Look at the menu for Somos Peru, a new restaurant on the 5900 block of Nicollet Avenue South, and you might get a little confused.
Some dishes on the menu strike the first-timer as falling in the "that looks authentic" category—shredded meat smothered in different house-made sauces, or ceviche. Others sound very familiar, but from a completely different context. In Minnesota, thin strips of beef sautéed with tomatoes, onions, fried potatoes, and soy sauce and served with white rice is a plate more often seen in Chinese restaurants. At Somos Peru, it's owner Jimmy Custodio's favorite traditional Peruvian dish on the menu.
Custodio's mother, head chef Isabel Custodio, explains.
"Peruvian food has some Chinese, Japanese, Italian, Quechua, and a little Spain in it," she said, with the restaurant's manager, Sarah Hagen translating. "But the strongest influence is Chinese."
That mix reflects the often-unmentioned fact that many South American countries are really nations of immigrants, like the United States, all the way up to the top of society. Former president Alberto Fujimori, for example, is the son of Japanese immigrants.
It shows in Somos Peru's menu. Lomo Saltado—the beef-and-potatoes dish—vie for the diner's attention with Peruvian basil-parsley spaghetti called Tallarines, a pallela-like dish called Arroz con Moriscos, and a few pieces of traditional Quechua fare like Papa A La Huancaina. That's sliced, boiled potatoes smothered in a sauce with yellow peppers and queso fresco, garnished with eggs and olives.
Even with this diversity, Hagen said the restaurant recently had to simplify its menu as customers weren't ordering some dishes. The kitchen can still make some of the old menu items, though, if you ask. The restaurant still makes all its own sauces, though. Hagen said many aspects of Peruvian cuisine are built around a dizzying variety of sauces, like the lemony, nutty, aji panca sauce in the Aji de Gallina.
Somos Peru isn't the Custodio family's first restaurant. Jimmy, Isabel, and Isabel's late husband ran several successful Peruvian restaurants in New Jersey. When son Jorge's company transferred him to Minnesota a few years later, Jimmy and Isabel followed.
"For three years, we always wanted a new restaurant," Isabel said.