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It’s not everyday you get to take a tour through a country’s food, culture and history with one of its most famous chefs as your guide. However, today, that’s exactly what’s on offer with this rich guide to food in Peru written by the Peruvian chef Gaston Acurio.
Acurio has taken the time to write a piece for Fine Dining Lovers that will take you all on a wonderful journey through the rich flavours, colours and textures of Peru. From the ceviche we all know and love, to unique fruits, corns, grains and the new generation of Peruvian chefs shaping the country's gastronomy. This is an insightful look at the past, present and future of the Peruvian kitchen.
The biggest region in Peru is the Amazonian region. Exotic fruits, vegetables and river fish give amazonian cuisine a unique spirit, with unique recipes like plantains tacacho with cecina or patacones, and fish like paiche which is normally grilled or stewed with amazonian chiles and spices you can find in markets, streets and typical restaurants. If you have time try to make a trip in one of the amazing cruises along the Amazon river or in Lima you can find amazing Amazonian cuisine at Amax, a restaurant created by extraordinary chef Pedro Miguel Schiaffino.
For thousands of years, Peru kept it’s unique and pure varieties of cacao from the Amazon a secret, a secret they are slowly starting to share with the world. Try high quality Peruvian chocolate and discover flavours you’ve never tasted before.
In France you find pot au feu, in Italy bollito misto in Spain el cocido madrileño. In Peru you will find sancochado. The basic recipe is the one like in the photo, with some beef cuts, Peruvian vegetables like yucca, potatoes, corn, sweet potatoes and broth on the side, all served with a lot of Peruvian sauces around. You can find some with other meats like chicken, pork or sausages and even fruits like pears and prunes. If you come to Peru in winter, look for sancochado and spend the whole afternoon having fun.
TWO THOUSAND POTATOES
The Incas were the discoverers of the potato, one of the most important gifts that Peru has given to humanity. We still keep thousands of varieties to be discovered in Peru, like this one called: The Bride Crying because tradition states that the mother-in-law gives the bride this potato in The Andes before she marries her son. If the bride peels the potato correctly she has permission to marry.
If you visit us try to spend the weekend at one of our many street markets in Lima and the rest of the country. You will find frequently amazing organic fruits and vegetables sold directly by small farmers, producers. In lima for example you can go to the bio Feria in Miraflores on Saturdays, or Sundays to the Feria at Avenida Brasil where you can find fruits like the huge chirimoyas in the photo. Take lunch at a small neighboured Peruvian restaurant and you will have the perfect day.
Arequipa is a beautiful city with a wonderful regional cuisine served in their original concept called picanterias. At a picanteria there us always a lady leading the kitchen, respecting the flavors given to us by grandmothers. They use the best local ingredients to cook this unique cuisine based on Inca, Spanish and French influences. Go to the picanterias like: La Nueva Palomino, La Cau Cau, La Benita to find, chupes, rocotos rellenos, camarones and speak with the amazing women cooking every day with honour and love.
THE NEXT GENERATION
In the last ten year a whole new generation of chefs have been sharing Peruvian food culture with the world. Now its time for a new generation of thousands of young Peruvian chefs that have been preparing themselves for the last decade to represent Peruvian food culture with their own concepts. Openings inside and outside of Peru of everything from peruvian restaurants, to food trucks, street and market spots, creative and specialised restaurants, its time to taste their food and enjoy the Peruvian food of the future.
Our pastry has a strong heritage with Arabian right through to Spanish influences from their long presence in Colonial times. That’s why we have always pastries dipped in honey, fried, baked and cooked for a long time like arroz con leche, or our favorite, picarones; sweet potato beignets. Try to eat them in the streets, in the evening and watch how the ladies make them all by hand.
We are the land of Pisco and the father of the Pisco Sour but our new favourite cocktail is the Chilcano. The original recipe, the one we love the most, is made with pisco, ginger ale, ice, lime, and a touch of angostura bitter. Now young bartenders are developing the drink all over the country, new chilcanos made with peruvian fruits, herbs and spices like this camu camu and strawberry chilcano are springing up everywhere.
Peru and Bolivia are the countries that have been keeping quinoa for thousands of years, awaiting the moment of glory in which everybody wants to eat quinoa. The good news is that if you come to Peru you will find it in different colors and prepared in hundreds of different recipes, like the quinoa of Simeon Miranda, an amazing quinoa farmer in Puno, Peru.
At the end of the 19th century the first big boat of Japanese immigrants arrived in Peru. Since then we have being mixing Japanese culture and memories with the rest of the influences brought into the country through immigration. The result is that today you will find this peruvian Japanese food called Nikkei served in restaurants mostly in Lima. It’s not Japanese food, it’s not Peruvian food - it’s Nikkei food, taste the Nikkei Nigiris made by the leader of Nikkei food, Mitsuharu Tsumura at his famous Maido restaurant in Lima.
In the middle of 19th century thousands of Cantonese immigrants arrived in Peru. Today we have around ten percent of Chinese soul in Peruvians, it’s why we eat rice every day and we make Peruvian Chinese restaurants called Chifas. There are thousands of chifas all over the country. One of the most popular chifa dishes is aeropuerto rice, which means airport because everything lands there.
Yes, we are sandwich lovers and we gave them a new name - Sanguches. You will find them all over Lima, Peruvian sandwich shops like: La Lucha, El Chinito and El Peruanito, where you can taste bread with chicharron (fatty pork).
LA ALIANZA COCINERO CAMPESINA
In Peru chefs and farmers work together in a very strong relation of respect, friendships and dreams. As chefs we try value the amazing job our farmers do in taking care of the environment and keeping the variety of biodiversity that give chefs and customers pure, original, healthy and delicious ingredients. The result of this work is a strong chef and farmer alliance all over the country.
VIVA EL NORTE
On the north coast of Peru, you find an amazing food culture with thousands of years of history. From trujillo to tumbes, the center of Northern Peruvian food is Chiclayo, and the chef that is leading this style of cooking with out doubt is Hector Solis, chef and owner of restaurant Fiesta and La Picanteria in Lima and Chiclayo. Don’t believe me? Try his arrroz con pato in the photo and you will never question me again.
If you ask the famous italian chef Massimo Bottura why he loves to come to Lima, he will always say, Sea Urchins! For him and, of course for me, they are absolutely delicious in Peru. Try them in acebiche, creamy and sweet, you will love them.
Peruvian chiles called aji are one of the most important ingredients in Peruvian cuisine. We have hundreds of varieties all over the country that we use in almost in every Peruvian dish. It’s not only for giving spice, it’s also for giving flavor and color. Aji is the soul of Peruvian flavor, like aji amarillo, the most important aji in the Peruvian kitchen.
There was a time that our tiny lime had no chance in world markets.Now that the world has discovered cebiches and pisco sours and that you need to have this particular Peruvian lime to make the best cebiche and the best pisco sours - it’s hard to keep them to ourselves. The best ones never leave Peru so you need to come and try them.
If you come to Peru between April and December, ask for camarones. They don’t come from the ocean, they live on the rivers crossing The Andes on the coast, they reproduce in summer in the oceans before they go home. We use them in Peruvian food in different ways; cebiches, tortillas, chupes, stews, and also in the simplest way, just grilled with Peruvian chiles like the photo showing, camarones a la plancha. The most famous come from Arequipa but in season you will find them all over the coast, from South to North.
FROM LIGURIA TO PERU
Thousands of Italians principally from Liguria arrived in Lima since the middle of the 19th Century. At the beginning most of them worked in fishing boats or taverns where they started putting their own memories into Peruvian dishes. The result is a number of home cooked Peruvian dishes with a very important Italian influence. Sanguches, estofados, and a combination like this photo of a beef stew made with Peruvian aji panca red onions and garlic salsa. Visit limeño taverns like Queirolo in Pueblo Libre district to taste the Italian influence.
A young generation of chefs like Virgilio Martinez, Diego Muñoz, Rafael Piqueras and Pedro Miguel Schiaffino are doing some of the most creative and unique food experiences in the world at their restaurants in Peru. Using peruvian ingredients they create a whole new food wold and language at Central, Malabar, Maras and Astrid Y Gaston Casa Moreyra.
THE LAND OF CEBICHES
Cebiche is one of the most popular dishes now around the world. Almost every menu in any cooking style or concept has a cebiche. Peru is the land of cebiches and Lima the capital where more than 20,000 cebicherias are open every day, serving cebiches as street food, inside markets, small cebicherias, big cebiche restaurants, and cebiche bars. If you love cebiche, Lima is the place to be.
Yes, we are not a big bad producer like Argentina or Brazil, we are a big fan of seafood but we also love beef. We do have mostly organic beef from The Andes and The Amazon, and we do have recipes made with beef, like this one for our delicious lomo saltado; fried tenderloin beef with red onions, potatoes, aji amarillo, green onions cilantro and tomatoes, with a bit of vinegar and soy sauce. A mix of Inca, Spanish, Italian, Chinese and Japanese all within this famous recipe you can find almost anywhere in Peru.
FOOD FOR BODY AND SOUL
In this world where people love food not only for taste but also for health and soul, The Andes and the Amazon provides treasures that have been hidden for a long time that are now being discovered by the world. Purple fruits and vegetables, powerful roots like maca, grains like quinoa, seeds like chia, fruits with high vitamin c like camu camu - our ingredients are good for pleasure of the senses, for the health of your body and for your spirit.
Criolla cuisine is the dialogue for hundreds of years between African, Spanish and Andean communities mixing together to build their own style of cooking. The result is a extremely comfort style food like this pique criollo with causa mashed potatoes, beef heat anticuchos, pork belly chicharon, papas rellenas, cholo with huancaina sauce and tamales.
CHOCLO, THE GIANT CORN OF THE INCAS
In Peru we love choclo, especially in summer where the rain of The Andes gives us these huge corns that we eat in almost everything. Cebiches, rice, stews, soups, tamales, cakes. They are huge, yes, but most importantly they are delicious.