Tuesday, July 24, 2007

El Olímpico In Huancayo

I wrote about our recent trip to the central Andean city of Huancayo at this post, and I mentioned we ate at El Olímpico, which was founded in 1941 and long regarded as the best restaurant in town.

This is not the first time I mention El Olímpico at Peru Food. Last year I posted some photos taken at El Olímpico by Achalaw at this post.

Huancayo is not an historic or particularly attractive city, but it has a good Sunday fair and the Mantaro Valley, where it is located, has many villages rife with folklore and local art.

If you get a chance to go to Huancayo by train, it is truly one of the world's most spectacular train rides, rising from sea level to 15807 feet (4818 meters) at the Ticlio pass, before descending to the agricultural valley where the city is located.

The train no longer operates a daily service, but information about the occasional trips offered can be found at the Ferrocarril Central Andino website.

The train was not running when we went to Huancayo from Lima, so we went by road on a very comfortable Cruz del Sur bus (about seven hours, 50 soles) and returned by plane on LC Busre (about 40 minutes, USD 70).

Flights from Lima to Huancayo are a recent event (the airport is actually in Jauja, about 40 minutes away, but the airline takes you from Huancayo to the airport for departure) and the flight on the 18-seater over the central Andes was one of the highlights of our trip.

Although many people in Huancayo told us El Olímpico was no longer what it used to be, we found the food to be perfectly fine. In fact, we had one hearty, home-style meal there. I particularly liked the kitchen area, which was open to the public, and employed a wood burning stove with a a grill across the top, upon which all the dishes were prepared. The service was acceptable and helpful, and during the course of our meal, the restaurant filled up. Prices were quite reasonable and less than what we normally paid in Lima for a comparable meal, and all the dishes I photographed were part of the daily fixed-price lunch meal, known in Peru as menu.

For starters, we ordered an escabeche de pollo, which is a chicken dish in a spicy tangy sauce. Any dish called escabeche (it can also be made of fish or duck) has a vinegar-based sauce, and is a culinary descendant of Arab dishes that traveled from Spain to the New World.

Note the color of the potato served with the dish (the Huancayo region is known for the quality and diversity of its potatoes) and the onions which are a tart accompaniment.

Almost every Peruvian restaurant in the world has a version of the creamy spicy cheese dish called papa a la huancaína, which originates in Huancayo.

El Olímpico's version is nade the old-fashioned way (in fact, just as my grandmother would make it) using a mortar and pestle to make the sauce instead of a blender (which is the modern and easy version).

Some people have commented the dish doesn't appear appetizing; however, if you can get beyond the way it looks, the marriage between the cheese and the ají, Peruvian hot peppers, is almost perfect.

Once again, the quality of the potatoes is the key, and at El Olímpico they use the famed yellow potatoes, considered to be among the most flavorful of all.

If you are looking for a recipe for this dish, quite a while back I posted links to some I found online at this post.

Central to much Andean cooking are the soups. We thought this barley-based soup was simply outstanding. It tasted almost as good as grandma's (and everyone knows that is always quite a compliment).

Our main dishes included a simple yet classic beef stew served with a hearty dollop of Peruvian-style mashed potatoes (once again, using the very tasty yellow potatoes).

There was nothing fancy about this dish, but its simplicity evoked memories of long-ago, sitting around the family table, enjoying the long conversations for which Peruvians are famous.

One other main dish we tried was olluquito con charqui, which is made with two typical Andean ingredients.

Charqui is a jerky-like dried beef, and ollucos (olluquitos is in the diminutive) are the fruit of a vine that grows in Peru. The dish is stewy, as are so many Andean dishes, and had peas and carrots mixed in for good measure.

The main dishes are served with a side of white rice or potatoes, and if you're lucky, you get both!

While we did notice some elements of the dishes and the restaurant could use improvement, we still enjoyed our meals at El Olímpico, which is located across the street from Huancayo's main square. The windows overlooking the plaza offer great people-watching.

Yes, I will go back to El Olímpico the next time I am in Huancayo.

Restaurante El Olímpico
Avenida Giráldez 197-199, Huancayo
Phones: (64) 21-9515, 21-2024, 21-5719


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TAGS: Peru, Peruvian, food, cooking, cuisine, cocina, comida, gastronomía, peruana


Anonymous said...

Hi again, I'll comment in Spanish :)

El Olimpico es un restaurant que mantiene su sabor y su prestigio por tantos años que da gusto visitarlo cuando estoy en Huancayo.

Yo viví mi infancia en Huancayo, la época de mi educación primaria, y recuerdo cuando mi familia almorzaba o cenada en El Olimpico. Recuerdo al dueño que ya falleció hace ya como diez creo, él recibía personalmente a los turistas y viajeros. Conversaba con ellos y departía sus ideas u opiniones.

Sobre los platos más célebres recuerdo su Cau Cau, sus tamales, el Cuy, etc.

Ahora preparan un rico pollo a la leña que es para variar un poco porque Huancayo tiene muchísimas pollerias.

Pero lo que más me gusta es la forma de preparación de sus platos: hechos con leña y varios son preparados en ollas de barro que le dan un gusto y sabor muy especial. Eso es lo que más me gusta.

Saludos desde Lima! :D

qc.carlos said...

Alexandro, this is just great. I ate with my family in this place several times when I was very young. These photos have brought memories back.

Glad to read your posts again!

::Alejandro:: said...

milanta: gracias por el comentario y un poco de la historia de este lugar tan conocido en Huancayo...

carlos: yo también tengo muy buenos recuerdos de este restaurante cuando vivía en Huancayo de niño, gracias por el comentario

bokumbop said...

Dang it, now I'm hungry. I have to stop reading your blog at night.

::Alejandro:: said...

carol! jajajajaja...you made me laugh....thanks for stopping by...

Juan Arellano said...

Justo hoy charlando con mi padre me contaba que siempre que iba por Huancayo almorzaba ahí. Yo, a pesar de la cantidad de veces que he estado en Huancayo nunca lo he hecho. Ya habrá oportunidad, Saludos.

Anonymous said...

I actually ate here years ago and didn't know it was considered the best in town. I had some soup and some coca tea.
I wrote up the full history of the central railway here.