants like Lola’s or El Rocoto need to better their promotions and marketing strategies? I mean, El Rocoto’s last Instagram post was in 2013. I personally think it’s a mixture of all these concepts. Here you have some great restaurants deemed as hidden gems, while the most popular ones are giving people an altered and unclear impression on what Peruvian food actually is.
I do not think of myself as some genius food critic or expert on Peruvian cuisine—and have not tried Rosaline yet. While it isn’t coinciding with my current opinions and thoughts, I do find it very impressive that a Peruvian chef has built a successful restaurant in one of LA’s most sought out neighborhoods. All biases and personal opinions aside, it is quite an accomplishment, and a step forward to introducing Peruvian food to more audiences. Most importantly, he did manage to brand his restaurant to the level of other celebrity packed food hubs. So hats off to the chef for that. Should you find yourself in a Peruvian restaurant, I highly suggest trying any of the staples I mentioned in this article. It will set your taste buds on quite the food journey begging to try more. And definitely try places like Rosaline afterwards. As a true skeptic at heart, I know I will.