By Andrew Kolasinski
While Ceviche is Peru’s national food, Tacu Tacu is undoubtedly more widely available and is more often a part of daily meals. It is served in all regions of the country, and is made in a range of styles and variants, using local ingredients to create a unique twist on basic beans and rice.
The dish is believed to originate from slaves from Africa in colonial times. It was a creative use of leftover beans and rice, spiced with hot pepper and garlic, and served with pork, beef, or an egg, and slices of fried plantain. Usually it is formed into a patty shape, pancake, or tortilla, and then fried crisp in oil. Often bits of crisp fried pork or bacon are mixed in with the rice and beans. Lima beans, chickpeas, or lentil beans are commonly used.
It has evolved, depending on the region, into an upscale accompaniment to seafood, foie gras, or steak. In some kitchens it is not formed into a pancake shape rather it is served loose on the plate. In other variations it becomes almost a stew with a greater range of ingredients such as pieces of beef, sausages, olives, and mixed beans.
My introduction to Tacu Tacu was in Pimental on the central coast. In the beachfront restaurant, Tieda del Pato, with my fledgling Spanish vocabulary I asked for a meal of local fresh fish. I paid little attention to the main course of fried sole, enjoying the side-dish. The next day on Pimental’s fishing pier I witnessed a crew bring a 10 foot hammerhead shark ashore. Returning for a second dinner, my fish course turned out to be that hammerhead shark. As fine as it was my attention was again captured by the mysterious side-dish. My attempts to learn the recipe prompted my server to resort to mime and cartoon drawings, as she recreated the act of forming the ingredients into patties.
I was hooked on Tacu Tacu, but nowhere else in the country served it well as at Tienda del Pato in Pimental. A close second was at El Sombrero in Trujillo, where it was offered with the standard thin sliced beef steak. Also a great meal.
I’ve since mastered the art of making Pimental-style Tacu Tacu in my home kitchen and have impressed local friends with the spicy satisfactions of Peru’s everyday treat.
TACU TACU SPECIALISTS
El Sombrero Restaurant, Av. Mansiche 267, telephone 232-394, Trujillo.
La Tienda del Pato, Manuel Seoane 304 – Malecón – Pimentel, telephone (51) 74 452120.
Restaurant Big Ben, Av Larco 836, telephone 044-461378, Huanchaco.