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Review: The little Preston restaurant with arepa-tation for exceptional South American street food

Posted on - 18th November, 2023 - 7:00pm | Author - | Posted in - Opinion, Plungington, Preston City Centre, Preston News, Reviews, University campus, What's On in Preston
Chamo chicken arepa with gravy
A chicken arepa with a lovely pan full of gravy on the side. Miniature, unfortunately

For this week’s review, my two companions and I visited Chamo Street Food, a small restaurant and takeaway on Moor Lane in Preston’s University Quarter serving “South American inspired street food with a Western twist”.

A quick Google informed me that “chamo” can be either a French Haitian word for a camel, or Venezuelan slang for a boy/dude. As about ten years ago a camel stuck its head through my car window non-consensually rubbed its manky eye on my shoulder, I was happy that the former translation was the correct one.

It’s a small, informal space without an alcohol licence, with just a few tables and an open kitchen taking up a significant percentage of the floorspace, presumably to cater for the takeaways that are ordered online and that have received glowing ratings from customers.

Visitors order at the counter and, as the other two members of my party had dibs on the arepas – Chamo’s signature dish – I asked the friendly server who took the order what they recommended.
That was the shrimp bobo (£6.95).

It was an immediate hit of strong flavours jostling for attention at once. A little like a French bouillabaisse and a little like a Thai tom yum soup due to the mix of shrimp, mussels and white fish in a broth containing plenty of coriander and lime. Most bobo recipes online mention coconut milk, but I couldn’t discern it. That might have been down to the Western twist, or it could have been present but overpowered by the other punchy ingredients. “Chamoflagued”, possibly. Anyway, it was magnificent.

Chamo shrimp bobo
Despite being in the “small plates” section, the shrimp bobo was almost a meal in itself

As well as the shrimpy shrimp in the stew, there was a king prawn splayed on the top. Perhaps butterflied for aesthetics, perhaps blood eagled by the peasant shrimps for straying on their turf. Either way, it was exciting. It was also served with a few chunks of fluffy, herby focaccia, almost making the “small plate” a meal by itself.

I’d ordered a side of sesame plantain (£4.95), which was described as deep fried sweet plantain in a sesame seed infused batter, served with Chamo sweet chilli sauce and watercress. It was a winning combination that was also a huge hit with one of my companions, so I pretended that I was sharing out of generosity and not because I was full of shrimp bobo.

The other members of my party chose arepas, described as flat, round patties made with maize flour, steamed until fluffy and fried for a crisp finish, and stuffed with a variety of pulled meats, salads and sauces.

The plantain fan went for an arepa filled with marinated prawns (£8.95) served with moje sauce, coriander, spring onion and lime infused aioli; a combination that smelled and tasted as good as it looked. It wasn’t a large amount of food, so a side such as my plantain would be needed alongside it for anyone wanting a substantial meal.

Sesame plantain and king prawn arepas
Sesame plantain and king prawn arepas

My other friend chose a Chamo chicken arepa (£7.95) – tender pulled chicken, fried sweet plantain, chilli jam and dressed rocket leaves, served with a rich chicken gravy. It was bulkier than its king prawn colleague, more filling but just as tasty, and went down a storm. Especially as my friend is all over a chicken gravy like a gravy is all over a chicken. The plantain added a dimension of sweetness to the saltiness of the meat and the gentle heat of the chilli, with the three tastes combining beautifully.

Chamo is yet another exceptional eatery that has opened in close proximity to the University. It joins a group of independent pubs, restaurants and cafes such as RK Dining, Vinyl Tap and Tuscany Cafe that are slowly extending the casual, increasingly artsy street food vibe of Friargate along Adelphi Street, Plungington Road and Moor Lane.

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Have you been assaulted by a camel? One hump or two? Let us know in the comments.

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