Pio Peruvian Rotissaire Chicken
By Bob Keelaghan

A Taste of Peru

The family-run Pio Peruvian Restaurant serves bold, South American flavours that many Calgarians have only discovered since it opened in 2012. Mariza Mora-Vasquez’s recipes for rotisserie chicken, stir fries, pastas and curries get the thumbs up from Calgary’s Peruvian community for their authenticity and come as a pleasant surprise for Calgarians with culinary curiosity.

“She always wanted to do a restaurant and talked about getting a franchise, but my brother and I are opinionated and we told her, ‘No way. Your food is better,’” says Mariza’s daughter Sandra Ebrahim who handles the business side of the restaurant. After immigrating to Canada over 20 years ago, she was the go-to caterer for Calgary's Peruvian community events. Mariza’s reputation sprung from making authentic Peruvian dishes despite the impossibility of finding certain key ingredients in Canada. Sandra wrote a business plan for a restaurant as a project for her CMA program at SAIT Polytechnic. It went over well with her instructors, so the family decided to go for it.

You’ll find Italian, Portuguese, Indian and Japanese influences. We have people coming in the restaurant from different backgrounds and they say it reminds them of something from back at home. - Sandra Ebrahim, co-owner
Peruvian food, rotisserie chicken, ceviche, pasta, saltado, stir fries, salads
Photographs of Machu Picchu adorn the walls of Pio Peruvian Rotisserie Chicken.

A Convergence of Flavours

Trying Peruvian food for the first time, there is something familiar, but entirely unique in the striking flavours, sometimes spicy and always zesty. Sandra describes Peruvian society as a convergence of cultures that is reflected in its food. “You’ll find Italian, Portuguese, Indian and Japanese influences," she explains, "We have people coming in the restaurant from different backgrounds and they say it reminds them of something from back at home.”

Central to Pio Peruvian’s menu is the rotisserie chicken served with a variety of sides. Sandra says its popularity in Peru originated with Swiss chefs who brought the recipe with them, but it evolved as indigenous spices came into the mix. Customers will probably be familiar with ceviche seafood salad, but the Peruvian variety is served with large kernals of toasted Inca corn. Lomo saltado, literally translated as “jumping beef,” is a beef stir-fry that gets its tangy flavour from a gravy of tomatoes, onions and soy sauce. Aji de gallina is described as a pulled-chicken curry, though it gets its spiciness from Peruvian chilis.

Then there are the more unusual dishes that have caught on with Calgarians. Antichuchos are beef heart skewers. “Surprisingly, the kids love them the most,” Sandra says. The cassava fries have become as popular as Pio’s fresh, home-cut potato fries. Pio also serves the banana-like plantain as a mash or fried with feta cheese on top.

Peruvian food, rotisserie chicken, ceviche, pasta, saltado, stir fries, salads
The lomo saltado, served with fries and a ziggurat of rice, is a beef stir fry that gets its flavour from a gravy of tomatoes, onions and soy sauce.

Authentic as Machu Picchu

Given that Peru’s most famous attraction is the abandoned Incan city of Machu Picchu, it is not surprising to see it replicated on Pio Peruvian’s colourful walls. Pio, however, has become a sort of a testing ground for Canadian tourists getting ready for the journey to the UNESCO site. “People will come in here before a trip to Machu Picchu because they want to find out what the food is like in Peru,” Sandra says. “When they come back, they come in an tell us the food was just like Pio’s!”

Peruvian food, rotisserie chicken, ceviche, pasta, saltado, stir fries, salads
Pio Peruvian Rotisserie Chicken is located on Sunridge Way in Calgary's northeast.
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