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Peruvian cuisine is the next big thing - but what is it?

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Louisa Carter Louisa Carter | 10:41 UK time, Friday, 20 April 2012

When you ask a Peruvian to define their cuisine, it's never a quick answer. It seems to take, on average, quite a few minutes to clarify the matter. They're a passionate nation and give the Italians a run for their money when it comes to time spent talking about, shopping for, or planning the next meal or snack.

I found this out the long way round, by going to Peru and asking. I admit that I arrived in Lima with little more than a vague knowledge of quinoa, ceviche and avocados, plus a few enthusiastic emails and 'must eat' lists from Peruvian and non-Peruvian friends-of-friends.

Black corn

 

Fortunately for me the Peruvians know their history, and are only too happy to share their knowledge. Often referred to as the original fusion food, and for good reason, Peruvian dishes are diverse and unexpected. The food is underpinned by Incan origins, which are still evident today, particularly in the use of corn, potatoes (of which more than 4,000 varieties are grown in Peru) and chillies. However it has also has been enriched, adapted and added to by centuries of immigration. The Spanish, African, Chinese, Japanese and, most recently, Italian and French have all played a large part in what is known today as Peruvian food. This is seen in dishes such as the Japanese-influenced tiradito, a sashimi-style dish of raw fish 'cooked' in lime juice, or the popularity of chifa (Peruvian-Chinese food).

The diversity continues thanks to a vast natural larder, much of which is grown organically on a small scale. From the seafood-rich Pacific, to the fertile Andes where potatoes, corn and tomatoes grow prolifically, to the Amazon where an array of mysterious jungle fruits and herbs are sourced, inspiration is never far away. So it came as no surprise to learn that the secret of this addictively fresh, varied, mildly spicy cuisine is finally out.

 A market stall in Lima.

A market stall in Lima.

On my return to the UK I met the contagiously enthusiastic Martin Morales, owner of the newly opened Ceviche, London's first modern Peruvian restaurant. He explained: "We have always been a nation obsessed with our food and we've got an incredible cuisine now, with lots of flavours thanks to the fusion of [our] indigenous background and 500 years of immigration. Now the rest of the world is finding out about it."

There has been a boom of quality restaurants opening in Peru's capital Lima that are gaining international recognition. Ferran Adrià, the godfather of molecular gastronomy, has recognised Peru as undergoing a 'gastronomical revolution'. And, for the first time ever, a Peruvian restaurant, Astrid y Gaston, made it onto the World's 50 Best Restaurant List in 2011.

Impressive though this is, home is still where the heart is for many Peruvians. Lunch is often the main meal of the day and it's enjoyed around the table at home, with the family.  Favourite dishes might include aji de gallina, a comforting dish of chicken in a creamy sauce thickened with bread and sometimes ground nuts, or lomo saltado the much-loved chifa dish of stir fried strips of beef with peppers, aji chilli and soy. Soup is another favourite, from light broths to hearty, almost stew-like bowls of seafood or chicken.

Dan Clarke, who runs Real Peru Holidays, has been championing Peruvian food for more than ten years. He said: "The dishes you get in restaurants in Peru are really just dressed-up versions of what you eat at home - most Peruvian home cooks have no problem whipping up a quick ceviche or aji de gallina.

And whether it's a home cooked or restaurant meal, wherever you are, produce is almost always bought and cooked that day, and for that meal. There are markets in every district and even cheap corner restaurants rely on good, fresh ingredients every day. Peruvian fridges are usually just for milk and beer!"

Fancy trying your hand at a Peruvian dish? Take a look at our recipes for aji de gallina, sea bass and salmon ceviche, escabeche of sardines or Peruvian-style chicken and yellow pepper sauce with potatoes.

Comments

  • Comment number 1.

    The Peruvian-style chicken and yellow pepper sauce looks really nice - might give that a go!

  • Comment number 2.

    As an english girl living in Peru it's exciting to see the amazing food I get to enjoy here making its way over to the UK... It's just a shame it seems to be top-end restaurants that get opened; as here the 'menu' (pronounced: menoo) costs between 5-10 soles (£1.25-£2.50) for soup, a massive plate of food, a small dessert and juice! That could go down well in these dark days of economic struggles....

  • Comment number 3.

    Just checked out one of the recipes... the aji de gallina...yum yum! However, if you want to make it more authentic, it is always served here with rice AND sliced boiled potatoes, PLUS the all important half a boiled egg and one olive! Enjoy!

  • Comment number 4.

    OK - so when is someone going to mention "cuy", or are we Brits too squeemish for the thought of very traditional Peruvian roast guinea pig?
    From my 3 months in Peru I have to say that it's strangely delicious if you can get over your childhood memories - tastes just like chicken

  • Comment number 5.

    I enjoyed llama soltado, pisco sours, tacu tacu, stuffed potato balls. It was very tasty food. I did find my ipod app very helpful so i avoided anything i didnt know, i have my cookbook from Peru now, so want to try and cook them

  • Comment number 6.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 7.

    don't forget the classic Peruvian wedding dish guinea pig

  • Comment number 8.

    I was in Peru last year with my wife and we really struggled to find good food. We stayed with a family for a week and spent another fortnight travelling and, with the odd exception, found the cuisine to be bland and badly executed. Admittedly, we didn't eat much in Lima, where the food is supposed to be better, and cerviche was a revelation, but on the whole we quickly realised how spoilt we are in the UK with our variety and standard of multi-cultural and interesting food. You can see what I thought of it here: http://www.brickwicks.co.uk/?p=261

  • Comment number 9.

    I'm surprised to hear you found peruvian food badly-executed, ronfluff - if there's one thing I definitely think about Peruvian food it's that people know exactly how to cook each constituent part of the meal - whether it's rice, individual vegetables, or meat. So if you're eating a tasty lomo saltado (like this: http://www.therealperu.co.uk/guide/Recipes.aspx then each part of it will be cooked perfectly! It's the same kind of attention to detail that you get in East Asian cuisine, although I suppose it does mean that if you don't like the 'right' way to cook something then you're unlikely to find anywhere that _does_ cook it to your taste.

  • Comment number 10.

    Ronfluff, my friend, please don't advice people since your comments are totally misleading. First at all, you DON'T eat ceviche in Puno. If you guys are planning to try a good ceviche please try to do this across the coast not in the middle of the Andes. Also, if you are planning to spend $2 or $4 dollares for a Ceviche, please don't try it at 5-10 soles (£1.25-£2.50), I don't know where Sharon went but an average Ceviche in a restaurant in Lima cost bewtween $25 and $50 soles. For that price you will try an amazing ceviche probably at the "Embarcadero 41", "La Isla Escondida" or "EL punto Azul". Those are places were an average peruvian family goes to eat a good ceviche. Of course, there are hundreds of them. Now, if you are willing to spend more than $50 soles =£12.50, then you ca go to "La Costa Verde" or "La Mar". All these places have websites where you can take a look at the menu. Anyways, as a peruvian, PLEASE DO NOT eat ceviche in Puno or spend less than £8 for a regular ceviche. Lima is full of good restaurant but they are far from beeing super cheap, they are affordable but not cheap. Please eat properly in Lima, you will not regreat it.

  • Comment number 11.

    Peruvian food has been quite the buzz in Los Angeles for several years now.... we have seen a number of family owned restaurants open in several different areas around the city and some fusion/upscale ones have had really good success. One of Peru's most famous chef's (Gaston Acurio) has opened a "cevicheria" in San Francisco and has done quite well. I have exposed many people to Peruvian food and have never had anyone not love it. It is quite the multi ethnic food and the lomo saltado is divine! Everyone should try it at least once!

  • Comment number 12.

    Van, I absolutely take your point about where to eat cerviche. Unfortunately, we'd missed the opportunity in Lima. I'll have to go back! I still stand by my assessment of what we experienced elsewhere with Peruvian food though (except some outstanding soupas). I must stress that this was just our experience and we did spend much of the time in the Andes where tourist restaurants probably gave the cuisine a bad name (not to mention some dodgy stomaches!) I'd be very happy to return to Peru and be shown where to eat. Anyone want to take me?!

  • Comment number 13.

    Peruvian cousine is something that only native of the country can understand what is all about. Peruvian cousine is made from scratch, from fresh produce. You eat what is cooked on the day and when is finished is finished because Peruvian cousine takes time to make it. It doesn't take you 5 minutes, it takes you the whole morning to taste all those beautiful dishes! So next time you go to Peru just do your research before hand as you can miss the wonder of its cousine, as you already did. You can read a bit more about Peruvian cousine in this website http://www.yanuq.com/english/recipesperuvian.asp. I will recommend another one but you must know spanish, here it is anyway, take a look http://elcomercio.pe/gastronomia/?ref=ecb or you can take a look at this one too but again spanish is required http://www.mistura.pe/index.php Enjoy!!!!

  • Comment number 14.

    Paddington Bear was a great beleiver in marmalade sandwiches. I think I'll start with them.

  • Comment number 15.

    Wonderful article about Peruvian Food. Peruvian cuisine is something that even as an American, I am passionate about! There is such rich history, incredible flavors, and vast diversity of foods, agriculture and people making the dishes. I enjoy sharing about the foods and flavors of Peru here at: http://www.provechoperu.com -- Provecho!

  • Comment number 16.

    We absolutely loved the food in Peru when we travelled there! We had incredible Ceviche and Sushi in Lima, and yes we tried the Cuy (Guinea Pig) twice! Once in Cusco and once in Puno (we had two very different experiences of it!). You can see some photos of our guinea pig and ceviche at http://www.worldlynomads.com/index.php/peruvian-food/ . As you can see, guinea pig is not for the faint hearted from our experience!

  • Comment number 17.

    Fantastic article!!

    Living in Peru for many years I decided to give a try to the few Peruvian restaurants that offer Peruvian cuisine in London. I have been to Tierra Peru Restaurant and they offer a menu different to Ceviche. Both are fantastic. Tierra Peru offers a variety of dishes from the coast, the Andes, and the Amazon Rainforest of Peru. Ceviche offers superb innovative cocktails like Chicha Pisco (blue corn and pisco) and gourmet dishes. Also I found a website ( http://britmex.com ) selling some basic Peruvian ingredients difficult to find in the UK, like cancha corn (crunchy snack as side dish in fish ceviche), royal corn (mote for soups), white cheese (for making potatoes with huancaina sauce) and aji panca (panca chili for preparing anticuchos or grilled cow heart brochettes marinated in panca chili). Mmmmm, Yummy!!

  • Comment number 18.

    Some Peruvian products are now available in supermarkets like Waitrose, you can find the Inka Snacks Roasted Giant Corn and also peruvian beers.
    Peruvian flavours are being introduce to the UK market successfully.

  • Comment number 19.

    Finally a different type of food to get excited about, sounds yummy! Will definitely be trying some Peruvian recipes at my next dinner party. Excellent!

  • Comment number 20.

    This article ignited my desire to get on a plane to Peru! I am keen to sample and even attempt a few of these recipes......they sound as vibrant as the market stall.
    It is good to hear about alternatives to the classic guinea pig dishes too-an inspirational snippet of Peruvian cuisine.

  • Comment number 21.

    OK, Ladies and Gentleman, let me put this straight, I will give you the opportunity to sample the most delicious Peruvian dishes here in The UK, I will be starting in Bristol with a POP UP PERUVIAN RESTAURANT Copy and paste the link below [Unsuitable/Broken URL removed by Moderator]
    for one night only, I want to bring the amazing Peruvian flavours to the UK using local fresh produce, because lets face it, I miss my food, and is nothing like it; even with your multicultural cuisine, that match the beautifully crafted Peruvian food and ....this is for ronfluf if you make it ...I wont charge you

  • Comment number 22.

    What a beautiful article, I've never been to Peru but after reading this I'm sorely tempted to jump on a plane immediately! The recipes sound simply delicious, adaptable, fresh, exciting and accessible to all levels of culinary expertise, can't wait to give them a go!

 

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