Yes, I went there with the alpaca pun. I confess I have been waiting many years to write an alpaca pun. Luckily for me, Grand Hyatt Doha has given me a chance to indulge in my puntastic behavior.
But seriously, when the Hyatt invited myself and fellow blogger Gerald Tan to host a Peruvian themed dinner and invite a group of hard core foodies along for the ride, I didn’t even blink before saying yes.
The hotel is hosting Peruvian-born chef Bruno Andrews Santa Cruz who has brought flavors of his homeland to Doha…along with a suitcase full of Peruvian chillis and bags of golden nuggets of Peru’s famous Cuzco corn.
I couldn’t think of a better venue than the waterside eatery of Rocca to host our dinner and the week long promotion. With it’s outside terrace and its light and bright interiors and open kitchen, we were able to watch the chef make Peru’s national dish, ceviche.
Peruvian food is a fascinating hybrid. Heavily accented with lime, coriander, chilli and garlic, it also pays homage to the country’s multicultural roots and its geographical location on the Pacific Rim. Many food scholars believe this was the original “fusion cuisine”. Its influences include its indigenous population (thank them for quinoa!) as well as its migrants from Japan, West Africa and China. It’s not unusual to find soy sauce and other Asian ingredients in Peruvian recipes.
The dish is typically made from fresh raw fish cured in citrus juices, such as lemon or lime, and spiced with aji or chilliAdditional seasonings, such as chopped onions, salt, and coriander, may also be added. Chef Bruno says the curing or cooking literally takes 45 seconds. While the process is the same, each ceviche has it’s own character and flavors thanks to the amount of lime juice, the length of time it’s cured and of course, the fixings.
It’s a country that takes its food seriously. In Peru, there is a national holiday declared in ceviche’s honor. Any holiday about food is a holiday I can get behind.
Meanwhile, in Doha, the menu with more than 15 Peruvian items. A mixed seafood – squid, prawns, mussels, scallops – is both delicate and gutsy. The marinade, called Leche De Tigre (Tiger’s Milk) is saved and is served separately. It believed to be both a hangover cure as well as an aphrodisiac. Hubba hubba. That’s probably why they need a national holiday in its honor.
A tuna version of the dish marries the fattiness of this favorite with the acidity of the marinade. The addition of mango and passionfruit took even further – sweet and salty, acidic and tropical. I love a bit of fruit with my savory food. I’m very 1950s like that. A dish of garlic prawns was both familiar yet unique thanks to the hint of the sweet and spicy Peruvian chilli. I am yet to find a garlic prawn I do not like and this was no exception.
A Peruvian take on the “breakfast for dinner” craze is a stir-fied beef brisket served in a sandwich. Usually eaten in the morning, it’s encased in a ciabatta style bread and served with a spicy mayo on the side. This is worth waking up for.
A real surprise was the simply titled chicken with spiced walnut cream. Believe me, that description undersells this dish. This hearty chicken dish gets its enticingly yellow sheen from the spicy ají amarillo chilli, one of the must-have ingredients of Peruvian cuisine. The heat of the peppers is softened by a liberal dose of cream mixed through the walnuts and shredded chicken and it’s served with a boiled egg and black olives. This take glistens on the plate along with its accompanying rice.
Not every dish was a direct hit. A bitesized potato and octopus dish was rubbery and the consistency of the mashed potato off. Same for its sister version made with prawns, just a little bland. A grilled chicken dish with a firey sauce was also just shy of overdone.
Desserts are not my bag but I never say no to a donut. Picarones are Peruvian spiced sweet potato and pumpkin donuts served with a citrusy sauce that I wanted to bathe in (but I was in public).
The special menu is accompanied by a curated wine list or Peruvian cocktails including the slyly addictive Pisco Sour. As far as special menus and themes go, a lot of thought has been put into this, and it shows in the attention to detail and authenticity.
The Taste of Peru is running until 5 December at Rocca and features an a la carte menu of the dishes I have highlighted and more. All reasonably priced and beautifully presented in Rocca’s relaxed setting, it offers a glimpse of a cuisine that hasn’t really been showcased in Doha to great effect. If you choose well from the menu and be a little adventurous, it’s a real treat. So save the drama for your llama and try something a little different this week.
Taste of Peru Promotion
Rocca at Grand Hyatt Doha
Until 5 December
Tel: +974 4448 1234
Twitter and Instagram: @grandhyattdoha
*Life on the Wedge collaborated with Grand Hyatt Doha for this dinner. It was awesome.