Cuisine from Peru’s lowland jungles is very diverse and delicious. It is characterized by the way ingredients are prepared and from the use of plantains. This fruit accompanies the majority of jungle preparation whether boiled or fried.
I can’t imagine lowland food without the plantain. When I was in the jungles, in Puerto Maldonado, Pucallpa, and Iquitos, whether in restaurants, markets or on street corners this fruit was always there, in every dish made by the caseras. It is to the jungles what potatoes are to Cusco. It is both found in soups and main dishes, what we call segundos.
In Cusco you can find restaurants that serve food from Peru´s three regions. They are scattered throughout the city on its various streets and avenues. Last week, my great friend Walter and I had a great experience eating jungle cuisine at the El Bijao Restaurant. It is found on Av. 28 of July, S-1 which is by the fourth stop of Ttio.
On getting out of our taxi we found the restaurant on the first floor of a five story house. Two black boards hung on the door provided a varied list of dishes. “Today we serve chicken juane, tacaco with dried beef, fried trout, majaz stew, chicken canga style, minced paiche, Loretano style chaufa.” These were among the delicious foods they prepared straight from the traditions of our jungles.
Inside the restaurant, the decoration made the place welcoming. On its red walls photos lined up with scenes from different places in the central jungle. From the wall hung 6 colorful dream catchers with the figures of birds from the jungle, such as toucans and macaws. The 14 tables were covered with checkered tablecloths in red and white awaiting diners’ arrival.
Comfortable at our table, we watched other diners arrive. The majority of them were people from the jungles. They made themselves known by the singsong nature of their accent and with the color of their skin.
Even before the waiter came bringing the menus, we already had in mind dishes that we might want. I wanted to taste again the tacacho with cecina, and Walter wanted a juane or a picadillo de paiche. When we opened the menu we found a great list of fish and meats. On it were photos of dishes that looked very tempting and whose prices were quite affordable. They went from 15/S to 40/S.
After looking closely at the menu, I decided to by Combo 3 which brought a small chicken juane, cecina, and tacacho. Walter chose a Loreto style chaufa. While we waited Javier, our waiter, dressed in a crème colored knit shirt and blue cap with a big smile brought us a small porcelain bowl filled with crunchy and sweet plantain chips.
Our dishes arrived. When we saw then in the hands of Javier we could tell they were filled and heavy. Once on the table, their aroma was irresistible. We tasted them and then each tasted the other’s dish. They were both delicious. The chaufa had a very agreeable flavor combined with the fried plantains and the hot sauce of cocona fruit and hot peppers. The grains of rice were all separate and you could count them while you ate. The plantain tacacho with Cecina was a bit salty and had a delightful crunchy crust. The chicken juane was flavorful and the green rice sticking together gave it all the flavor of the chicken found in the middle of the dish. It is like the core of the earth. All of these delightful flavors took us for a moment to the jungle. It was not exactly the same as they serve the dishes in the jungle, to be sure, but it made us feel like we were there from the similarity.
After enjoying an agreeable lunch and remembering our experiences with the food of the jungle. We asked for a camu camu drink. This fruit is seldom found in our city, but the flavor of the fruit water was good. It was sweet and with that unique scent of camu camu fruit.
To say goodbye, we asked Javier a question. What does Bijao mean? “Bijao is the leaf with which the juane is wrapped as well as jungle tamales,” he said.
We left feeling very satisfied and thankful for the wonderful attention and excellent food that this restaurant offered us.