Aji Peruvian Restaurant, a new business in the Four Corners district of Collegedale, is introducing residents to a whole new palate.
"The flavor set is something most people in the U.S. haven't tried before," said the restaurant's director of marketing Marcella Morales. "There's a fried rice dish that someone might say, 'Oh that's Chinese,' or you might try a pasta and think it looks like an Italian dish, but when you taste it the flavors are completely different."
Co-owner Sam Sarmiento said he opened the restaurant to not only give Chattanoogans a taste of Peru, but also of his childhood. His mother, Pilar Albernas, is co-owner and creator of many of the recipes. Her passion has always been cooking, he said.
Sarmiento began making plans for a restaurant five years ago, while majoring in business administration at Southern Adventist University. He took ownership of what was Machu Picchu restaurant Feb. 1 and renamed the restaurant, creating an entirely new menu based on his mother's recipes.
"Our focus is to provide the customer with excellent customer service and a pleasant and flavorful dining experience," he said.
Aji's menu emphasizes traditional Peruvian flavors and offers a variety of vegetarian and vegan dishes. Everything is made from scratch in the restaurant, including the vegetarian meats. Sarmiento named the restaurant after one of the most common ingredients in Peruvian cooking, aji. The mild yellow pepper is grown in the Andes and can be found in many types and flavors. Many of the dishes contain quinoa, which is a gluten-free, grain-like plant also grown in the Andes. Sarmiento said quinoa is a complete protein with B vitamins, iron and fiber.
"Almost all the dishes we serve have one type of aji or another, but it is not necessarily spicy - they actually have a unique flavor," said Morales. "We have very mild dishes as well and have a sauce we serve for people who want the dish spicy."
Sarmiento said Peruvian cuisine is a conglomeration of many different cultures as immigrants have blended their own traditions with Peru's over time. The Incas contributed potatoes, Andean corn, chichi morada, rocoto pepper and quinoa while the Spaniards introduced new spices, peppers and vegetables. Chinese immigrants who sought work in Peru founded Chifas restaurants, introducing rice, soy sauce, Chinese noodles, ginger and other ingredients which blended with Peruvian flavors to create specialty sautéed dishes called Saltados. The Japanese fished around Peru and introduced algae and new types of fish while the French and Italians brought sauces, puddings, soufflés, mousses, pastas and pizzas.
Aji Peruvian Restaurant is at 9413 Apison Pike, suite 106. For more information call 396-3913.