Zoila Villanueva's breaded pitu is a simple dish. A dough of flour and water mixed with some sauteed onion and tails of freshwater prawns, similar to crayfish, finely chopped, fried in small portions. It is also one of those delicacies that remain forever in the memory, sometimes by its very nature, and sometimes by what they mean. I have just been served at Las Nieves, the picantería commanded by Zoila in Hunter, about 15 minutes from Arequipa. The pitu is a reasonably large variety of crustacean, well-armed shell and tasty meat, very abundant in the region. It is at the heart of the traditional recipes of this Andean area in southern Peru.
Then the shrimp bunker arrives. It is another version of the breaded, but thicker, with the pitus in large pieces, first fried and then stewed in sauce. Both dishes retain the flavors of the usual cuisine. They are references of the root recipe, comforting and familiar, offered in picanterías, a kind of typical restaurant that are a true institution in Arequipa.
Zoila opened Las Nieves (303 Nicaragua, behind the police station in Hunter) 34 years ago to make a living. It was like other businesses in the industry; humble establishments, found almost at random. The picantera cooked at home and served where she could. On the patio, in the family dining room, in the kitchen or under the door frame, next to the street. His life was associated with the sale of chicha de guiñapo (fermented drink, based on a local variety of dark corn) and was a business for men, run by women. With all that it entails.
In addition to chicha, batán is the other picantero emblem. It is a large flat stone, with a cavity in the center, on which condiments and other ingredients for sauces are ground, using another round stone, of considerable size, which requires skill and patience to handle.
Today, Las Nieves is a well-known and respected establishment, structured around a large, clean and well-kept courtyard. Zoila lets her 90 years old rest in a manor chair, anchored after the kitchen window, where she controls the rhythm of the dishes and the cashier, while her daughter, Tatiana, takes care of the rest. It is a thriving restaurant, in a sector that today has a social prestige that has eluded him for so long.
This is clear in La Nueva Palomino (passage Leoncio Prado, 142, Yanahuara), in the city of Arequipa. The restaurant has not stopped growing since it was taken over by Mónica Huerta, granddaughter of the founder, Juana Palomino, and not only in space; also in culinary terms, offering novelties that show an evolved, bourgeois look, sprinkled with refinement that makes a difference. The ground black chowder stew and the duck with almonds are two prodigious examples of the effect of passing the popular recipe through the filter of bourgeois cuisine. The popular zarza of seafood and quinoa batida also demand attention.
The picantera cuisine knows a lot of differences. It has some opulent features, and others much more humble. That's where the Los Geranios restaurant comes in, about 20 minutes from Arequipa (av. Arequipa, 239, Tiabaya), a basic place, but completely filled by its cuisine. The stuffed rocoto, the tail of crayfish and the scriban - a popular potato, tomato and rocoto salad, seasoned with guiñapo chicha - are engraved in that little place that memory reserves for great flavors.
The simplicity extends to the shed that houses the kitchen and lounge of La Capitana (208 Los Arces Street, Cayma), back in the center of Arequipa. There, José Díaz, the first picantero that is known in these parts, commands. A man who breaks standards in a place that preserves the usual flavor: dim light, washed wooden tables, oilcloth towels, the smoke from the wood stove dictating the rhythm of life and dishes that deserve a break: breaded lettuce, pumpkin aji and a good stuffed rocoto.
There are about 40 establishments, but some stand out. There are La Benita (Plaza Principal, 114, Chatracato), with the real institution that is Mrs. Benita Quicaño in charge of the kitchen, and La Lucila (Rua Grau, 147, Sachaca) and her tremendous suck of shrimps.