The first time I had Peruvian food, 10 years ago, I thought leche de tigre was the extract of some exotic nut I had never heard of. Not so ridiculous, horchata for example, is made from pressed ‘tiger nuts’ or chufas. Common knowledge if you are from Barcelona (or Valencia where the best of these nuts come from). I didn’t know about tiger nuts until I moved to Spain and lined up to have one of whatever they were having.No, leche de tigre has more in common with the expression ‘hair of the dog” than anything else. As the Peruvian waiter with Greek roots explained to me the last time I was eating at Yakumanka. The expression comes from the properties that the sour salty liquid is supposed to generate in you. Virility, alertness – like a tiger (although there are no tigers in Peru, he tells me. Also, are tigers particularly virile?)
I am at Yakumanka because I have had about 5 people write to me to ask me whether I have been (no) and when I plan on going (now). There are close to 150 Peruvian restaurants in Barcelona. Probably the best known is Albert Adria’s Pakta.
Yakumanka has been open for just over a year and it is doing swell. When I turn up for lunch on a Saturday at 14:30 the receptionist asks me if I have a reservation. Then apologies that all the tables are taken and seats me at the bar looking into the cold prep kitchen. (Not a bad place to be.)
Peruvian food, relying as much as it does on fish, can be judged principally by the freshness of the fish. The fish at Yakumanka is very fresh. Equally important, Yakumanka favours line caught wild fish, over farmed or trawled fish. The other attribute that Peruvian food seems to have is the flavours wallop you over the head, in a good way. As the starters chef tells it when he serves me the classic ceviche (23€): “the coriander is not a garnish, it should be eaten. And the chili peppers are very hot, I can remove them if you want.” The peppers are indeed hot, even the ingredients two bites over seem to be imbued with residual heat. There is a wet slice of sweet potato to take the edge off things and plenty of large cuzco corn kernels. And of course, that leche de tigre is divine and warrants much plate tilting to get out every last bit.
I’ve been told to get a white fish and a blue fish (pescado azul) so that I can try two different but emblematic styles. The “blue” is a Nikkei style tuna, cut from the throat of the fish, deep red, plated like the many rings of a sea monster in a sea of sesame sauce (23€).
There are many more options. Razor clams so fresh that when the chef picks them up, try to wrap themselves around his wrist. Fish cooked whole and sold by weight. Or Woks. But I’m full up now, I only have one more thing to try.: the Tres Leches pudding. I cheekily ask for a half portion and this being Barcelona, they oblige. I honestly wouldn’t have managed a whole one, even with my espresso to cut through the sweetness. If you have a sweet tooth though, it won’t be left wanting.
And those 5 people who wrote to me telling me to go? They were right.