It’s not hard to see why Peruvian cuisine has arrived—geography explains a lot. The dizzying variety of agriculture from the Andean region gives cooks lots of ingredients to choose from: potatoes (250 varieties of them!) and other tubers, tomatoes, quinoa, corn, ají amarillo (a piquant pepper), and a variety of beans all shine in various cooked forms. Then there are the numerous fruits of the Amazonian region, and all of this combines with an abundance of seafood from the coastal region.
Then there’s the human geography—Peru is home to an ancient indigenous food tradition that blended with a variety of European and West African traditions. More recently, Chinese and Japanese immigrants added their own foodways to Peru’s already rich flavors. The result is food that is both intensely local and familiar—the kind of food that makes Peruvians away from home yearn for a taste, and the kind of food that those of us not from Peru delight in.
Until now, Triad residents wishing to tuck into pollo a la brasa (Peruvian-style rotisserie chicken), papas rellenas (stuffed mashed potatoes), chupe de camarones (shrimp chowder with potatoes and giant corn), or lomo saltado (a stirfry of steak, tomatoes, and onions over French fries) would have to drive to Charlotte or Raleigh. Luckily for Greensboro, the Simauchi family decided that they needed a taste of home closer to their home, so they opened their own eponymous restaurant. As so many of Greensboro’s amazing international restaurants are, Simauchi Peruvian Restaurant is tucked in a strip mall just off Gate City Boulevard—this particular strip mall already home to the storied original Jerusalem Market.
Walking into the restaurant, the atmosphere hits familiar notes. Florescent lighting illuminates bright white walls decorated with posters promoting Peruvian tourism; Machu Picchu, the Nazca Lines, Cuzco street scenes, and llamas are interspersed with colorful cloth and a wall full of safety certifications for the various members of the Simauchi family. A cooler of water and soda—including Inca Kola, a bright yellow Peruvian soft drink made from lemon verbena—sits behind the counter where you order. Beside the cash register sits a small figurine of the Ekeko, a smiling man dressed in traditional clothes with bags of money around him who brings good luck and prosperity to businesses.
The menu is intentionally small and focused enough to fit on a half-page, but it reads like a greatest hits list of Peruvian food. Included on the list are foods like Causa, a stack of mashed potatoes and chicken salad that is much more complex than it sounds; Papa a la Huancaina, a potato with a spicy cheese sauce and olives; ceviche, fish “cooked” in a marinade of lemon juice, onions, and spices, and of course the aforementioned Papa Rellena, Lomo Saltado, and Pollo a la Brasa, the standard bearers of Peruvian cuisine. There to guide you through the menu is Shirley Simauchi, the daughter of Sara Vidal and César Simauchi.
Once Shirley takes the orders, behind the kitchen doors the rest of the Simauchi family works together to prepare the food. César and Sara move in concert from the rotisserie where 10 chickens are roasting on spits to the deep fryer to the counter where the food gets its final garnishes of parsley, marinated onions, and the vibrant “green sauce” that is the Peruvian condiment of choice. Plates go out to hungry customers: the potatoes of the Papa Rellena gleam deep golden brown on the outside, protecting their stuffing of beef, olives, eggs, and raisins; the sliced steak of the lomo saltado sizzles with tomatoes and onions before it is put on top of equally golden French fries; the marinated chicken glides off of its skewer to be split and plated with more fries and a salad; the Arroz Chaufa nods to its Chinese heritage (a Chifa is a Chinese Restaurant in Peruvian slang) with its blend of chicken, rice, eggs, and scallions.
As more and more customers walk in to fill the tables and Shirley takes more orders, Sara and César still move the plates calmly and efficiently through the bright kitchen. Though this restaurant is new, the restaurant business is not new to the Simauchi family. They operated a Peruvian restaurant in New Jersey where they lived for a decade or so prior to moving to Greensboro in 1997. This current iteration of their restaurant was many years in the making, and the family hopes that soon they can find a larger location with outdoor seating and entertainment. For now, however, Simauchi Peruvian Restaurant is small, focused, and definitely ready for its moment.