There is nothing more traditional in Lima than the sight of a brochette street vendor, an anticuchera, surrounded by a cloud of hungry patrons. As night falls, shops and cafes close and a woman of black African descent rolls her wooden cart to her favorite corner. In the semi dark of the poorly lit street, the flames and flying sparks from the burning coals are a prelude to the oncoming feast. The woman blows the coals with a palm leaf fan and the fire crackles. The alluring smell of burning coals and animal fat vaporizing on contact with the heat, attracts customers and soon there is a small crowd surrounding the cart. Old and young, some sitting on crude wooden benches, most standing, chatting lively, they all wait for their order of anticuchos, while sipping Inka Kola or a cold beer, drinks sold by the anticuchera’s assistant, a young girl, usually a daughter or niece. As they chat and drink, they all keep a keen eye on a large bowl bursting with neatly skewered pieces of marinated beef heart. The early birds, who already have their skewers cooking on the grill, closely monitor the glistening meat cubes, sometimes turning them over themselves, letting the anticuchera know how they want theirs done. As the woman flips the anticuchos, she grabs a brush made from a corn sheath and, after dipping it in basting oil, she whips the brochettes. The excess oil burns off over the coals and flares up in a large flame, lightening for a second the customers’ eager faces. As the orders get ready, the assistant prepares the plates, usually bright cheap plastic ware, garnishing the skewers with boiled potato and large kernel corn, plus a good serving of hot sauce. The latter is unique to the trade, consisting of blended rocoto hot peppers with lemon juice and chopped green onions. Satisfied patrons finish their servings, clean their fingers with “servillets” torn from a roll of toilet paper and leave, only to be replaced impatient customers, who anxiously wait their turn. Business goes on briskly for a few hours, usually until eleven, sometimes even later, especially during the Lord of Miracles festivities. By midnight only the antichuchera and her assistant remain, tidying up in silence and then, just as they came, they roll the cart back. The whirring sound of the cart’s wheels fades away as they disappear into the shadows.
Although nobody can ascertain the origins of the Anticucho brochette, it is hard to dispute that it has an undeniable African air. Not only the word has a black African resonance to it, but also, since time immemorial, the trade in Lima’s streets has been traditionally associated to the black folk. Furthermore, to reinforce this idea, marinated meat and organ brochettes are very popular in North and Sub Saharan Africa, as well as in Congo and other locations. Just like in Lima, and other parts of Peru, the trade is mostly exercised by street vendors.
The basic process of Anticucho making is to marinate the meat –up to ten hours- thread it on a skewer, and grill it over a fire. There are no exact quantities for the ingredients in these recipes: how you make your marinade depends on how much meat you are cooking and what ingredients you like. The marinade itself is very simple: vinegar, vegetable oil, aji panca (in lieu of it, Paprika or red curry paste work well), crushed garlic and cumin. Beef heart, although it is alien to the North American palate, once marinated and grilled this way can be firm, tender, juicy and just plain delicious. However, for the faint of heart or not very adventurous, substituting beef tenderloin for the heart works well, with the proviso that the marinade step needs only two hours.
½ cup red wine vinegar
2 tablespoons of aji panca paste. If not available replace with paprika or red curry paste
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
2 crushed garlic cloves
Pinch of cumin
Firm tofu cubes 1 ½ pounds
Oil for basting
Boiled and cooled potato or cassava root
Cut tofu into bite size cubes, approx. 1 ½ inch long x 1 inch wide. Mix all marinade ingredients together and place in bowl with tofu cubes, cover and leave in fridge, overnight. Light barbecue, greasing the grill. Thread tofu cubes in bamboo skewers, three or four pieces per brochette. Sprinkle with salt. Barbecue on high, flipping skewers until cooked to desired degree, each time basting with excess marinade mixed with basting oil. Serve immediately with cooked potato.
This dish can go extremely well with a ripe, spicy Zinfandel. In lieu of this varietal, try Aglianico del Vulture or a Malbec from Patagonia.