In 2012, Lima, Peru native Antonio Diaz and his late partner Marco Mellet brought the Peruvian “sanguche,” or sandwich to Bellingham, and with it, well-deserved appreciation for this world-fusion cuisine. Since its opening, Café Rumba has become a lunchtime hotspot.
I was fortunate to catch-up with Antonio after the lunch rush died down on a recent afternoon in his vibrant, sunny café.
Peruvian food had been out of the national spotlight until just a few years ago, according to Antonio. With an impressive list of cultural influences, including Italian, Spanish, Chinese, African and indigenous elements, it’s hard to believe that this flavorful and colorful cuisine evaded attention for so long.
In addition to food, Cafe Rumba tries to bring a bit of South American culture to Bellingham as well. Salsa night is the 1st and 3rd Saturday every month. Antonio practiced some of his dance moves (pictured left) for me while we were having our chat.
It wasn’t always Antonio’s plan to run a successful restaurant in Bellingham. Originally he studied aviation and business south of Seattle, but had experience cooking in restaurants, and even worked at a Peruvian catering company. He was struck by a passion for cooking, so he took a one-eighty degree turn and flew to France to study culinary arts and French.
With a long list of experience working in restaurants in the United States and after meeting his wife, he ended up landing in Bellingham as they have family in the area. His passion for cooking turned into a goal, and after meeting Marco while working at the Copper Hog, the two put their heads together and Café Rumba materialized.
It is easy to see why the two would want to share Peruvian fare with Bellingham. I asked Antonio what he likes to cook when he’s not heating up the kitchen at Café Rumba, and he listed off more spicy and colorful meal ideas than I could scribble down.
Peruvian cuisine boasts a unique combination of relativity common ingredients to give it its flavors. For example, Antonio often combines cumin, oregano, soy sauce and orange in his meals– or opts for a creamy chicken stew with Parmesan cheese and Peruvian peppers on rice and potatoes, called Aji de Gallina.
Antonio’s gave us one of his favorite recipe’s; Lomo Saltado. It is a perfect example of the worldly-flavorful fusion found in Peruvian cuisine. The meal contains Asian elements like soy sauce and rice vinegar, plus cumin, brought to Peru by Spaniards, and is spiced with traditional Peruvian peppers.
Lomo Saltado (for a print friendly copy, click on the orange share button to left)
- 1 lb sirloin steak, sliced into strips
- 1 medium red onion, sliced into strips
- 2 garlic cloves, chopped
- 2 large tomatoes
- 1 aji amarillo pepper, seeded and chopped
- 1⁄2 cup cilantro, chopped
- 3 potatoes, peeled & cut into strips
- 1 teaspoon paprika
- 2 tbsp. soy sauce
- canola oil, for frying
- salt & pepper, to taste
- steamed white rice
- Marinate the steak in the refrigerator for one hour in a combination of the garlic, salt, pepper, soy sauce, canola oil and cumin.
- While steak marinates, chop potatoes, season with paprika and salt, and fry in a pan.
- Place a wok over high heat. When hot, add the steak and marinade and cook for a couple minutes until brown. Stir in the tomato, onion and aji amarillo. Cook on medium heat for a few minutes.
- Stir the ingredients, and allow to simmer for about five minutes. Turn off heat, toss in cilantro and mix together.
- Add fried potatoes into the wok and mix together. Serve with steamed rice.
Antonio explained that the best additions to a Peruvian dish are pisco , a Peruvian brandy, wine or beer. He mentioned that although Peruvians produce excellent wine, you will have a hard time finding it around here. If you’re a wine person, don’t be discouraged—Argentine grapes are similar to Peru’s, and finding an Argentine wine is no feat in Bellingham.
Finally, follow with the nation’s famous cookie—the alfajor. Dulce de leche sandwiched between two shortbread cookies and rolled in powdered sugar and coconut shavings is the way to go.
Peruvian cuisine is the ideal way to experience a world fusion cuisine and the perfect way to mix up your diet if you’re looking for something exciting and spicy on your plate. Let us know if you try out Antonio’s recipe, have any other thoughts on Peruvian food, or have your own favorite Peruvian recipe that you would like to share, let us know in the comments!
360.746.8280, 1140 N. State St., Bellingham, WA 98225
Monday – 11AM-7PM
Tuesday-Friday – 11AM-8PM
Saturday – 11AM-6PM
Sunday – 11AM-5PM