Peru. It’s far, faaaaaar away. About as far from Korea as the moon, it seems. A geographical distance reflected by the number of Peruvian restaurants to be found in Seoul: one. There used to be Cusco near Hapjeong Station and there could still yet be one tucked away in this megacity, but right now your only ray of Andean hope is Tigre Cevicheria. Lucky for you, Tigre hues as close to textbook Peruvian as it can given distance and the resulting sourcing problems. Tigre delivers straight-forward fare that deserves a good amount of praise for being gutsy enough to try to be comfortable in its own gastronomic skin, especially with the rent prices in its area of Hannam-dong.
When you Google image search “aji de gallena,” the resulting photos will invariably look like what arrives on your plate at Tigre. So, no worries for those of you scarred by fusion food experiments gone awry. Aji de gallena is a creamy chicken-based dish featuring a sauce made with evaporated milk, yellow bell peppers (substituted for the hard-to-get Peruvian aji peppers), and walnuts. Think of it as Peru’s chicken korma. Kalamata olives make a rare appearance and the usually hard-boiled egg is soft-boiled here because, well, why the hell not? The gooey soft-boiled texture accentuates the already ample richness of the dish.
The ceviche is also spot-on. Hunks of fluke and shrimp come in a pool of lime juice which acts to “cook” the fish. As much as Koreans love fluke, also known as gwang-eo, it’s amazing that ceviche hasn’t become more a trendy food. Perhaps only the eye-watering cost of limes holds back what could be a heavenly food fad for 2017. If ever there was a time to root for international free trade agreements…
As true as Tigre tries to be to Peruvian basics, the atmosphere is more slightly upmarket than the old wooden benches you’d likely be perched upon eating similar food in Lima or Cusco. After all, the place is located in a ritzy part of Hannam-dong where one might accidentally get a $70 haircut. Almost as soon as service starts, the lights go low, the volume of the impeccably selected 90’s hip-hop gets bumped up, and Tigre shows its stripes as a date spot or as a solid place to convene for small plates with friends. In fact, you should take this rarified chance to have a pisco sour or another pisco-based cocktail that might be gnawing at your leftover nostalgia from backpacking through Peru.
As every desperate backpacker knows, in quite a bit of South America, empanadas are your best friend. Tigre’s iteration is oven-baked in a thick pastry shell. You’d be forgiven for thinking the shell constitutes most of the contents, but this empanada reveals itself as a generously stuffed meat envelope. The beef content is a bit on the sweet side due to raisins and the dusted confectioner’s sugar but the idea of sweet and savory is not out of step with similar Andean empanadas like Bolivian salteñas or Argentinian creamed corn and cheese empanadas.
The pollo anticuchos, essentially Peruvian chicken skewers, also hue towards sweetness. The smokiness of its sauce is a lot like Chipotle’s carnitas sauce but here the dulcet taste comes via roasted, and then blended, red bell peppers. The grilled green onion on the side is a nice touch because you will want to scoop up as much of the anticucho sauce as you can. Last but certainly not least is the stately rocoto relleno, a beef-and-cheddar stuffed red bell pepper that is oven-baked and nicely charred. Cut open the top like a vegetal lobotomy and watch the cheese ooze out. The flavor combinations here will stroke the pleasure centers of pimento cheese lovers. Southerners, try to hold back that tear in the corner of your eye.
The only thing holding Tigre back from being a really exceptional restaurant are the prices, especially if you’re drinking, which sit in an uncomfortable range for the typical diner looking to purchase a filling meal for a reasonable price. However, this isn’t really an issue if you treat Tigre as one stop amongst a few rounds. In fact, curious gastronomes who’ve never had Peruvian food, or just those who can afford it, will find a restaurant that tries its best to honestly represent the cuisine. Short of a long flight to South America or New York City, one isn’t likely to find a better quality rendition of Peru’s greatest culinary hits in Seoul anytime soon.
Prices: ceviches KRW 12,000, anticuchos KRW 15-12,000, rocotto relleno KRW 13,000, aji de gallena KRW 18,000
Recommended dishes: ceviche clasico, aji de gallena, rocotto relleno
Drinks: pisco cocktails KRW 18,000, bottles of wine from KRW 40,000, beer from KRW 9,000
Address: Yongsan-gu, Hannam-dong 657-11 1F
Hours: Monday-Saturday 6pm-1am