Warike Peruvian Street Food
It’s a sunny Friday in Barcelona. My car has been sitting in the sun and when I get in, the seat is hot. It’s 25C. 25C in January. Every restaurant I’ve messaged for a table outside has come back with the same answer: We are full.
Except for the Warike Project. “Hola! Tenéis una mesa pequeñita para mi fuera hoy a las 13:00?” I type into Instagram messages.
“Algo hay.” comes the response.
Fifteen minutes later, I stand in front of the building scanning the facade for a restaurant to no avail. I smell food but I can’t figure out where it’s coming from.
“Where are you?” I call to ask.
“Walk through the building into the courtyard,” he tells me.
I do as he says. Wondering to myself how anyone would ever find this restaurant? When I do find Warike, it’s no more than a green metal garage door folded in half to ward off the afternoon sun. In front of it is a food truck. There is a couple making out against their car while they wait for their food.
I poke my head in.
It’s a question because this is not a restaurant. It’s an obrador, a working kitchen for food preparation. Jeff is zipping around ‘chaotically’ I think but then to my surprise, his output is flowing steadily. He is checking two tablets for orders, cooking the food and taking orders on the phone and from physical people who walk in.
“You can sit there.” he points to a long table which serves as his office on one end.
Not a restaurant then.
A masked Jeff beckons me over to the kitchen.
“What do you want to eat? Sorry, it’s a mess. I just moved to this space. That’s the alarm. It went off this morning. The guy who owns this space doesn’t have the code. So I took out the batteries.” He goes back to the table and picks up the alarm to show me, batteries scattered on top. I have the feeling I am accessing his thoughts in real-time. His Spanish is speedy so that when he pauses to go back into the kitchen to tend to the orders, I unpick at the sentences. Laying them out neatly in my head. Like when the chains of my necklaces get tangled in the drawer and have to be teased apart.
But a Warike is something special. It’s a clandestine restaurant, that you find through word of mouth.
“Why is it called Warike?” I ask him.
He answers with a question. “Have you ever been to Peru? We are crazy about food. You can’t find clothes in Peru because every shop sells food. And you can knock on any door and ask ‘will you feed me?’ and the woman will let you sit in her house and bring you food. Her husband will sit in front of the TV and you will be eating at his kitchen table. But a Warike is something special. It’s a clandestine restaurant, that you find through word of mouth. Sometimes there are other things going on there, women, but you go for the food. You have to know to find them. The food there is celebration food. Not food that you eat every day.”
Jeff decides what I should eat. “The chicken and the pancetta.” He asks me into the kitchen again and walks me over to something that looks like a fancy boiler. “This came by boat from Peru,” he says, with a similar amount of love and pride I reserve for my children. And this!” He walks me to the corner “Is a Caja China.” He shows me a rectangular squat trolley like box. Both do similar things, smoke low and slow. Jeff shoots off again and picks up an aluminium tray, inside is a large piece of pork with perfect crackling. I can judge that just from looking at it but he whacks it hard for effect. Crack crack.
He sends out the chicken first, with skin on wedge potatoes and two salsas his sister Rosemary made. He laughs when I discard the cutlery and tuck in with fingers. “That’s the way to eat chicken.” There is a lot of smoke but it’s subtle, the salsas convince me to get through the entire pile of potatoes because they are so good.
Next, he brings me the pancetta. The edges are crusty and when I take a piece, it’s sticky with honey that he has drizzled on before serving. The texture is perfect. Pork fat taken to that elusive point where it goes from ‘ugh-fat’ to gelatinous and yielding. The strongest flavour is Star Anise. And star anise translates to Chinese in my head.
“Why does this taste Chinese?” I ask.
“Yes, because of the Tusán. There is a lot of Cantonese influence on the food of Peru.”
I know about Nikkei, the Japanese / Peruvian connection but Chinese – Peruvian? A little digging unearths more of things-I-did-not-learn-in-school. Portuguese slave traders brought Chinese but also Japanese, Filipinos, Malays and others to Mexico and Peru.
A plate of food is more than sustenance. It is a story of people and their evolution. One I find more interesting than what I was taught in school.
“So, this isn’t a restaurant then,” I ask as I pick the chicken grease from under my fingernails.
“No, you can order for delivery or pick up. But if you are a friend, you can sit here. Like a Warike in Peru.” He smiles at me.
And in so doing, I instantly feel the magic of a Warike. That I am included in this tribe. And humans need a tribe. I can step into that circle and see things from the inside.
Warike Peruvian Street Food
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Lorena Russell says
Thanks as always. I learned a lot here! And just imagining warm weather and actually being at a restaurant in Barcelona…very helpful on these cold, isolated days.