Chicha started out as Berlin street food project with the ambition to bring quality Peruvian food to Berlin. It didn't take the crew long to win the crowds over and quite quickly they were one of the favourite stalls at Street Food Thursday with their ceviches and pisco pickleback shots.
The brains behind Chicha are Ariel and Robert. Ariel is in charge of the kitchen, honouring his Peruvian heritage in the best way possible. The same goes for Robert who uses his German sense of Ordnung to manage the front of house. Together they adopted what has become a rather normal way to start a restaurant in Berlin in 2015, and by that I mean testing your concept at street food markets only to then use the learnings and accumulated fan base for the successful opening of your restaurant.
“ The Chicha experience is all about showcasing the whole range of Peruvian food
Half a year and a couple of pop-up trial runs at Industry Standard and plenty of venue hunting later, Chicha the restaurant opened its doors in Neukölln in October 2015. In a venue right by the Maybachufer Robert and Ariel found a home for their dream of Peruvian food. They've done a pretty good job with the venue, it's modern and hip but at the same time also simple and understated.
The Chicha experience is all about showcasing the whole range of Peruvian food, a cuisine that has so much more to offer than ceviche. The famous raw fish dish does never the less take up a significant amount of the Chicha menu and I'm glad it does. In a city deprived of an abundance of quality seafood, Chef Ariel spent a lot of time researching the right fish for his Chicha ceviche, the flagship of his menu. I'm glad he did, because the Chicha ceviche is delicious. The Corbina he uses is a white fish wth the perfect texture and fattiness, a trait which marries it very well with the yellow chili tiger's milk. The other two ceviches on the menu? Good. But the Chicha Ceviche is by far the best one.
“ In the heat of these food memories I forget to mention that Chicha makes the best damn Pisco Sours in Berlin
But let's not get ahead ourselves here, before you even try the ceviche you'll have to order a portion of Yuquitas, the deep fried yukka balls filled with cheese that you dip in huancaina sauce. Order extra hot sauce for these babies and you're all set for the rest of the meal. Oh sorry, actually not. In the heat of these food memories I forget to mention that Chicha makes the best damn Pisco Sours in Berlin and that no meal at Chicha is complete without one as a starter. There you go.
Ceviches are by far not the only thing you can eat at Chicha though. How about some massively appetizing oysters with citrus juice, tomato and corn? Or a Tiradito Quemando, a great example where the Peruvian-Japanese Nikkei cuisine is showcased with a tuna carpaccio dish. One of the signature dishes per se is the Causa de Pulpo where grilled octopus is served on a chilled potato cake. Now, this is essentially a great dish and one I love, but also a dish which doesn't always make it all the way at Chicha, mainly because the potato cake is just slightly too cold and the octopus a bit too chewy. That's also just the way it is, octopus leaves no room for error. Gotta get it perfect.
“ Sounds simple. Tastes damn delicious
The food at Chicha does indeed show many faces. With their lava grill in the kitchen they produce killer dishes like the Cuello de Cerdo where fatty pork neck is grilled and served on a bed of perfectly cooked green lentils. Sounds simple. Tastes damn delicious. At the same time the grilled beef heart skewers aren't great. The Lomo Saltado, essentially a beef wok with rice, may sound like an odd dish but surprises with a great beef flavour and a fresh vegetables and somehow just makes a lot of sense in the context. The Chicharron though, the fried pork belly and a South American staple, is a dish I want to love (crispy pork crackling is my cryptonite) but which in the end usually is slightly bland.
The quality of the Chicha food has been the matter of lively discussion in the food scene as it's not a trivial topic. I can at this point only say that I love parts of it along with the fantastic vibe of the restaurant and the absolutely lovely staff. There is a plenty of room for development though. The thing is, Chicha sort of lingers between restaurant categories, you're sitting in this hip new place eating hip new Peruvian food and then you get lentils with pork and beef with rice. No doubt this is all very authentic Peruvian, but once in a while a dish can be slightly underwhelming. If Chicha would be a street food imbiss I would be the happiest man in Berlin, dropping in all the time to grab a quick Ceviche or Lomo Saltado and wash it down with a cold beer. I suppose this comes from my love for Chicha as a street food vendor and maybe that's the dangerous part of this way to start a restaurant, what works on a market doesn't always work in a restaurant and expectations might be inflated.
“ you should expect a simple and comforting meal and not the hippest eatery in town
In the end this is all tough love for a restaurant I want to be great, fact remains that Chicha serves the best damn ceviche and Pisco sours in Berlin and that this is a very fun and casual eatery. So yes, you should definitely visit, but you should expect a simple and comforting meal and not the hippest eatery in town. Peruvian food has become one of the hottest topics in London and New York and it's about time Berlin gets on the band wagon. I'm glad it's happening with such simple and casual projects like Chicha and I'm very much looking forward to the development of this restaurant and to see Chef Ariel take the food to the next level.