Hilda Cano is a woman with a big heart, and a passion for the culture and cuisine of her native Peru. And what a culture it is. Modern Peru is built on the traditions of the indigenous Inca people, and shows the influence of three immigrant groups – Spanish, African (Creole), and Japanese – sprinkled with bits of Italian, French, German, and Chinese. Born in Lima, Hilda came to America at age 10 to attend school in Miami. There, she lived with her aunt and was a cherished part of her close-knit, extended family. She returned to South America at 15, and immersed herself in the culture and cuisine of her native Peru, becoming a tour guide and eventually running her own travel agency.
Nineteen years ago she moved to Beech Grove, Indiana from Hawthorne, New Jersey, and now, after a stint as an interpreter for Federal agencies and running her own cleaning company, she’s opened the doors on her Fountain Square restaurant that features traditional Peruvian dishes. The endeavor is a family affair, with Hilda’s son Jose and family support. Mama Irma Restaurant is a cozy room at 1058 Virginia Avenue, next to Joe’s Cycles and across from the Murphy Arts Center. “Mama Irma” was Hilda’s mother, who taught her how to cook, and how to love others through food and family traditions.
“This restaurant is a monument to Irma, and her legacy continues through the things I learned from her in the kitchen,” says Hilda. For Hilda, cooking is a passion; making people happy through delicious Peruvian food is her goal. And she doesn’t want her customers to just taste the food, she wants them to get a taste of Peruvian culture too. The restaurant’s lively atmosphere and decor will introduce diners to Afro-Peruvian music, along with some special surprises. Peruvian cuisine is the result of the country’s cultural mashup. But it is also shaped by the stunning biodiversity in Peru’s three distinct geographic regions: the mountains and plains of the Andean highlands (potatoes, corn, and rice), the tropical rain forest of the Amazon basin (fruits and spices), and the waters of the Pacific coast (fish and seafood).
You’ll see all of this reflected in the menu. Appetizers will include ceviche made with fresh, seasonal fish and seafood, and Jalea, a dish of fried shellfish, fish, and yucca topped with a sliced onion salsa. Potatoes will take center stage in papas a la huancaina, which features potatoes in a creamy Peruvian cheese sauce, and causa, a cold mashed potato cake stuffed with chicken salad. Main courses will include Bisteck a lo Pobre, flank stake over french fries, with fried plantains and white rice, topped with a fried egg. Lomo Saltado, another beef dish, is a stir fry of flank steak, rice, tomatoes, and onions, tossed with french fries. Aji de Gallina combines chicken with a creamy sauce flavored with parmesan, walnuts, and spicy aji peppers. Peruvian minestrone is sure to be a popular choice this winter: meaty beef ribs and vegetables in a light beef broth flavored with creamy basil pesto. Desserts will continue the fusion theme with organic mandarin cake with whipped cream, black forest cake, upside-down custard, homemade cheesecake, and alfajores - traditional (albeit a tradition of Middle-Eastern descent filtered though Moorish Spain and remixed in Central and South America) Peruvian sandwich cookies filled with dulce de leche.