Another pork-filled odyssey of eating has been published in the Weekly, here’s the link! But if you’re lazy you can read it here.
Life of the Party
The tastes of Peru at Café Rumba
Like it or not, a pork sandwich from Café Rumba is going to stay with you all day (unless you’re the type who carries three kinds of breath mints on your person). But for those of you flavor-loving folks who aren’t afraid of a little onion, this is your type of place. Co-owners Marco Mellet and Antonio Diaz are native Peruvians who pursue their cooking with the same gusto as the lively Latin music that cheerfully contributes to the café’s sunny atmosphere. With a two-level open kitchen, green and red walls, plenty of hanging plants, and checkered curtains, this is the sort of space that immediately welcomes you like the confines of a close friend’s living room.
Below colorful paintings depicting Latin street scenes I enjoyed the basic satisfaction of a hearty sandwich: a fresh, fluffy warmed French roll with shredded marinated pork, cilantro, peppers, and thick cut red onion ($6.25). If you’re a bit squeamish about fat like I am, you’ll find yourself pulling out fatty bits, but I also know that most people would have no problem chomping into some especially rich and fatty pork. I paired my lunch with an Inca Kola, a popular Peruvian canned drink that tastes like cream soda had a love affair with Coke. With each sandwich they serve a boiled potato with a slightly spicy, creamy huancaina sauce, made from the Peruvian yellow pepper so prominent in Peruvian cooking, the aji amarillo. The potato side is a refreshing change from a pickle or potato chips, and it serves the same complimentary purpose.
I knew my similarly minded pork lover boyfriend needed to experience Café Rumba, so I brought him along for round two. This time I ordered the braised beef sandwich with marinara ($6.25), which initially I wasn’t that excited about. Beef and marinara aren’t words I find particularly appetizing when paired up, but I figured that I owed it a chance. Our lunch was ready a few short moments later, and it looked great. As an afterthought we ran up for some soup du jour ($3): squash and potato with aji amarillo to pair with our meat-heavy meals. He, of course, was ecstatic about the pork, proclaiming that he would definitely be coming back again. I was pleasantly surprised by the beef—at first dubious about my choice, I became instantly unsure which sandwich I preferred after all. Unlike the thick, saucy, acidic marinara I associate with Italian dishes, this had a lightened, sweetened, and subtle marinara flavor. The beef, perfectly braised, tender, and shredded while still maintaining its texture, was lightly coated in the sauce and served on the French roll. Since it didn’t come with onions I snagged some that had fallen out of my boyfriend’s sandwich to add a little crunch to mine. With or without onions though, it was a treat you can’t find anywhere else in Bellingham. To add more punch to your sandwich you can request a number of traditional sauces, including an olive sauce, a tangy mayonnaise, and a black mint sauce, among others.
Our soup was wholly unnecessary—not that we didn’t like it, but our stomachs were pretty crammed with sandwich by the time we came up for air and remembered our neglected soup. Regardless, it was pleasant enough. Simple, earthy, and well seasoned, this soup wasn’t glamorous, but it was made well and would pair perfectly with any of the menu items if you had a big appetite. Before we slipped into food comas I tried a bite of the milhojas, a traditional dessert of layered puff pastry and dulce de leche ($3). Wisely pre-packaged in a plastic to-go container, it’s as if the staff anticipated that you would never, ever be able to finish this rich dessert after ingesting any of their menu items. That’s true… though we did try. The puffy pastry was perfectly flaky, and coupled with the rich and creamy caramel of the dulce de leche, tasted wonderfully opulent. One bite was enough for me, and we took the rest home with us to be nibbled on throughout the afternoon.
Before I leave, Antonio tells me that in Peru, “to rumba” doesn’t just mean to dance, it means to party. When he and Marco discussed opening this restaurant, he says, they both wanted it to be fun, bright, and homey. It’s clear that this café is more than just authentic Peruvian cooking; it is filled with authentic people who wanted to bring the life of the party straight from Peru to good old Bellingham, Washington.