It's not even noon on an average Thursday, but Peruvian-born café owner and operator Aldo Orihuela has already sold out of his house-made empanadas.
Each and every day, his house-made empanadas walk out of La Hacienda, the Sussex Street café he owns and operates with his wife, daughter and relatives. They go to peckish CBD workers, Peruvian food enthusiasts and Latinos missing a taste of home – so much so that Orihuela's thinking he needs to hire more staff to meet the demand.
"The empanadas are our number one seller," Orihuela tells SBS Food. "They're a good way to introduce people to Peruvian food if they've never had it before, and they keep people coming back. We need to make more!"
Orihuela has owned La Hacienda for 10 years, but it's only been Peruvian (in food and décor) for about one of them – and it's struck a serious nerve even in that short time.
"They're a good way to introduce people to Peruvian food if they've never had it before, and they keep people coming back. We need to make more!"
Perhaps it's the Peruvian-imported coffee (which, coincidentally, is excellent), or the iconic Inca Kola bottles used as table-top vases ("in Peru, Inca Kola is a tradition – we drink it every day," Orihuela says). Or perhaps it's that despite Peru being voted the Best Culinary Destination in the 25th edition of the World Travel Awards last year, marking a seven-year winning streak, there just aren't that many places in Sydney serving proper Peruvian cuisine.
"Peruvian food cooked in the right way is made using only fresh ingredients," Orihuela says. "At La Hacienda we don't use something premade. While other restaurants open a can of beans and mix in spices, we cook our beans from scratch. When Australians try our food they know it's something different, they know they've only had it if they've been to Peru before."
Apart from the empanadas, other popular menu items include lomo saltado, one of Peru's national dishes comprising of sliced beef steak, onions, tomatoes, French fries, soy sauce and rice that originated from the Chifa cooking tradition (a mixture of Chinese and Peruvian cuisine), and seco a la nortena, lamb stewed in a coriander, onion and garlic sauce, and served with rice and beans. Most dishes on the menu hail from the northern, coastal and Andean regions of Peru where Orihuela and his wife grew up – like ceviche, papa a la huancaina (boiled potato covered in a sauce made with feta cheese and yellow chilli served with olive and egg) and arroz chaufa (Peruvian style fried rice).
But La Hacienda is about more than food – it's about community, and creating an authentic Peruvian experience for everyone in it.
"When we changed the business we thought we were only going to cook for Peruvians," says Orihuela.
"Now we're cooking for South Americans who love Peruvian food – Chileans, Colombians, pretty much all Latino people and customers who want to try new things. Every day we get excited because more people from the Peruvian community are very happy with the business, they want to help us and support us.
'Yesterday I talked to a Peruvian who’s lived here for 50 years, and he offered to bring some decorations for the shop." That same customer donated the decorations currently on display, in honour of Peruvian Independence Day on the 28th of this month. There's an eye-catching VIVA PERU flag in the window, too.
"The restaurant represents Peruvians well, and in return, they're supporting us," says Orihuela. "It's very nice when people feel like we're part of the community."
210/298 Sussex Street, Sydney, NSW
Mon-Thurs: 7am-4pm | Fri-Sat: 7am-9pm | Sun: 8am-5pm
Fragrant, spicy and loaded with seafood, parihuela is Peru’s answer to bouillabaisse. Food Safari Water
Quinoa is one of Peru’s staple foods and is as healthy as it is versatile. Quinoa can be used as a substitute for rice and its texture will change when sautéed or fried. In this recipe I have used white quinoa, but you can use any variety. If available garnish with borage flowers, but feel free to use other edible flowers or your favourite seasonal herbs.
“The quality of the seafood from the super-clean Icelandic waters is the envy of chefs the world over, and this is the freshest I’ll ever get it! So I decided to make a beautifully simple recipe I love from Peru called ceviche, where the fish is ‘cooked’ in citrus juice. Most important is that the fish is lovely and fresh. Once you’ve got a lovely bit of fresh fish, you’re halfway there!” Ainsley Harriott, Ainsley Harriott’s Street Food