Sacramento’s mobile food scene will soon be peppered with the flavors of Peru. A new mobile food vendor, El Ajicito, will be rolling through Sacramento any day now.
The truck, named after a signature spicy pepper of Peru, is run by chef/owner Norka Lema. She’s a native of Lima, Peru, but has called the United States home for more than two decades. Her goal is to introduce more of the foods of her mother country to Sacramentans, including alfajores (Peruvian shortbreads), Peruvian-style empanadas and a line of sandwiches stuffed with various types of fries.
Peruvian cuisine has meanwhile become buzzworthy among local food enthusiasts for its blend of influences, as offered at such local eateries as La Huaca and Machu Picchu. In a city that is loaded with taco trucks and grilled sandwiches, Peruvian food seems well-poised to make a mark.
In a recent conversation with The Bee, here’s what Lema said about her El Ajicito truck and its menu.
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Q: Why a food truck and not a traditional brick-and-mortar restaurant?
A: A food truck for me is more exciting. I feel I need to go to different places and show people my food, in Sacramento and Roseville and Davis. I would like to have a restaurant, of course, but at this time in my life it’s more affordable to have a food truck than a restaurant. It’s not easy and a lot of work, and we know that. But with my background in food, I don’t think there will be a problem. We just need some help from people.
Q: What’s your background in food and cooking?
A: I am a caterer. I’ve been catering for my family and friends for many years, but officially started catering with my license two years ago. Then, I have a background in culinary school. I’ve been at American River College (culinary arts and hospitality program) and graduate in May. I also have some culinary education back in Peru and a degree in economics. I opened a catering business in Peru the year I got married to my husband. He loves food and is a cook himself.
Q: Peruvian food seems to be getting a little more popular in Sacramento and other cities. How would you describe the cuisine of your home country?
A: It’s really a fusion. It’s a (mix) of African, Italian, Chinese, Japanese, a little Arabic. That’s why it tastes so different from other places. For example, we have a sandwich with some Chinese ingredients because it’s part of the culture. Our bread is special made for us, and it’s like a French roll but in a bun. It has to be crispy on the outside and soft inside. Inside it has a soft meat with red onion, tomato, cilantro, some soy sauce and a little cumin.
The pork sandwich we call “pan con chicharon” and it’s pork that’s boiled then deep-fried. It’s served with salsa and sweet potato fries inside the sandwich. You taste sweet, salty and sour. We grew up with this food.
Q: How about the aji peppers themselves?
A: People here call it a “chili,” but in Peru it’s “aji.” It’s spicy and has a different taste. We have an “ajicito” (little pepper) for every plate. (Some) are mild to really hot, but it’s really about the taste. People try them and say, “Oh this is good, it’s different.”
Q: What kind of business model will you be following? Some trucks specialize in events and catering, while others do that and also hustle for lunch business during the week.
A: We’re going to try and do events at the beginning, and we’ll be at (May’s Sacramento Music Festival). We’re also going to do lunches in the summertime at American River College. I have all the permits and we’re going to be looking for places. I’m ready to go.
Call The Bee’s Chris Macias, (916) 321-1253. Follow him on Twitter @chris_macias.
Chef/owner of El Ajicito food truck.
El Ajicito is one of the newest trucks to hit Sacramento’s mobile food scene, and will specialize in the multi-culti flavors of Peruvian cuisine.