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A tribute to mother earth and a celebration of identity, social inclusion and cultural diversity – this is Mistura – the largest and most exciting food event in South America. The name couldn’t be more appropriate - a mixture of chefs, foodie street parties, farmer’s markets - a multicultural fiesta of sorts.
Gastón Acurio is the man who created Mistura together with Apega, the Peruvian Society for Gastronomy. And since its inception it has managed to unite a huge cross sector of Peruvian culture all connected by one element: food. Peru has 12 regional cuisines, with roots in Spanish and Amerindian culture, mixing Asian, European and African ethnicities. It is a country surrounded by vibrant colours, flavours, rhythms, exotic scents and rich food.
The most recent Mistura festival took place at Parque de la Exposición del Centro de Lima, and broke the record for attendance to a food event of its kind with 361,700 visitors over just 10 days. I travel the world visiting food fairs and culinary events, but I am yet to encounter anything like Mistura, which brings togetherfood professionals and producers, foodies and journalists, academics, artists and even politicians.
Democratic Gastronomy could certainly be the invisible subtitle of Mistura. Even though some of the most famous chefs on the planet attend, the highlight of the event was definitely the food market, which feautred 200 farmers and native producers all wearing beautiful Peruvian outfits, proudly presenting potatoes, quinoas, fruits, vegetables, cheese, meat, fish and herbs all unique to the Peruvian territory.
Even though my origins are Brazilian, and therefore, I'm no stranger to "exotic" produce, at Mistura I tasted fruits I’d never heard of and dishes made from utterly unfamiliar ingredients. There were countless varieties of the ‘Aji’, the Peruvian pepper, and the native grain, quinoa, in all sizes and shades. The Peruvian Amazon makes up 60% of Peru, and is the largest jungle in the world after the Brazilian Amazon. And this great bio-diversity was reflected at the various stands - you really can see, touch and taste these exotic flavours.
As well as sampling the local delights I had the opportunity to speak to members of the various indigenous communities who told me about the richness of their country, their happiness at being part of the ‘Peruvian Food Revolution’ and about their sense of national pride at having their food on show. «We wait the whole year to be part of Mistura. Here we can show our products and feel recognized,» said Rosa Martinez, one of the farmer's wives.
The racial and cultural differences across Peru are reflected clearly in the dishes presented in Mistura: ceviches, parrilladas, pachamancas, roasted cuy, escabeches, tiraditos and churros con lucume, are all exquisite delicacies with their own cultural significance. I was determined to try the famous anticuchos (marinated barbecue) of Grimanesa, but wasn’t patient enough to wait in the queue with hundreds of other hungry guests. I managed to try the cuy though, and overcame my fear of eating guinea pig. They look scary to European eyes, but the taste and texture are quite familiar – a mix between chicken and rabbit.
At a big marquee, in the heart of the festival were non-stop cooking demonstrations, films and talks from chefs, catering students, journalists and international celebrities such as Ferran Adrià, René Redzepi and Massimo Bottura.
Bottura, at the 4th position on the S.Pellegrino World’s 50 Best Restaurants 2011 list, expressed his deep admiration for the event: «Peru is a country full of contrasts, and Mistura presents a country united by food,» said the Italian chef. «This is more than a congress; it is a cultural event where food plays a central role. Ethics have a profound meaning here. Gastón has achieved a level of communication with farmers, and a strong bond between producers and chefs. If you visit Mistura, you understand that food and culture form one item.»
The kindness and care of the Peruvian people towards their guests is probably the most impressive part of the experience. There is no distinction whetheryou’re a guest in a fabulous top restaurant such as Astrid & Gastón, or if you’re eating street food. As the Spanish chef Quique Dacosta explained, «Mistura is a gastronomic microcosm. It's an event that has no equal anywhere. The Peruvians are great hosts, and you wish you could stay longer, to experience the many treasures of this amazing country.»
Between cherimoyas, alpaca meat and a marathon of never-seen-before dishes, the event left a powerful and unforgettable impression with all who attended. It is an example for the rest of the world to follow and an event that firmly places Peru on the new-world gastronomic route.