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Spider Bites: Passport Lunch Special for the Week of 10/18

Editor’s Note: The views and opinions expressed in this article do not reflect those of The Collegian.

Welcome to Spider Bites, my new food review column! Here I will publish reviews of food on campus or in the Richmond area roughly every two weeks. A little about me: I grew up in New York City in an immigrant household, which tremendously inspired my interest in cooking and the culture of food. For this column, I will consult friends for their thoughts, and I would also love to hear yours, so please feel free to email me at lillian.tzanev@richmond.edu. Additionally, I would like to shout out my friend Makena Gitobu for encouraging me to pursue this idea because it would not have happened without her! 

Passport Cafe offered a Peruvian chicken/veggie dish as their lunch special for the week of 10/18.  I enlisted my vegetarian foodie friend, Krystelle Dubé, to review the special with me. She ordered the vegetarian option, and I tried the chicken. When we walked into Passport and picked up our orders, Krystelle remarked at the weight of the little box. We opened the brown cardboard container to reveal a colorful mix of ingredients and light steam flowing out into the air. 

The vegetarian option came with parsnips, yuca, eggplant, okra, kale, onions, carrots and a lime, served over rice and lentils. Initially, Krystelle was disappointed. The dish was dry and salty yet bland. After she squeezed the lime into the box, she tried another bite. 

“The hint of lime cuts the salt and adds a complex flavor,” she said. Despite this added flavor, she still was not impressed. There were too many parsnips, the vegetables needed spices and the lime did not take away the dryness. Krystelle offered me a bite, and I agreed with her critiques. In the end, her culinary mind came to her aid and she added hot sauce to give the meal the flavor it was missing. 

The chicken option came with yuca, carrots, kale, and, of course, chicken, served over rice and lentils. All of the ingredients mixed together created a moist, hearty and flavorful meal. The lime’s citrus flavor kept the dish light, which helped it serve as a reminder of summer. Though the meat option was more flavorful than the vegetarian, it could certainly use more spices or perhaps some garlic. The SpiderByte sent out on Oct. 18 to promote the dish described it as having Tacu Tacu rice, so I was intrigued and googled it. However, what I found was that Tacu Tacu is actually an Afro-Peruvian fried lentil and rice ‘cake,’ rather than a specific type of rice. The rice used in this dish appeared to be some sort of long grain rice, perhaps Basmati rice.

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Neither Krystelle nor I are Peruvian, and the only time I have ever had Pervuian food, I tried a completely different type of dish, with shrimp and rice. We cannot verify whether or not the Passport special is in any way authentic; however, if we had to guess, after reading through some Tacu Tacu rice recipes, we do not think it is.

Passport does a great job of preparing interesting specials which deviate greatly from their sandwich and sushi menu. Although they frequently offer their specials with both a meat and vegetarian option, Krystelle has noticed that the vegetarian options are usually less flavorful and thus, less exciting. She has experience with vegetarian cooking and suggests that for this dish, Passport may want to try using vegetable broth next time to counter the dryness of the root vegetables and rice. While Passport’s ‘Peruvian Chicken’ special succeeds at offering a quick yet nourishing meal, its vegetarian counterpart does not impress. 

Rating: I give the chicken dish an 8.5/10. Krystelle rated the vegetarian dish a 6/10.

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