By jennifer dome
SOUTH RIVER — The Ciuffardi family has a message for the community: La comida de Peru venía al South River.
That is, the food of Peru has come to the borough in the form of a new Main Street restaurant called Cuzco. Inside the heavy wooden door, customers are met with earthy colors of orange and yellow, white tablecloths and candleholders made of bamboo, combined with the smell of the comida, or food.
The large town of Cuzco, for which the restaurant is named, is located in the hills of Peru quite a distance from Lima, the country’s capital and the place where the Ciuffardi family was raised. But the blend of the family’s hometown on the coast and the mountainous terrain of Cuzco accounts for the tastes of Peru in the dishes the family serves at the new restaurant, which opened in April.
Elzio Ciuffardi works during the day in the restaurant, while his sister, Anabelle Teixeira, handles the nights and weekends. Both run Cuzco with the help of sus padres — their parents, Luz and Nicanor Ciuffardi, who have lived in South River for 19 years.
Elzio and his mother Luz — which means "light" in their native Spanish language — spoke to a reporter Tuesday morning about the history of their country’s cuisine.
When the Incan people occupied the country of Peru long ago, people ate food made mainly from potatoes and rice, Elzio said. When the Europeans came to the country, they brought spices that flavored the foods eaten by the natives.
According to Elzio, the influx of the Chinese has also played a large role in the flavor of the cuisine in Peru.
Peruvian food is not as spicy as Mexican food, Elzio said. Many dishes are made with potatoes and rice, an influence from the mountains of the country where heartier foods are consumed. But seafood is also found in many dishes in their home country. This combination of the starches and fish is an obvious occurrence, Elzio said, since the high mountains of Peru abut the long coast of the country along the borders of Colombia, Brazil, Bolivia and Chile on one side and the Pacific Ocean on the other.
Looking at the black-and-white fotos that hang on the walls of Cuzco, patrons can almost imagine looking out windows at the South American scenery. The Ciuffardi family said many customers have commented on how comfortable they feel when dining in the restaurant.
The building, which formerly housed a rib restaurant, has undergone a major renovation to evoke a homey feeling. The Ciuffardis, as well as Anabelle’s husband and brother-in-law, pitched in to repaint the walls, recarpet the floors and build new counters.
"The family did it. Everyone pitched in," Elzio said of the restaurant’s transformation.
Thus far, the restaurant has drawn customers only by word of mouth, but Elzio said they are all making return visits.
"It’s been doing well since we opened," Elzio said, smiling.
"A lot of people are coming in, from all nationalities," Luz said.
Luz and Elzio agreed that many Peruvian people who once had to travel as far as Elizabeth in Union County to find their native ethnic food are going to Cuzco. Other Spanish-speaking people seem to enjoy the fact that the family is bilingual.
Elzio, who runs the restaurant with his mother and other family members during the day while Anabelle works in New York, said the family plans to run the restaurant in the borough for a long time.
"We felt comfortable opening here because we knew the community," Elzio said.
Luz said customers can expect to see occasional live Peruvian entertainment in the future. She is particularly excited about celebrating Peru’s Independence Day at the restaurant on July 28.