ámaZ – Vibrant jungle in the city

As soon as I entered this restaurant, my senses were transported to the lush Amazon, full of vibrant smells and colors, with the sound of cumbia on the background. ámaZ is beautiful and, like everything touched by the hands of Pedro Miguel Schiaffino, it is refreshingly unique. An upscale Amazonian restaurant has been lacking in Lima for far too long, and no one better than one of our most talented and creative chefs to fill in this gap. I´m ready to dig in and discover its many secrets.

The menu offers a long list of items, some of them typical Amazonian food, while others are fusion dishes made with local ingredients and traditional local flavors. If you’re a newbie with regard to this exotic gastronomy, the best suggestion I can give you is to order several plates to share. My friends and I were encouraged to do this by our waiter, and we were very thankful for the tip, as it allowed us to really experience the complexity and originality of this regional cuisine in its full glory.

To start the meal, we were offered a wooven basket full of addictive yucca bread, and some transparent-thin and crispy tostones, acompanied by a small bowl of guasacaca (the Venezuelan sauce made with avocado, green bell pepper, and lime juice).  A jar with an ensemble of pickled chili peppers from the jungle stood at the center of the table, waiting to be spread over anything and everything.

The first appetizer to come was a duck juane. Usually filled with hen meat, not stewed duck, the herb mixture that gives it its distinct taste is the secret preparation of every chef. We loved it as much as the light tiradito with creamy coconut milk and the causa made with pituca (taro) that followed. Taro has a silky texture and lilac color, very different from the Andean yellow potato usually used to make causa. It contrasted wonderfully with the shrimp and spicy sauce. The tiradito, on the other hand, was creamy, velvety, and simply beautiful. Decorated with delicate flowers, the visual was in complete harmony with the subtle coconut aftertaste, and just the right amount of spice.

You may find this to be a bit of an exaggeration, but I thought the chonta salad was divine. Made with raw hearts of palm cut in strings like fettucini, it was seasoned with a wise hand to highlight the delicate palm flavor. No distractions, just a refreshing cloud of chonta on the plate. This makes me somewhat jealous of Amazonians, as this is the salad sold at their markets everyday, made with the freshest ingredients, straight out of the earth.

The Amazonian chaufa had cecina (dried salty meat) instead of the traditional shrimp and/or chicken; and the lomo saltado came with fried sweet plantains instead of French fries, giving it a comforting sweet touch that we really enjoyed. Paiche, the Amazon river fish that weighs more than 300 pounds of white meat, came in the form of a stew seasoned with exotic fruit juices that made an original sauce. I wish I had rice to soak in that sauce! The roasted chicken skewers with peanut and coconut sauce were amazingly juicy, and I will be sure to have them when I go back.

As you can see, we got carried away and ordered way too much food. But I don’t eat this kind of cuisine every day, not even every year! Unfortunately, this extreme feasting left no room for dessert, but I already have my eye on the fruit sorbet samples for the next time I visit.

I can’t forget to mention the stunning drinks based in traditional (and some say aphrodisiac) ingredients like 7 raíces (7 roots), and a mixture of Amazonian fruits like aguajecocona, and taperibá. These are not very well known elsewhere, and are difficult to describe, so you will have to visit ámaZ and try them for yourselves.

 A few words about the chef. Pedro Miguel Schiaffino is also the owner of Malabar, considered one of the best 100 restaurants in the world. He is one of the first Peruvian chefs to work with Amazonian food and ingredients, making them accesible to people in Lima and other places, and traveling extensively through the Amazon jungle to do research and get the best produce for his restaurants. He is the host of the TV show Desde el Jardín, where he makes many of his recipes, always emphasizing the use of local, sustainable ingredients. Above all, he is one of the loveliest guys I know. If what they say about the cook’s energies going into the pan is right, I’m not surprised that his food is considered one of the best in the world.

Where: La Paz 1079. Miraflores. Lima.


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