Commas | El Rancho Grande turns 40: history and dishes of the emblematic restaurant on Av. Trapiche | guinea pigs | Pachamancas | ADVANTAGE

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Any given Sunday in The Big Ranch of Peru between 60 and 80 guinea pigs can be sold, the same with the Pachamanca of three flavors. This successful business on Trapiche Avenue in Comas celebrates its 40th anniversary and its owners, Óscar Barrena and Cristina Martínez, tell us the secret of their success and their current menu.

A lot of work, persistence and love for its food could subtly summarize four decades of a restaurant that was born “almost as a product of chance”. This is how Barrena explains it while remembering the first days of El Rancho Grande del Perú, when he was just 31 years old: “Because of problems I had in the north with the landslides caused by El Niño in 1982, I was forced to come to Lima where we got this piece of land. We dedicated ourselves to raising guinea pigs because it was the most practical and easiest thing we could do,” says Barrena, a farmer from Cajamarca and a zootechnician by profession. His specialty is raising guinea pigs and he knows everything about the production of this domestic animal that is widely consumed in Peru and that helped them take off in the business.

Cristina Martínez together with her husband, Oscar Barrena, founded El Rancho Grande del Perú when they were 21 and 31 years old respectively. Today they celebrate 40 years of successful business. / Lenin Thaddeus

The good guinea pigs

On a ghostly Trapiche avenue from the 1980s, with farms and cars that passed by only on weekends (an idyllic image that contrasts with the contemporary rush hour traffic), the young couple set up a branch for the sale of guinea pigs and put up a table with a good tablecloth to attract attention: “Always maintaining cleanliness”, emphasizes Cristina Martínez. “The curious passed by and chose their own guinea pig to eat. At first it was just guinea pigs with red potatoes like my mom used to do in Trujillo, but later the same customers suggested new dishes and we started to prepare other things.”

The owners in a photograph taken 35 years ago, in the beginning.
The owners in a photograph taken 35 years ago, in the beginning. / Archive El Rancho Grande del Peru

So they started with a more original proposal: broth and noodles with pigeon. Customers used to ask for chicken broth, traditional in the capital, but they decided to cook something different like the pigeon that is consumed more in Chinese restaurants. To this day, pigeon broth and pigeon noodles are two of his most loved dishes by adults and children.

“I put the pigeon noodle seasoning myself, I am very demanding with food,” says Martínez. “But cecina is a dish invented by my husband.” That forceful chopped cecina and accompanied by abundant mote, cancha, yucca and onion sarsa is a dish devised by Barrena, even the cecina itself is smoked by them in the El Rancho Grande style of Peru.

The cecina is smoked in the same restaurant with the technique learned by Oscar Barrena when he traveled to Iquitos.  In his native Cajamarca, venison meat was also made, from which the idea for the dish was born.
The cecina is smoked in the same restaurant with the technique learned by Oscar Barrena when he traveled to Iquitos. In his native Cajamarca, venison meat was also made, from which the idea for the dish was born. / Lenin Thaddeus

Dishes to share with the family

With the pandemic, guinea pig consumption increased due to its health properties, as well as its guinea pig stew and broth. But its success dates from the beginning of the business, both because of the knowledge provided by Barrena, and because of its freshness: “I think that the success of our guinea pig is because we prepare it at the moment, everything is fresh, we do not have it precooked. We only add salt, naturally. We always serve it with ajiaco de papas, others know it as scrambled potatoes, we accompany it with rice, salad or wheat”, affirms Martínez.

The fresh guinea pig that is fried at the moment is the reason why its guests return.
The fresh guinea pig that is fried at the moment is the reason why its guests return. / Lenin Thaddeus

We prepare the same thing with its stuffed rocoto with huayro potatoes and minced meat, its imposing ribs, wood-fired suckling pig, sarsa de patita, rice with duck and, of course, the three-flavored pachamancas. They carry lamb, chicken and pork meat and they are prepared underground every day: “Nothing is cooked in the pot”, highlights the married couple. “Each meat is seasoned with its own seasonings accompanied by humitas, corn, huayro and yungay potatoes, purple sweet potato and a piece of cheese.”

Pachamanca 3 flavors with lamb, chicken and pork.
Pachamanca 3 flavors with lamb, chicken and pork. / Lenin Thaddeus
The wood-fired suckling pig also has its own house recipe.
The wood-fired suckling pig also has its own house recipe. / Lenin Thaddeus

A big ranch for everyone

Currently, El Rancho Grande del Perú is not only a great restaurant, it has a reception hall for fifteen-year-olds and married couples, where they take care of all the organization, and a swimming pool during the summer. They have a team of about 25 people between kitchen, lounge and events to attend to their public.

An image from the archive of El Rancho Grande del Perú, with the swimming pool that is maintained in summer.  During the winter it is a ball pool.
An image from the archive of El Rancho Grande del Perú, with the swimming pool that is maintained in summer. During the winter it is a ball pool. / Archive El Rancho Grande del Peru

The owners are always present, but they learned to delegate responsibilities and now they can enjoy their achievements:

-How does it feel to have a business with such success for 40 years?

Oscar Barrena: It is a great satisfaction to see that we are enjoying the effort of when we were young. One recommendation is that you have to work when you are young to enjoy when you are old.

-How do you enjoy now?

Oscar Barrena: Traveling inside and outside the country. Another satisfaction is sharing with children, grandchildren and good friends. We have two children and two grandchildren.

Cristina Martínez with her second son Oscar Antonio Barrena Martínez, when the vegetation of the Trapiche, Comas area was seen.
Cristina Martínez with her second son Oscar Antonio Barrena Martínez, when the vegetation of the Trapiche, Comas area was seen. / Rancho Grande Archive

-How do you see El Rancho Grande in the future?

Cristina Martínez: I think of my children because they supported me since I was a child. Suddenly I have sacrificed them without going out on a Sunday to mass or for a walk, but they are good children, I would like them to manage it and continue to grow El Rancho. One day we will be gone, but the children will be, we trust them because this restaurant has allowed us to give them good jobs. I have always considered myself an architect mother who has been able to build good children. We consider ourselves successful husbands. This business has given us great satisfaction and the workers are like other children, we are a family and a good team.

More data:

  • Location: Av. Héroes del Alto Cenepa Lt. 39 (Ex. Av. Trapiche). Search by name on Google Maps
  • Hours: Monday through Sunday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. m.
  • Ask for the house wine

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