Monday, April 30, 2007

Antigua Taberna Queirolo In Pueblo Libre

One of the wonderful things about a city with such a long history as Lima is the fact there are any number of places where you feel you have stepped back in time and escaped the hustle and bustle of the modern metropolis.

Antigua Taberna Queirolo, in the Pueblo Libre district, is such a place.

Founded in 1880 by an Italian immigrant to Peru, Santiago Queirolo Raggio, the Antigua Taberna Queirolo is a historic locale evocative of a long-ago era. When it was originally opened, this part of the city (then called Pueblo de Magdalena or Magdalena Vieja) was an agricultural region known for its pleasant climate and fertile land. Santiago Queirolo, who owned grape vineyards near Cañete south of Lima, first opened a pulpería, which specialized in octopus, next to his bodega (warehouse) where he began selling his pisco and wine to the local owners of the haciendas and their workers.

Over time, his small business flourished and now the Santiago Queirolo brand is one of the most well-known and highly-regarded wine and pisco producers in Peru.

The Antigua Taberna Queirolo is believed to be one of the oldest restaurants in Peru; as you walk in, you immediately notice many of the details have not changed over the hundred-plus years it has been open. This is one of those places where people come over a lifetime to eat, drink, and spend long afternoons lost in conversation.

The Antigua Taberna Queirolo is minutes from busy avenues replete with cars and buses; yet, because it is in Pueblo Libre's historic core, it feels like a small town.

The surrounding area is worth a stroll, and one of Peru's oldest museums
is just across the street, the National Museum of Archeology, Anthropology and History of Peru.

Our visit was just for appetizers since we were en route for lunch at another great local restaurant just around the corner called El Bolivariano, which I'll write about in a later post.

The roast pork Peruvian-style sandwiches are famous at the Antigua Taberna Queirolo, but we opted for a serving of cau cau limeño which is made from beef tripe and potatoes. Not something for everyone's palate, but delicious if you dare to eat it.

The dishes are listed on a chalkboard, and you can also see what you wish to order as many of the dishes are in full view of the patrons behind an ancient glass counter. This is not an elegant place so don't expect five-star service. In fact, the waiters are somewhat known for sometimes being gruff, but if you have patience, a good dose of humor, and an adventurous culinary heart, you won't have any problems. It's all part of Antigua Taberna Queirolo's charm.

We also had an order of one of my favorite seafood dishes, choros a la chalaca, which are mussels topped with onions, tomatoes, and spicy Peruvian ají. We got so excited by them we had gobbled down almost the entire dozen before I realized we hadn't taken a picture, which is why the photo above has only two choros left. They are very tasty.

Of course, we washed down our food with a pisco sour and a chicha morada, the sweet purple corn drink. If you are interested in drinking heartily, you can order a res completo, literally a 'whole cow' (below is the explanation of the term). Instead of a side of beef, you get a bottle of pisco, another of 7 Up or Canada Dry, a plate of sliced limes and a bucket of ice. It doesn't get better than that for a long and animated discussion of Peruvian politics or sports, which seem to be what many of the old-timers in the place were doing.

In doing research for this post, I also came across a short video of Gastón Acurio's program, Aventura Culinaria (Culinary Adventure), which ran on Peruvian television. The video is in Spanish but it has great shots of the Antigua Taberna Queirolo, including historical photos that illustrate its development over time. I liked it so much I went ahead and translated the dialogue into English. The video is only 2:16 minutes long and I recommend you watch it. My translation appears below (and it explains the origin of the word res for the pisco and soda drink). The end of the video shows the famous roast pork sandwiches.

Gastón: In this adventure, we are going to show you that good restaurants never go out of style. Good restaurants stand the test of time, they improve, they grow, and they become part of the city's fabric. To begin this story, it is only logical we seek the oldest restaurant in Peru. What is it? The Queirolo. Imagine, a hundred and some years ago in a city in which there were only small fondas, where food was mostly sold on the street, all of a sudden this place appeared, this place which is so magical, and even better than it was originally.

Gastón: In what year was La Taberna founded?

Queirolo Staff: La Taberna was founded in 1880. More or less the same year the Queirolo family arrived here in Magdelena Viejo. They chose this corner, where they first opened a pulpería which sold octopus, because there was a streetcar pulled by horses that would go as far as Avenida Brasil, where there was another streetcar to central Lima. At the time, there were only haciendas
all around here.

Gastón: There is nothing better than to come here on a Saturday afternoon, get a bottle of pisco and a bottle of Canada Dry, and ice. That's called una res. Why is it called res?

Queirolo Staff: Because of la mulita (little mule). The small glass of pisco was called la mulita, so if the small glass was la mulita, the big had to be una res.

Below is a satellite view of the immediate vicinity. The Parque Bolivar is the main plaza of Pueblo Libre (on the left of the image). The National Museum of Archeology, Anthropology and History of Peru is the complex with all the interior courtyards. I haven't figured out how to draw on these images from Google Earth yet, but the Antigua Taberna Queirolo is the building with the large red roof at the top center of the image. That is actually the bodega, where the pisco is stored and which you can visit. The restaurant is to the left of that, at the juncture of the two streets.

Antigua Taberna Queirolo
1090 Avenida San Martín, corner of Avenida Vivanco
Pueblo Libre
Open daily from 10 a.m., closes at 11 p.m. from Monday to Wednesday, at midnight from Thursday to Saturday, and at 4 p.m. on Sundays.
Phone: 460-0441
Website: Antigua Taberna Queirolo

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