• Papa a la huancaina is a dish José Alkon grew up eating but has now put a modern twist on the classic dish. (Pepito's)Source: Pepito's
José Alkon found a renewed appreciation for his heritage when opening Pepito's.
Aimee Chanthadavong

24 Jul 2020 - 10:27 AM  UPDATED 24 Jul 2020 - 10:27 AM

After migrating to Australia with his family from their hometown of Lima, Peru, in 1989, eight-year-old José Alkon found himself uninterested in eating home-cooked meals that mainly consisted of beans, rice and pots of stews large enough to last a week.

He recalls all he wanted to eat was European food such as pasta and sandwiches.

Alkon tells SBS Food, "I used to make my lunch every day because I didn't want to take leftovers. My lunch from year seven to 12 was just cheese on bread – that was all."

Fast forward to now and Alkon – who's a cinematographer by trade and the co-founder of wine brand Marrick's Wines – has found a renewed appreciation for his Peruvian heritage and is showcasing that through his first eatery, Pepito's, in Marrickville.

"Tabernas in Peru are 100-year-old family-run institutions that offer simple, basic home-style cooking and a place you can hang out."

"I've always had this strong connection with Peru and realised it I guess the older I got and always wanted to do something cool. I haven't seen anything that has really hit the mark with what I want to show about my country," he says.

"The last time I was there hanging out with some friends, that's when I said if someone is going to do it, I’m going to have to do it the way I want to."

Named after his father, Pepito's is a taberna where people can come for a drink and meal.

José Alkon says Peru's food is the result of the country's history if migration.

"Tabernas in Peru are 100-year-old family-run institutions that offer simple, basic home-style cooking and a place you can hang out. It's very Bohemian. It's a place where a student is hanging out next to a lawyer and they're chatting about poetry or politics. It's a place where everyone comes into and are equally welcomed," Alkon explains.

"There's also a notion [in Peru] that when you go out for a drink, you're not just going for a drink you're going out for a meal at the same time. It's one of the same. In Australia that gets a bit confused sometimes; people think you either go for a drink or you go for a meal."

"I wanted it to feel like a bar, but I want it to be a place for people to come in grab some snacks or get a good meal."

Though the venue is a celebration of mainly Peruvian cuisine, Alkon's intention is not to be a Peruvian eatery.

"To be honest we're not here to please Peruvians. In Peruvians' minds, there is no better food than your mum, dad, and grandparents – that's the benchmark...so that's why for us it's not traditional Peruvian, it's our take on taberna food," he says.

Some of those taberna dishes that Alkon refers to include the ox heart anticuchos, a classic Peruvian street-food, which is marinated in Peruvian chillies and spices, vinegar and cumin, before cooked over charcoal.  

"The history of the anticuchos come from the African slaves that came to Peru. They used the cheapest cuts, which was offal, and turned them into skewers and cook them over the fire. That's become a street food staple in Peru where you can go anywhere, and you’d smell that cooking on the streets," Alkon says.

Codorniz nikkei anticuchos is a modern take on a popular Peruvian street-food.

There's also a range of sanguches, or sandwiches, as well as Pepito's take on papa a la huancaina, a creamy potato dish that traditionally uses boiled potato.

The real mainstay of Pepito's for Alkon, however, is that it celebrates the influence migration had on Peruvian cuisine. "Peruvian food is a history of migration because pretty much all the cultures that came to Peru brought in their recipes and adapted it with the amazing produce Peru had, and that's how all of our food came about," he says.

Love the story? Follow the author here: Twitter @achanthadavong or Instagram @aimeech33.

Photographs by Aimee Chanthadavong & Pepito's.

276 Illawarra Road, Marrickville
(02) 8668 5479
Wed to Sat 5pm–late; Sun 12pm­­­–5pm

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