El Mono: Prepare Your Tastebuds for Peruvian Food
Located: 2400 E 70th St., Shreveport.
Dining at El Mono isn’t just an experience; it’s a true trip to South America.
“When people come to our establishment, they’re getting a miniature tour of Peru,” said Matt Khadivian, co-owner of the soon-to-open El Mono: Fresh Flavors of Peru in Shreveport. “They’re getting to know the ancient sites while dining, and the staff will be versed on history and culture.”
He and his wife, Daniela, who was born and raised in Peru, began their business venture in El Cerrito, Calif. in the San Francisco Bay Area. The two opened a coffee shop, and while coffee was pretty popular, they weren’t beating out big box chains like Starbucks who happened to be down the street from them.
Then a thought crossed Khadivian’s mind: to start selling what he was used to eating at home, Peruvian food. Khadivian, who was born in Iran and raised in Los Angeles, said he has become a big fan of Peruvian cuisine since meeting Daniela, so much so that now he’s become head chef.
“Your palate has no clue until you come across something like this from Peru,” said Khadivian, who is self-taught in cooking.
The two began with easy, handheld items since their kitchen wasn’t outfitted for fast-paced cooking; tamales, empanadas and ceviche became the hot trends. Soon after, a wine bar was added and the public began to express a need and want for affordable, South American cuisine.
After a short time, the couple outgrew their cafe and decided to invest in a property worthy of being a true, Peruvian restaurant. El Mono (which means “The Monkey”): Fresh Flavors of Peru opened in April 2015 and continues to operate today, and in a few short weeks, their second location in Shreveport will open.
“We saw this as an opportunity,” said Khadivian, whose brother-in-law (and co-owner, David Radina) relocated to Shreveport-Bossier City a few years ago. “This area is ready for something new.”
According to Khadivian, they are the first full-on Peruvian restaurant in a 400 mile radius and in all of Louisiana. After visiting, he said he saw the need and knew that Louisiana’s southern hospitality and love of comfort food would be a great match for their restaurant.
“The recipes and the style of food we provide is very homemade,” said Daniela, who said many of the recipes come from her grandparents and relatives. “What most people are doing now is fusion to bring it to your eyes, but we focus on what the food actually is.”
And the food is good. Real good.
At the core, El Mono serves comfort food. Most dishes are served with some type of rice, potato or meat and the spices are truly mouthwatering. Peru is known for their chiles, so expect to find them in nearly every dish.
Oh, and don’t forget about their signature drink – the Miti Miti. The drink combines their Chicha Morada (an Incan Purple Corn drink) and their Maracuya (Passion Fruit drink). The two come together for an exciting taste that’ll have you asking for more.
“If you’re coming to our restaurant, we are going to make sure your tastebuds are satisfied and your tummy is full,” Khadivian said. “Even if you didn’t like the food, we aren’t going to let you leave hungry.”
Peru is a coastal country bordering the Pacific Ocean with ancient cultures spanning back to 3200 BC. It has become a melting pot of art, literature, music and food with many influences from Africa, Asia and Europe.
CHILES OF PERU
The word for chile in Peru is “aji” and can be found in any Peruvian kitchen. Inside El Mono, you’ll find these four popular chiles in their food and on their menu:
- Aji Amarillo: The Aji Amarillo is the most common chile in Peru and can be found countrywide. In the U.S., it is sometimes referred to as the “yellow chile.” The pods are typically 4-5 inches long. They tend to have a fruity flavor and are used in El Mono’s creamy chicken stew.
- Aji Verde: This green chile generally grows in the coastal valleys of Peru and is a fairly hot pepper. The pods grow 2-3 inches long and are usually eaten in a sauce or fresh. You can find it atop the Causa de Atun, a potato and tuna salad dish.
- Aji Panca: The second most common aji variety in Peru is the Aji Panca. Grown mainly near the coast, this red/burgundy pepper has a citrus, berry flavor and is similar in size to the Amarillo. You can usually find them sun-dried, but at El Mono they’re blended into a broth for their Parihuela (a mixed seafood soup).
- Aji Rocoto: Rocotos grow in the Peruvian Andes and are green in color but ripen to a yellow or red. They’re round and pretty small, usually 2-inches long, and have a distinct, fruity taste. They’re often found in ceviche, salsas and sauces, including the sauce on El Mono’s Hambuergueson. Translated to, you guessed it, hamburger, this Peruvian take has all the traditional fixings plus fried plantains and Rocoto sauce.