The ancient Incan culture is being rediscovered with the flavors and cuisine of Peru coming to the forefront in many restaurants around the country.
But the Peruvian fare isn’t new for Betty Vasquez and her family, which has offered a Taste of Peru at the Gig Harbor Farmers’ Market for the past 14 years.
Vasquez said now is the time for her family to open a restaurant to be able to expand the menu selection and spice profile of her homeland. The family plans to open in mid-December at 5500 Olympic Village Drive.
Earlier this fall, Vasquez transitioned her small, tailored menu to the indoor Gig Harbor Farmers’ Market as the family readies the larger venue for diners.
“The indoor facility has been great for us and customers with comfortable amenities,” she said. “There’s hot and cold water, restrooms, and it is easier with the weather not being a factor. The customers all like it, and we have had a nice mix of old and new people come in.”
Vasquez offers four or five menu items, including the favorite tamal, a chicken dish wrapped in a corn husk and covered in an aji panco sauce. The aji family of chilies are mild, colorful peppers used as the staple spices for many Peruvian dishes.
“The peppers are flavorful without being too spicy,” Vasquez said.
Dan Wilson, a regular customer at the Saturday market, enjoys stopping by for a tamal each week.
“I love the flavors and especially the secret sauce they add,” Wilson said. “I look forward to it every Saturday.”
Vasquez plans to offer an extended Peruvian menu when the family opens the restaurant.
“There are 365 Peruvian meals I could do,” she said. “Peruvian food has a Castilian influence, more flavors from Spain. We will have our tamals, Anticuchos, which are like a kabob, and ceviche.”
One of the staple grains is quinoa, which has seen a dramatic increase in popularity lately as people look for alternatives to wheat-based food items.
“I make a quinoa coffee cake,” Vasquez said. “Perfect to have with a cup of coffee. It is light and gluten-free, which appeals to many people these days. I will also have a quinoa salad, a main dish that uses the grain, and a quinoa pudding served with fresh fruit as a dessert.
“I use all-natural ingredients in my cooking,” she said. “I do not use lard in the tamals or other dishes. I want to offer healthy, flavorful options to my diners.”
Vasquez frequently travels to Peru and brings back all dried spices from Lima.
The Taste of Peru will be a family endeavor with Betty’s husband, Lency, helping on the weekends. He is a Boeing employee and currently works with Betty each Saturday.
Lency said he’s OK with giving up his free time.
“It’s a great family bonding time,” he said as he dished up a tamal for a customer.
Daughter Bibi will be the general manager and another daughter, Chris, will be the designer and decorator. All will have a role in the restaurant, including the Vasquezes’ 15-year-old son.
Betty Vasquez will serve as head chef, and there will be two other cooks on staff. Her other hobby is knitting; she taught the craft in Peru. She used to make dresses, skirts and other items in her native country.
Now she creates hand-knitted Alpaca scarves and shawls to sell at the farmers’ market, including some with baby Alpaca wool for a softer feel.
“I love to knit,” she said. “It is a great stress reliever for me. I hope, with opening the new restaurant, I will be able to find the time to keep knitting.”
Taste of Peru will be open for lunch and dinner for a sit-down or take-out option. Catering is available now. For more information, visit www.tasteofperucatering.com.Kim Eibel is a freelance reporter for the Gateway.