If you’re anything like me, your early-childhood relationship to chicken was downright schizophrenic. Grocery store frozen chicken breasts? Sheer hatred. Fast-food drumsticks? Overwhelming devotion. You threw temper tantrums when confronted with the former, but gobbled down the latter—until, that is, the first playground rumors of rat tails and cockroach bits reached your ears. Urban myth or corporate reality, you never felt the same about your fried chicken—and by the time you reached righteous late adolescence, you would no sooner have ventured into one of the chains selling it than you would have single-handedly headed into the rainforests to chop down trees.
Fast forward a decade or so, and there you are in Lima, one of the world’s gastronomic capitals. After a few ceviche-filled days and Pisco Sour nights, your friends—savvy locals—tell you about a chicken joint, the best in the city. You hop into the car almost before they’re done speaking, but upon arrival, you can’t help but think there’s been a terrible mistake. Rather than the colorful mom-and-pop storefront you’d envisioned, you find yourself in a restaurant with the same glitzy-bland feel as innumerable “family dining” chains back home—the sort you avoid both on instinct and on principle.
Welcome to Peru, where all your worries about chicken (tasteless? mass-produced? environmentally irresponsible?) are unfounded. And welcome, specifically, to Pardo’s Chicken, a venerable institution with 13 branches in the capital and another three around the country. Its slogan is ¡Siente el sabor peruano! (“Taste the Peruvian flavor!”), and on any given day, you’ll find a healthy mix of natives and tourists from all walks of life doing just that. The particular sabor they’re clamoring after is pollo a la brasa—chicken roasted on a spit before being hacked into quarters and served with a variety of dipping sauces, including the show-stopping mayonesa de ají, a spicy mayonnaise made with the venerable hot yellow pepper that is the backbone of Peruvian cuisine.
Perhaps I shouldn’t have been quite so surprised. After all, this is a country where any given outdoor market boasts stall upon stall of chicken sellers painstakingly hand-removing stray quills from their freshly slaughtered and scalded birds before butchering them to each individual shopper’s specifications. But even so, the shock of eating crisp-skinned chicken that good after years of abstinence—not to mention chewing on the bones for every last scrap of meat, just like my child-of-the-Depression grandmother would have—was profound. And eerie, too, for with the first bite of pollo a la brasa, a hush descended upon the whole table. “We call it the twenty-minute rule,” laughs my friend Betsabé Cabrera de Reichardt, a 28-year-old Lima resident who has been going to Pardos since she was a little girl. “You just can’t talk while you eat Pardos. There’s nothing left to say.”
Nothing, except this: ¡Buen provecho!
If you want to try this chicken north of the border, Pardo’s also has a location in Coral Gables, Florida