Organ Grind: A South American Food Journal Part 8, A Peruvian Flower in the Desert
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Flor de Canela
Mendoza Province, abutting the Andes in west central Argentina, is a big smudge of green amidst a large expanse of merciless aridity. Its verdancy is owed to the enslavement of Andean snow: upon turning to water, it runs downhill to create Mendoza River, which is then channeled into a complex of irrigation ditches, where it’s rapidly sucked up by thirsty vines sagging with bunches of Cabernet and Malbec grapes. Coming upon the regions large wine-producing country from the desert is abrupt and startling. In a similar fashion was I affected by the discovery of an authentic and impressive Peruvian restaurant in Mendoza city.
Variety is a spice missing from Argentinian food (as is spice itself, largely). If your lust for steak is insatiable, have no fear; any place where humanity is extant in Argentina, there will be eau de boeuf wafting on the breeze, leading most often to a good hunk of meat bleeding into a fire. If, however, your yen for bovine flesh is easily slaked, then prepare for monotony.
The other main cornerstones mortared into the mostly monocromatic pavement of Argentine cuisine are pasta and pizza, both of which have clogged the arteries and anuses of countless Westerns for decades. The city of Mendoza is no exception in its slavish devotion to the Argentine food trifecta (steak, pizza, pasta). And, seldom is the occasion when a step outside the normative culinary boundaries is rewarded with anything but disappointment. Not the case with Flor de Canela, a gem of a Peruvian family run restuarant 20 minutes walk from the central plaza.
My first footfall upon their tiled floor was met with a shrill, gleeful scream issuing from one of two or three children running around un-tethered like fireflies. Posters depicting the greatest hits of Peruvian tourism were pinned curling and yellow to the cracked walls. The stooped gentleman behind the bar who I assumed to be the owner flicked a slow glance in my direction indicating a semblance of acknowledgment, which was invitation enough for me to park my narrow butt upon a plastic chair. Between mouthfuls of a spicy mixed ceviche, I gleaned from conversation with said fellow that the place had been around eight years, which makes it long-lived from what I understand of the Argentine restaurant scene. The next night I enjoyed a quick exchange with the woman of the house, this time while working my way through a chewy but tasty meal of stewed goat with rice and beans. Both visits served to restore my faith in the soul-restoring power of strong flavors.
P.S.: The ubiquitous empanada makes the Argentinian trifecta mentioned above a quadfecta.
Flor de Canela
Juan B. Justo 426