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Lima Cantina Serves Some of the Best South American Food in Australia

Perth’s celebrated oyster shucker, Jerry Fraser was born in Scotland, but moved, with his parents, to Peru when just one-year-old. He grew up there. Fraser’s dad was a mining engineer at one of the highest mines in the world, 4000 metres up in the Andes.

Fraser returned to England to attend boarding school, but not before he learnt the ways of Peruvian booze and food. He returned to Peru every year to see his parents and raise hell in the bars of Lima. He was a bad boy back in the day.

Together, we visited Lima Cantina in Leederville where his impeccable Spanish and encyclopaedic knowledge of local cuisine was invaluable.

Lima Cantina is a colourful venue with a huge mural on one wall representing the food and culture of Peru. The cooks are out in the open, prepping dishes in front of customers. The service is quick and informative. Pisco Sours, the national cocktail of Peru, came out quickly.

Tiger’s milk is not as hard to get as it might seem. No milking of dangerous tigers required. It is a fruity, citrussy, chilli-hot dressing for raw fish invented by the Peruvians for their national dish ceviche. Lemon juice, a little onion, fish stock and chilli. Very intense. After you’ve finished, drink the juice. Jerry says it’s the Peruvian hangover cure.

We’ve had many a tiger milk over the years and this was one of the best. It wasn’t tongue-strippingly acidic as many are, the sourness was matched with fish stock to create a balanced sauce, still citrussy enough to ‘cure’ the fish.

Lovely Tiradito is like ceviche, but instead of being cubed, the fish is cut in long strips like sushi. If the name sounds Japanese, that’s because it is. The Japanese diaspora in Peru has had a large influence on the indigenous cuisine. In Peru it is called Nikkei cuisine and the sauce is a mash-up of Peruvian and Japanese food culture. The sourness of the dressing comes from yuzu. The heat comes from rocoto chilli. Jerry warned that it is one of the hottest chillies in Peru. We need not have feared, it was mild by our standards but full of chilli flavour. Rocoto is a fruity, thick-skinned chilli. The tiradito sauce was bold and hot and plate-slurpingly addictive.

Side note. Chilli is a central American native where Columbians and other Central American states have been enjoying them for 6000 years. Chillies were introduced to the Asian and European world by Portugese traders. Chinese and southeast Asian cuisines without chilli peppers seems inconceivable and yet they are an introduced species, quickly adopted by the chilli-loving Chinese just 450 years ago, before spreading south to Thailand, Laos and Vietnam. Chilli fan Mao Zedong said, “if you are afraid of chillies in your bowl, how will you dare to attack your enemies?”

Anticucho is Peru’s most popular street food. In Lima it is chunks of beef heart skewered and cooked over coals. Beef heart is a stunning protein, especially when it’s undercooked but charred from the coals, but in respect of Perth people’s aversion to offal, it is replaced at Lima Cantina with chunks of beef rump cap. Pity. If you’ve never eaten beef heart, you should. This version was tender and despite a hard grilling it retained great moisture. It was served with Peru’s other gifts to the world, potatoes and corn and two extraordinary sauces conjured with a subtlety often missing in Australian made South American dishes.

Causa de pollo is a dish based on cold mashed potato, which doesn’t sound all that appealing. It was a plate of piped mash mounted with shredded chicken blended with Peru’s aji aioli, topped with sliced avocado and a 62 degree hen’s egg. It was a stunner. Who knew? Creamy, acidic, mildly hot, spiky, refreshing and immensely satisfying.

Peruvian empanadas are subtly different to those from Mexico, Columbia and Argentina. The pastry was flaky, soft and shortened with lard. It was crunchy on the outside from oven baking and, as you might imagine, is a far healthier alternative than the deep fried versions which are common across South America. We shared a beef and a chicken version. There is also a vego version made with corn, cannellini beans and cheese. The beef filling was light, crumbly and, again, lubriciously flavoured. Quite the ride.

I thought it was among the best South American food I have tasted in Australia, but I deferred to Jerry on the matter of authenticity. He gave it a massive thumbs up with a big smile. I guess he was reliving his youth on the streets of Lima. He agreed that the tiger milk used in several dishes was uniquely well balanced and racy. He too thought the empanadas were superb.

Lima Cantina is a short cut to Lima, Peru, if you can’t manage the airfares. It’s an ethnic experience dating back 1000 years to the Inca, attenuated over hundreds of years by Spanish and Japanese cultures. And it’s all rolled up in a garrulous, fun package of celebration and animated conversation from its Peruvian owner.

Source: Good Food