Friday, 7 August 2015


In that first gloomy winter in Peru, tio Hernan’s Anecdotes gave me a taste of just how much more there was to see and discover, beyond the grey skies of Lima and the confines of mother in law’s sofa.  

The book provided a kind of cheat sheet layman’s introduction to the country’s archaeological sites and rich cultural heritage - so much more than the tourist poster Inca citadel at Machu Picchu.  

But more than that, the stories give a unique human insight into tio Hernan’s hero ‘el sabio’. They show us Tello the man, rather than Tello the father of Peruvian archaeology.  

It seems Tello had his favourite chifa (Chinese restaurant) and he was partial to a good lomo saltado*, an iconic Peruvian – Chinese fusion dish which millions of Peruvians still love to sit down to in homes and restaurants all over the country today.

In which Hernan speculates on the curious origins of a strange expression

‘Korcholis’ was el sabio Tello’s favorite word for whenever he was impressed by something. The word could have been one of his daughter Elenita’s creations. She had rather a splendid repertory of unique words that he called on from time to time.  But I have another theory. 

It seems that in his student days, whilst he was working his way through medical school - especially towards the end of the month – Tello often found himself on a forced diet. The situation was alleviated a little with the arrival of his nephew Horacio Tello, who amongst other talents, knew how to cook boiled potatoes and rice with peas more or less tolerably. So when he was a bit short of cash, he turned to Horatio. And with half a kilo of rice and a penny’s worth of peas they had enough for a good lunch and even for dinner as well.

But at the end of the day, even on a meagre budget, the stomach is the stomach. Sooner or later, it naturally protests at the same incessant fare over and over.  So one day Tello said to the young Horace: "Do you think we could vary the menu just a bit? We always have rice with peas! "

Horacio duly took note and the next time he was cooking, he did vary the menu. Truth be said, rice with peas was getting a bit boring for him as well. And there was one simple way to change things. So it was that when his uncle next asked what he had cooked, he replied: "Today I did peas with rice."

This constant rice with peas (albeit even if it was sometimes peas with rice) led Tello to develop a deep admiration for a certain Mr. Wing Wo Ching, who had an establishment in Comesebo Street, which was where the future scientist was living. The sign outside displayed the simple legend: Korcholis Inn.

fig. 1 

Every time he pictured a good meal, his imagination lit on the blessed Korcholis. For although it was only a humble tavern, the cook there created such delicious culinary delights it was enough to make you lick your fingers.  

It was a time when good meat, premium quality rice, yucca and plenty of other produce, was available not only to the wealthy, but also to the poorest people of the city.

That may give us some clue as to why that little word, Korcholis, always sprang to mind when he had some joyful or happy recollection of simpler times past.

But it wasn't all happy memories. One day when he had money in his pocket, Tello  made his way directly to the Korcholis Inn with such an appetite and such a longing for a good feed, that as soon as he sat down he shouted out: "Waiter, bring me a lomo saltado with plenty of onions and loads of tomato. Pile it all on, no stinting. I'll pay whatever it costs."

lomo saltado
photo - Miguel Etchepare
the art of Peruvian cuisine

Such was the arrogance with which the client made his request and with so little regard for the price that the chef, full of curiosity, wanted to see for himself who this strange customer was.

Tello told us that he saw him crouched down and peeking out through the serving hatch.  He was observing him rather seriously, until finally, bowing his head, he showed him the palms of his hands in a gesture that seemed to say: “ok ok just be patient”.

After a wait that seemed like forever, the cook made good on his offer. Out from the kitchen came a huge, steaming plate of lomo saltado, piled high with onions and all topped off with a large fried egg. 

And when I say huge, I mean huge. You have to remember that the plates we use today are more like the tiny dessert dishes they used in those times.  (I recently heard an old man complain when he was served a bowl of soup: "That little syringe! - What have we come to when these dishes look like toys? ")

Well anyway, they served Tello a lomo saltado Korcholis style that gave him such tremendous indigestion that he was laid prostrate for days, the memory of which he never forgot.

* Watch Gaston Acurio show you how to prepare lomo saltado 

fig 1. photo from el chifa : la fusión culinaria del fideo y el ají
          Mr De La Croix 

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