For the past two years, I’ve celebrated February 14 at 18 Reasons with a Peruvian pop-up dinner to cure a broken heart — a theme and healing menu inspired by a story from Peru’s Nobel Laureate author, Mario Vargas Llosa. This year, however, in honor of Black History Month, I wanted to create a menu that celebrated the culture of Black Peru — I wanted to bring people together for a feast.
But first, I needed to decide what to cook, so I turned to an empty page on my notebook and began to visualize, draw, and annotate the dishes that I wanted to serve. Four iterations later, the pages on my notebook had drawings of a menu with five dishes that represented the diversity and uniqueness of Afro-Peruvian cuisine. Presenting, the menu for an Afro-Peruvian Creole Feast:
Anticuchos de Camarones
Shrimp kebabs, aji panca marinade,
Beef tripe stew, aji amarillo sofrito,
yellow potatoes, hierbabuena
Escabeche de Pollo
Fried chicken drumsticks, sweet & sour pickling sauce,
Slow cooked papa seca & pork stew, cinnamon,
cloves, peanuts, salsa criolla, cilantro
Sweet & creamy manjar blanco,
topped with meringue & cinnamon dust
While the menu focused on traditional creole dishes, the evening was not only about food, or the origin and evolution of the dishes that I prepared. I wanted to introduce our guests to one of the most important components of Afro-Peruvian culture — music. So I also talked about the cajón drum, the music and dance troupe Peru Negro, and other artists that have reclaimed lost rhythms and songs.
When I cook, either at home or for a pop-up dinner at 18 Reasons, there is always music on the background and the Afro-Peruvian rhythms move me do dance. Music is the secret spice that infuses the dishes with the culinary soul of Black Peru. That’s why to start our dinner, I was inspired to teach the guests the chorus of a traditional Afro-Peruvian song, Zamba Malato:
zamba malato 🎶 lando
lando lando 🎶 zamba lando lando
Throughout the evening, I introduced each of the dishes and answered questions about the recipes. Together with the 18 Reason staff and volunteers, we plated the dishes in the front of the house, making the space feel more intimate, like being in someone’s home or kitchen. I also enjoyed talking to the dinner guests, and chatting about my upcoming pop-up dinners and classes.
One dinner guest remarked that the Carapulcra stew reminded them of a dish from West Africa, and another said that the same stew had the flavors of a dish from India. At the end of the evening, while some guests were lingering over a glass of wine and conversation with new friends, Zamba Malato was playing on the radio, and it made me want to dance.