Chopan Kabob: Covid update

Editor's note: This is the second of a series of 4 mini articles written by Yara Elian, a High School Senior, providing an insight into how local Bay Area restaurateurs are coping in these uncertain economic times caused by the Covid 19 pandemic. If you are local to the Bay Area, please support these featured restaurants. If you are not local to Bay Area, please support your local restaurants- they really are in need of our patronage!

Javed Ahmadi always had a knack for cooking delicious kebabs. After immigrating to the Bay Area from Afghanistan, his friends were always excited to come over to his barbeque cookouts, knowing that they would have a special culinary treat each time. One time while his friends were over at his infamous cookouts, someone commented, “You are doing so well! Why don’t you open a restaurant?” The idea hovered in Ahmadi’s head. Soon, with the support of his family, Javed acquired a local kabob place which was already in business for the past 15 years. For him, adjusting to the new environment the first few years were exceptionally tough as he changed the restaurant to fit his style of cooking. However, Javed's reputation as an amazing cook and manager grew, and the restaurant got a huge following of loyal customers.

In 2019, the restaurant did exceptionally well and they opened a second location, but then the COVID-19 crisis hit. "Sales are down 70%", Javed remarked, "but we are all in this together''. Despite the takeover of the virus, Javed is very thankful for his customers who continue to support him by ordering takeout for pickup and delivery.

For customers who have never tried Afgan cuisine, Javed recommends ordering a family special that includes sizzling lamb kabob, tandoori chicken kabob, beef tikka kabob, beef kabob, and a side of daal. comes with family-sized rice, naan, and salad. It costs $49.95 and is enough for 5 people.

ChopanKabob has 2 locations in Concord and San Ramon. Javed runs the restaurant together with his brothers Abdul W. Ahmadi and Ahmad F. Ahmadi.
While “Sahtein!” means both “Bon Appetit!” and “You are welcome” in Arabic, the literal meaning behind it is “two healths”. When you say this word you are not only wishing double health, but also prosperity to those who are eating with you.

Visit:
Chopan Kabob
2699 Monument Blvd, Concord, CA
(925) 689-5488

Yara Elian is a Senior at Northgate High School in the San Francisco Bay Area, who loves languages, cultures, food, and writing.

Sabores del Sur: Covid update

Editor's note: This is the first of a series of 4 mini articles written by Yara Elian, a High School Senior, providing an insight into how local Bay Area restaurateurs are coping in these uncertain economic times caused by the Covid 19 pandemic. If you are local to the Bay Area, please support these featured restaurants. If you are not local to Bay Area, please support your local restaurants- they really are in need of our patronage!

Chef Guisell Osorio of Sabores del Sur remains optimistic even during the uncertain COVID-19 times. It is hard to keep the business afloat, overall sales are off well over 50%. The take-out business has been active but not enough to even come close to replacing in-store sales.

“We have found a way to keep our staff working while this crisis plays out”, Chef Guisell shares. She partnered with the World Central Kitchen (WCK), a non-profit supporting people who need a nutritious meal. With this program, Sabores Del Sur is providing several hundred low-cost (but delicious) meals per week which are then delivered by WCK to healthcare workers, first responders and school children in the Oakland School Dist. While Chef Guisells says, “It is an honor to be part of such a worthwhile cause,” I keep thinking about how incredibly big and giving her heart is. Very few are able to help others while they are struggling themselves.

After the crisis hit, many ethnic restaurants in the Bay Area closed completely. Sadly, Sabores del Sur is now the ONLY Chilean restaurant in the Bay Area, but it also presents an opportunity for Chef Guisell.

Guisell has been touched that a lot of Chileans have been ordering from “Sabores del Sur”. It warms Guisell’s heart that many are trying to support their favorite restaurants to be sure they don't close for good. She even had customers plead with her "Please don't close. You're the only place I can get a taste of home."

Since Covid-19, the restaurant reduced their operations to take-out and delivery and cut the hours to Mon - Sat 11am -2pm, although they are planning to open for dinner takeout and delivery soon. Chef Guisell is optimistic and plans to make good use of our open-air patio to seat customers with proper social distancing once Shelter-in-Place orders are lifted.

Chef Guisell is thinking ahead about how she can best-serve her customers in a post-covid-19 economy. She is evaluating many creative solutions for keeping customers and staff safe and is gearing up her tech people to be sure her restaurant is on the forefront of the changes that are coming. She is also working on packaging some of the most popular items for online or in-store sales, such as our salad dressing and salsa.

If you would like to make a South American picnic in your backyard, order some of Sabores’ famous sandwiches such as Ave Pimentón (Poached organic chicken breast with roasted peppers, smoked paprika, parsley & aioli) or Churrasco (Grilled steak with tomato, avocado & aioli or Pan con Chicharrón (Peruvian-style fried pork with sweet potato & onion salad). Most sandwiches are made with a traditional bread called Marraqueta, Chile’s version of a French baguette. But there are also other traditional dishes, salads, empanadas, and of course, Chef’s Guisell’s famous Alfajores cookies. You have to get those!

“Mil gracias” to Chef Guisell for her big heart, your care for her workers, and her community.

Visit:
Sabores del Sur
3003 Oak Rd., Ste. 105, Walnut Creek, CA 94597
(925) 954-8300

Yara Elian is a Senior at Northgate High School in the San Francisco Bay Area, who loves languages, cultures, food, and writing.

Porto Do Sul

Editor’s Note: Sadly, this restaurant has closed due to the Coronavirus pandemic, as have many other restaurants in the United States. Please patronize your local restaurants for take-out orders (if you cannot currently dine-in) and tip generously. The restaurant industry is hurting and our support can make a difference.

The Pleasures of Brazil

Welcome to Porto Do Sul, located in Overland Park KS, a suburb of Kansas City. Owners, Leonice and Edson Ludwig warmly welcome you to experience their authentic Brazilian steakhouse, Porto Do Sul Churrascaria. It is a Rodízio, an all-you-can-eat style of restaurant.

The Ludwigs are both from small farming communities in Southern Brazil. They grew up helping with the harvest and enjoying fresh, wholesome food.

Edson’s early career was working in the slaughterhouses of southern Brazil where he learned the fine art of meats. When he met Leonice, he was working as a mechanic for the company and she was a company nurse.

In 2003, Edson moved to the states, working for a well-known national Churrascaria chain, Fogo de Chão. Leonice and their two sons followed a year later. After more than a decade working for the chain, the Ludwigs went out on their own.

It was equal parts scary and exciting to create the Churrascaria concept they now own and operate based on all they had learned and the experience they wanted to create and share. Leonice says, “I like it. I love it. I do not see my life not being here.”

Leonice who has formal training from the International Culinary School in Chicago and as creator of numerous recipes for Fogo de Chão, is the creator of the many, many wonderful dishes at Porto Do Sul.

Edson has valuable experience as a general manager and had the opportunity to introduce Fogo de Chão to new patrons in a number of places.

Now, they welcome you to Porto Do Sul for a taste of Brazil.


The Country of Brazil

Brazil, officially Federative Republic of Brazil, Portuguese República Federativa do Brasil, occupies half of South America’s landmass. It is the fifth largest country in the world, exceeded in size only by Russia, Canada, China, and the United States. It is also the fifth most-populous country on Earth and accounts for one-third of Latin America’s population.

Most of the Amazon River basin, which has the world’s largest river system and the world’s most-extensive virgin rainforest is located in Brazil. The country has no desert, high-mountain, or arctic environments.

The South (Sul) Region of Brazil (Portuguese: Região Sul do Brasil) is one of five geographical regions of Brazil and where Edson and Leonice were raised. It includes the states of Paraná, Santa Catarina and Rio Grande do Sul.

Large numbers of European immigrants (Portuguese, Italian, Germany) came to the region during the 19th century. Portuguese, the official language of Brazil, is spoken by the entire population. But in some places, dialects of German or Italian origins are also spoken.

The region is comprised of bustling cities, quaint European style towns such as Morretes, the ruins of old missions, the oldest public university in Brazil, beautiful beaches of Santa Catarina and the amazing Iguaça Falls or “Big Water”, an incredible natural attraction of 275 waterfalls of various sizes, making it a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the Seven Wonders of the World.

The Foods of Brazil

The country is essentially self-sufficient in basic foodstuffs and is a leading exporter of a wide range of crops. About one-third of the world’s oranges are grown in Brazil—more than twice the amount produced in the United States, which is the world’s second major supplier. Brazil is also the world’s main producer of cassava and a leading grower of beans, corn (maize), cacao, bananas, and rice.

Brazil has one of the world’s largest livestock populations (at more than 200 million) and slaughters more cattle annually than does the United States. The most extensive grazing lands are concentrated in the South and Southeast, with a smaller but increasing share in northern states and frontier zones, such as Amazonia. Brazil also produces great quantities of poultry; both poultry and meat are important exports.

Eating in Brazil is an absolute pleasure. Just like the country itself, Brazilian cuisine is vibrant, colorful, diverse, and exciting. The Southern region of Brazil has a distinct European flavor. If the cuisine from the Brazilian Southern region could be defined in one word, this word would be churrascaria (shur-hawz-car-ree-ah), the Portuguese name for barbecue.

While Kansas Citians are used to low-and-slow barbecue, Brazilians do a hot-and-fast style of cooking. Instead of rubs, Brazilians use little to no spices, mainly sal grosso or coarse sea salt to season the meat and then it is cooked on iron skewers directly over the fire to bring out the delicious flavor.

Just as there is fierce competition in the United States over who has the best barbecue, Brazil and Argentina both claim to be South America’s barbecue champion. Each country takes a different approach to its meat, from the cuts to the accompaniments,
In Brazil, premium cuts (the most popular being picanha, or rump cap) are seasoned with no more than a liberal shake of coarse salt, before being grilled to pink perfection over charcoal (or wood, if you’re doing it the old-fashioned Southern way). It is a mouthwatering, superbly tasty experience.

Porto Do Sul offers 15 premium cuts including mouthwatering rib-eye, beef ribs, filet mignon, top sirloin (picanha), lamb chops, finely spiced pork sausage and chicken drums wrapped in bacon, all prepared and grilled to perfection.

The Gaucho Chefs bring each cut, one-by-one, to your table and carefully slices the meat to your preferred doneness.
Service continues until you wish to pause, or you have had your fill!

The full dining experience at Porto do Sul starts with a visit to the Harvest Table where you can find an abundance of cheeses, salads, vegetables, warm dishes, and more.

The Harvest Table includes 55 hot and cold dishes. Hot dishes include feijoada, meatballs, rice with shredded meats, eggplant Parmesan and you mustn’t overlook Leonice’s chicken noodle soup made from her Grandmother’s recipe. Cold dishes include an amazing array of seasonal vegetables, potato salad and small Brazilian peppers that are always in demand. Then, there is the divine cheese bread.

Feijoada, a national dish, is a rich, hearty stew of black beans and different cuts of pork and other meats. It is slow cooked and can take up to 24 hours to perfectly prepare. It is usually served with orange salad, white rice, farofa (ground manioc), and couve (kale), a dark green leafy vegetable that is diced and cooked until slightly crispy.

Pão de Queijo, the Brazilian “cheese bread”, are light, fluffy gluten-free rolls that became popular in the 1950s though the recipe dates back centuries. The dough is made from cassava flour and Queijo Minas, a Brazilian soft cheese. They can be eaten at any time of the day as a snack and they are also popular for breakfast, served with cheese and jam.

If you are looking for something Brazilian to whet your appetite, try the caipirinha (kai-pee-reen-yuh, made from muddled limes, sugar, Brazilian rum, known as Cachaca (kah-shah-shuh), and ice.
Porto Do Sul offers variations on the caipirinha theme, including pineapple, passion fruit and strawberry.
And, if that doesn’t appeal to you, you can enjoy a wide selection of wines including a Kansas wine, Somerset Ridge, that perfectly pairs.
Edson and Leonice thoroughly enjoy bringing you the best of Brazilian food and drink. They also look for ways to engage in the local community. It was on an excursion to local wineries they discovered Somerset Ridge and talked with the owners, Dennis and Cindy Reynolds. There is now a warm friendship.
“They are so kind and work so hard to create an inviting Brazilian experience. It is now one of our favorite places to stop for a sumptuous Harvest Table lunch or host a party”, says Cindy Reynolds.

Caipirinha

Wines to Enjoy

Somerset Ridge Wines

Pineapple, Passion Fruit, Strawberry Caipirinha

And, now if you need just a bit of a sweet to end this incredibly delicious dining experience, then try a Brigadeiro Brazilian truffle in an edible chocolate tulip cup, creme brulee, passion fruit mousse, or a flan from grandma’s recipe! Leonice reports that the Flan is one of her best sellers and I know why having had the opportunity to enjoy it.

Plus enjoy a flaming tableside display when you order Cai-Café, a brilliant combination of rum, coffee liqueur and hot Brazilian coffee topped with whipped cream.

From Brazil to Kansas City

Edson and Leonice first moved to Chicago and eventually were transferred to Kansas City. After nine years, they became US citizens. When they decided it was time to strike out on their own and open their own Brazilian steakhouse, Leonice was not convinced she wanted to stay in Kansas City.
Then they found the perfect spot, in a high traffic, growing area and the rest is history!
The moment you see Porto Do Sul from the road, you know that it is going to be more than an everyday sit-down restaurant.

When you walk through the door, you will see an small intimate bar off to your right, you will hear the Brazilian music setting the stage for your visit and you will find the gauchos ready to welcome you, describe the experience you should expect and begin to serve your wishes.
A different restaurant concept had been in the location before. Edson and Leonice re-designed the entire restaurant so guests can enjoy a quick lunch from the Harvest Table, an intimate dining experience or a larger gathering in one of their private rooms.
Porto Do Sul is located to draw people from all over the Kansas City metro area. They may be Americans who have visited Brazil or Brazilians who want a taste of home. There are many loyal customers as well as those who come for a special occasion or those who have a specific diet to follow like gluten free or Keto.

One of those loyal guests has visited 84 times since the doors opened! And, just recently, 100 Brazilians came to a gathering at Porto Do Sul.

Leonice and Edson have learned how they work best together. Leonice is the sous chef and creates new menu dishes. She also manages the finances of the restaurant. Edson manages the gauchos and is there to engage guests as little or as much as they wish. Whether you are young or old, they will make accommodations.
They work hard to provide an authentic Brazilian steakhouse experience. And, they recognize guests may not always be interested in their famous rodizio each time they want a taste of Brazilian food, so they have developed many ways for guests to enjoy Brazilian foods.

You can choose to visit the Harvest table laden with more than 50 Brazilian foods, a full menu experience that includes the Harvest table and 15 premium meat cuts, a “lighter” menu experience that includes the Harvest table and 10 premium meat cuts, a by the pound option where you choose exactly what you want and how much you want, a happy hour and bar food option where you can order mini picanha house sliders, spicy drunken shrimp, feijoada, chicken noodle soup, a charcuterie board or fried polenta, a takeout option that includes picanha house special sandwich, beef tenderloin or shrimp skewer, a sampler platter, a quinoa salad and more and catering for corporate events and entertaining. They also are part of the DoorDash program.

And, Leonice plans for seasonal needs and wishes. As an example, during Lent, you can find a number of additional fish and seafood options on the Harvest Table and as part of the full menu experience such as coconut fish, seafood chowder, salmon, shrimp and lobster tails.

There are always specials during holidays or by season. And, Leonice and Edson invite you to experience Porto Do Sul during Restaurant Week.

So, what is next for Edson and Leonice. They would love to have their children follow in their footsteps. The children appreciate the benefits and the labor of love that has been devoted to the business but are not quite sure they are ready. In the meantime, Leonice is dreaming of a rodízio style breakfast concept.

They invite you to Porto Do Sul to enjoy a little piece of Brazil. Come hungry and have all your senses ready to enjoy the pleasures of Brazilian food. “It is a gift I am giving you”, says Leonice.

Visit:
Porto Do Sul
11900 Metcalf Ave,
Overland Park, KS 66213
(913) 283-9180

Hours:
Monday – Thursday 11am – 9 pm
Friday – Saturday 11am – 9:30 pm

Happy Hour:
5 pm – 8:00 pm

@PortoDoSul

About the Author:
Susan K Spaulding loves to share the stories of others and believes that each of us has a powerful life story to tell. Sharing the stories of immigrants who are now successful restauranteurs is inspiring and mouthwatering. Susan is part of a multicultural family with a Japanese brother-in-law, a Canadian sister-in-law and a Peruvian sister-in-law along with the many multi-cultural family members. She traveled around the world for her business and now does so for pleasure. She enjoys giving diversity a voice and making connections around the globe.

Sources: Norma Palomino;

ArePa George

Facebook Empanadas and the American Dream

Walking to catch the North Avenue bus, I curse myself for always being late. It’s a pleasant enough winter day, especially for Chicago. The sun is shining. Snow coats the ground. Still, the cold lingers, prodding me to zip my winter jacket as I not-so-patiently wait for the bus.

I look out the window. Remnants of what Humboldt Park used to be and what it’s becoming pass me by. There’s old buildings, businesses with bars on the windows. There’s a Family Dollar, a Burger King, and a laundromat. Newly constructed high-rise apartments, complete with balconies, overlook a park once synonymous with gang violence. A Puerto Rican restaurant and a Spanish grocery store are colorful reminders of the Latin American culture that staunchly ingrained itself in Humboldt Park long before the gentrification began to seep in. I arrive at my stop, pleased at the realization that I’ll only be a few minutes late.

I open the door to ArePa George, the warmth of the restaurant and Juan Betancourt’s smile quickly washing away the Chicago cold. Juan and I shake hands, and he points me to a table in the front, telling me to make myself at home while he grabs his sister Nathalie. As I remove my scarf, I glance around the restaurant. It’s relatively small, but comfortable. On yellow-painted walls hang colorful decorations – pictures of mountains, a painted wooden map of South America, and a Colombian flag. Upbeat Spanish music plays softly.

Colombian-inspired decorations hang on Arepa George’s bright yellow walls

Juan and Nathalie grew up in Armenia, Colombia, a small city nestled in the Andes best known for its coffee production. They spent their childhood riding horses, exploring local coffee farms, and having cookouts in the mountains. With a mom as an architect and a dad as an engineer, Juan admits that they had a very good life in Colombia, “But my mom’s dream was always to come to the U.S. so we could have ‘The American Dream’ you know?” Their parents divorced, and a few years later their mother met a Colombian man that lived in the United States. Eventually they married and in 2005, 10 year-old Nathalie and 13 year-old Juan moved to Chicago to fulfill their mother’s dream.

Not being able to imagine moving to a new country without knowing the language, I ask them if they were nervous. “No,” Juan replies, “I was excited because I always wanted to come. I used to see all the movies, like Home Alone, so I was excited to see the U.S.” He remembers going downtown Chicago for the first time and being amazed at how beautiful it was. “It was different from Colombia” he continues, “but it was nice.”

Juan adds that being a teenager, the transition was harder on him than on Nathalie. She admits to picking up English quicker than him but remembers being more shy. “I’ve always been the shy one, you know, you’re always afraid you’re going to say something wrong.” Through bilingual programs like ESL (English as a Second Language) and working as a lifeguard at the local pool, the pair picked up English quickly. “I think you just have to be thrown into it,” says Juan, “You do what you have to survive, so you do what you can.”

Years later, Juan graduated from a university in Iowa with a degree in mathematics. He returned to Chicago to look for jobs, and soon found himself teaching math at a high school in Humboldt Park. Driving through the area on his way to work, he began to notice how the area was changing, and took note. He started saving as much money as he could, remembering his dad’s dream to open a restaurant in Colombia.

Nathalie was working for the pool when she went to a Colombian restaurant for empanadas – craving the fried turnovers stuffed with meat and cheese her mother had made for her as a girl. “They were horrible,” she remembers, “They were like, frozen and had so many potatoes. They weren’t Colombian.” She vented about them on Facebook, claiming that her mother made the best empanadas. “And right away, people started asking me if she sold them. I asked my mom, and she said yes, and I just put the prices in the comments, and everybody started ordering.” The first order was sixteen empanadas for one of Nathalie’s friends. The word spread, and soon the orders grew to hundreds of empanadas at a time, all made by Juan and their mother in her home kitchen. To keep up with the demand, Nathalie started taking orders at work, texting Juan as they came in throughout the day. After work, she’d drive all over the city to deliver them. Eventually, the empanada orders grew so big they made and sold over one thousand empanadas on Saturday...and one thousand more that Sunday

A Colombian empanada stuffed with cheese and sweet plantains, served with a side of aji

After the success of the empanadas, Juan knew he was going to open a restaurant, and he started buying machines, tables, and decorations; storing them in his bedroom. Eventually, he had everything he needed to open a restaurant except a location. So he started looking. He looked for three years before settling on his current location in Humboldt Park. He had witnessed first-hand how the area was changing. It was close to downtown, and there were no Colombian restaurants in the area.

When I asked Juan what the hardest thing he faced opening his restaurant was, he hesitated before responding that leaving his job ended up being the most difficult decision. “You know when you’re comfortable with your job, your paycheck and all of those things? I thought it over and decided ‘You know what?’ I’m going to leave it, I’m going to start my own thing.” He signed his lease in Humboldt Park and shortly after opened ArePa George in 2017.

At first, it was just Juan. He answered the phone, tended the tables, cleaned, cooked, and managed the finances. He would buy the ingredients he needed each morning before the restaurant opened. At first, Nathalie only worked on weekends, facing the difficult decision her older brother had made months earlier. Her other job was a secure job, and she was in school. But in September of 2018, she made the decision to quit and start working for Juan full-time.
Glancing at each other, they both agree that it was a great decision. Nathalie quickly realized how much her brother had been doing to keep the restaurant going. Laughing in disbelief at the memory, she caught my eye before declaring, “I don’t know how he did it without me.”

Since its opening, ArePa George has done very well. Inspired by his experience as a bus-boy at Fogo de Chao, Juan wants all his customers to feel taken care of. Regulars are treated as if they’re at home and are prodded to explore new dishes as they come out. Initially, their menu was built around authentic Colombian recipes from their mother – tostones, or fried green plantains, arepas, and of course, the empanadas. But eventually, as the restaurant began to grow, so did their menu. They began noticing the number of vegan and vegetarian customers that would come in and realized that often their only vegetarian option – like many Latin American restaurants – included beans or cheese.

Brother and sister Juan and Nathalie smile in front of a map of Colombia

A few years after the Facebook empanadas, and before meeting Juan or Nathalie, I walked into ArePa George with my roommate. I was excited to try a local restaurant that had been featured in the Chicago Tribune, and she was excited to introduce me to arepas and Colombian empanadas – insisting that Colombian empanadas were much better because of their corn flour crust. And since I’d never had an arepa, she patiently explained that arepas were essentially thicker and sweeter tortillas usually filled with meat. Before looking at the menu, we agreed to split an empanada and a chicken or beef arepa – unless they had a particularly appetizing vegetarian option.

Glancing around the cheery restaurant for the first-time, we had a seat at a table near the front and picked up our menus. Empanadas came stuffed with shredded chicken or beef, cheese, plantain, or a combination of cheese and plantain, and came with a side of aji to dip them in. Our waitress, who I later learned was Nathalie, came by our table and suggested we consider the papa rellana, one of their most popular side dishes. She gushed, claiming that the papa rellena was delicious, made of breaded potato stuffed with chicken and cheese.

Beyond ordering a simple arepa with butter or cheese, the menu was filled with a variety of stuffed arepas - shredded chicken, ‘ropa vieja’ style shredded beef, colombian chorizo, or a combination of all three, combined with Colombian tomato-based creole sauce and melted cheese. I scanned to the bottom of the list. Not only did a vegetarian arepa exist, it sounded delicious.

A vegetarian arepa filled with fresh vegetables, cheese, and sweet plantains

Although non-traditional, Juan and Nathalie wanted their vegetarian arepa to reflect the flavors they grew up with. Filled with cabbage, carrots, avocado, broccoli, sweet plantains, and feta cheese, the vegetarian arepa is now the most popular arepa on the menu. After trying it  for myself, I can attest to its popularity. It overflows with crunchy, flavorful vegetables that provide a refreshing respite from a cuisine otherwise dominated by mushy, albeit flavorful beans. Sweet plantains and salty feta cheese work together smoothly, balancing and complementing the freshness of the vegetables in a way meat cannot. And despite not containing any meat, the flavors remain true to Colombia. One weekend, Juan convinced a particularly meat-loving customer to try the vegetarian arepa. Despite the fact that they had come in specifically to order the sancocho trifasico, a complex traditional soup made with not one, but three types of meat, they gave it a try. Not only were they convinced, they proclaimed that they were transformed to Colombia with one bite, and immediately ordered another.

The empanada we ordered came out proudly wearing a Colombian golden yellow crust that distinguished itself from other, lesser empanadas. Hot and fresh from the fryer, the crust was crispy, flaky and faintly sweet. The cheese enveloped the sweet plantains in a melted embrace. Green aji was served on the side, its acidity and complexity a welcome interruption from otherwise rich flavors. It was an empanada that begged you to order hundreds of it on Facebook, an empanada that coaxed Juan and Nathalie into living their American Dream.

Nathalie and Juan came to the United States because of a dream their mother had and were able to start ArePa George because of her empanada recipe. After talking to them, it’s evident how grateful they are. At one point in our conversation, I ask Nathalie how much  moving to the United States has meant to her. She pauses to think before replying, “Coming from Colombia, we’ve seen a lot of the less fortunate. Like homeless people. Or kids that have lost their father or parents due to the war that’s still going on with drugs and all of that.” She stops, glancing at Juan, and continues, “So we see that and here, I just feel so privileged to be able to eat what I want every day, you know? It just humbles you. We are very humbled to just be able to be here and have this business and be able to share our culture.”

ArePa George gets busier and busier, and eventually I feel guilty taking any more of Juan and Nathalie’s time. I order a Facebook empanada and decide to walk home, thankful that Juan and Nathalie’s American Dream tastes so delicious.

Visit:
the Restaurant
Hours: Tuesday-Saturday 11 AM – 6 PM, Sunday 11 AM – 6 PM
Location: 1552 N Kedzie Ave Chicago, IL 60651
Phone: (773) 969-7945
Delivery: Grubhub, Doordash, or Postmates
Find Arepa George on Instagram, Facebook, and Yelp!

About the Author
Makala Bach is a Chicago transplant so obsessed with food she became a food scientist. She spends her days in lab daydreaming of becoming a food writer and can be found trying to convince everyone she meets that beans are underrated. Follow her on Instagram.

Antojitos Del Peru

Welcome to a taste of Peru at Antojitos Del Peru, located in Lenexa KS, a suburb of Kansas City. Owner and Chef, Norma Palomino will welcome you to experience her authentic Peruvian foods.

The Beauty of Peru

If you have not been to Peru, it is a country of dramatic and diverse people, landscape, and food. Chefs from around the world are inspired by the cuisine and how it draws from the three main geographical areas – the Pacific coast, the Andean highlands and the Amazon rain forest. Peru has 90 different microclimates. Farmers work to preserve traditional ways of agriculture.

In Peru, you will not only find Machu Picchu- one of the new seven wonders of the world, but you can trek up the highest sand dune in the world, view Rainbow Mountain, float the Amazon river which starts in Peru or visit the Cotahuasi Canyon, the deepest canyon in the world.

The road from Peru to Kansas City for Norma

The road from Peru to Kansas City was not paved with gold for Norma Palomino, owner, chef and bartender of Antojitos Del Peru. It was, however, paved with great determination and persistence. Today, she takes great pride in bringing a taste of Peru to residents of Kansas City.

Norma’s parents were from the small town of Abancay, near Cusco. They then moved to Lima, the capital.

As a young mother, Norma realized that her work opportunities in Peru were limited and would not provide the life she wanted for her family.

In 1994, she set off for the US on foot and traveled through Central America to arrive in New Jersey, where extended family members lived. This was a truly herculean endeavor, but she made it by sheer determination.

Norma’s siblings re-located to the Midwest and encouraged Norma to move to Kansas City, as they felt it would be an appropriate place to raise her children. In 2003, once again, Norma traveled cross-country to resettle in Kansas City.

Shortly after arriving in the Kansas City area, Norma was faced with the challenge of supporting her family when her husband, Autberto, suffered an accident and could not work.

Norma had always enjoyed preparing meals for family and friends, and they relished her cooking. In due course, they were persuading Norma to start her restaurant business and share the delight of Peruvian food.

So, What Is Peruvian Food?

Peruvian food is a fusion of cultures, well before fusion foods became all the rage. It is based on the cuisines of the Inca, Spanish, Africans, Europeans, Chinese, and Japanese.

One of the stalwarts of Peruvian cuisine is Ceviche. Originated in Peru, Ceviche is a wonderful combination of raw fish marinated in lime juice and ginger. Variations of ceviche are available comprised of different seafood and different condiments such as lemon juice or soy sauce.

Potatoes are an ancient staple of Peru. There are over 4,000 different varieties, and the Peruvians use potatoes in many forms. Popular dishes are Papas a la Huancaina, sliced potatoes topped with mildly spicy cheese sauce and garnished with sliced hard-boiled eggs: Papa Rellena, mashed potatoes filled with ground beef, hard-boiled egg, olives, onion and raisins, rolled in seasoned flour and fried (similar to the Spanish croquetas). Papa Rellenas are served with Salsa Criolla (julienned onions marinated in lime, tomato and cilantro). Another standard is Causa, mashed potato cakes filled or topped with seasoned chicken and mayonnaise.

Corn also figures prominently on any Peruvian plate. Yellow, purple and white are just a few corn colors of the more than 55 varieties of corn grown in Peru. Famous for their giant corn kernels, corn is served as an appetizer, part of the meal or even in desserts, such as Mazamorra Morada, a purple corn pudding.

Another well-known food from Peru that is not on the Antonjitos Del Peru menu is cuy al horno (roasted guinea pig). The cuy, or guinea pig, is a traditional dish eaten in Peru during important festivals, and served crispy complete with head, legs and eyes. It is healthier with a lot more protein and less fat than llama meat (also not on the menu).

What makes the dishes Norma prepares so delicious is her mastery in blending the commonly used Peruvian spices and seasonings which are exotic to the American palate.
These include Huacatay known as Peruvian black mint with a flavor profile similar to a blend of basil and spearmint and Paico with a flavor profile with notes of mint, citrus and pine. Lending heat to proceedings are a variety of indigenous chili peppers such as Amarillo, Rocoto and Panca.

When you visit Antojitos del Peru, you will find many traditional Peruvian dishes. Norma’s favorite entrée dish to prepare is Lomo Saltado, the national dish of Peru. This is comprised of marinated beef sautéed with tomatoes, onion and soy sauce. Served with French fries and rice, this dish is a true testament to the fusion of Amer-Indian and Japanese flavors.

Another classic dish is Aji de Gallina, shredded chicken in a spicy sauce made of crushed walnuts and Parmesan cheese.
And, to end the meal with a scrumptious dessert, Norma’s favorites are Leche Asada and Alfajor. Leche Asada is a delicious custard style dessert made with milk, sugar and eggs, while Alfajores are delicate cookies made with flour and cornstarch and filled with dulce de leche.

And no, Norma has not forgotten about the drinks. If you move to the bar, an impressively crafted Pisco Sour is on tap. Pisco is a Peruvian grape brandy and is mixed with lemons, sugar water, egg whites, ice and finished with bitters to make a Pisco Sour.

However, if you are more interested in non-alcoholic drinks you can find a number of options such as Chicha Morada, a Peruvian beverage made from purple corn, sugar and spices, Jugo de Marucaya or passion fruit juice, Inca Kola a yellow soft drink and Postobon, an apple flavored soda.

The Path to Perfection

Norma is quite modest about her journey. Her initial food experience began in Lima where she worked in an Italian pastry shop for 12 years and took baking classes. Norma makes all the desserts served at her restaurant!

With encouragement from her family and friends, Norma (Normita to friends) decided to share her love of Peruvian food.
In 2014, she started her restaurant in a much smaller space. She quickly discovered the need for a bigger space for large family gatherings and that she had an unaccommodating landlord, so it wasn’t long before she was looking for an alternate venue.

Moving in 2017, the restaurant she has today is decorated with Peruvian style colors and décor. Norma’s focus was to create a warm and welcoming place where her guests would feel comfortable experiencing a taste of Peru.

When you walk through the door, you will find a melting pot of Kansas City locals – people from Central America as well as many Norte Americanos. During lunch, patrons come from neighboring businesses. During weekend evenings, you can often find it looking like date night. And, Sundays, large family gatherings following church are common. Sometimes, Norma reports, the families are standing outside just waiting for the doors to open.

She is passionate about every Peruvian dish created. The food is made each day from scratch, using the finest ingredients. It may take a little more time to prepare a favorite meal, but it is worth the wait!

This determined lady does not stand still and has yet another Peruvian restaurant concept in mind. Her children, Thomas and Susanna, work with her today. Thomas is encouraging Norma to open an upscale, gourmet concept which he will help operate. So, you should expect this new concept to open sometime during 2020. In the meantime, Norma is frequently asked if she would franchise her concept so others across the country could enjoy her creations. At the moment she is content to keep her focus on the Kansas City market. For others who might contemplate opening a restaurant, her advice is to just tell yourself you can do it and then do it!

Norma loves to introduce Peruvian food to those who have not experienced it. She is happy when her guests walk away happy and return for another taste of Peru. You can be sure I will be one of the returning guests!

Norma, daughter Susanna and granddaughter Amy

Norma, granddaughter Amy and grandson John Paul

Norma and son Thomas

Visit:
Antojitos Del Peru
7809 Quivira Road, Lenexa KS 816—220-1723
Hours:
Monday - Closed
Tuesday – Thursday 11am - 9 pm
Friday – Saturday 11am – 10 pm
Sunday 11 am – 9:30 pm


About the Author
Susan K Spaulding loves to share the stories of others and believes that each of us has a powerful life story to tell. Sharing the stories of immigrants who are now successful restauranteurs is inspiring and mouthwatering. Susan is part of a multicultural family with a Japanese brother-in-law, a Canadian sister-in-law and a Peruvian sister-in-law along with the many multi-cultural family members. She enjoys giving diversity a voice and making connections around the globe.

Sources: Norma Palomino