About the food of Peru

Machu Picchu. Photo by Martin St-Amant.

The dream was born in seventh grade geography class; I had to feel the sunrise in  Machu Picchu. One photo of that misty, lush mountain topped with ancient Inca ruins was all I needed.

I was in love.

Sure, there were snow capped mountains, modern cities, sashaying rivers, and lush, green jungles to explore… but I wanted to teleport straight into the incredible mountain city that’d been mysteriously abandoned so many years ago.

An Andean man in traditional dress. Pisac, Peru. Photo by Cacophony. Climbers on Alpamayo mountain in Peru. Photo by Brad Mering.

All these years later and I still haven’t reached Peru. Thank goodness for stovetop travel; this week’s Global Table will pacify me a little longer.

The funny thing is, for all my passionate dreaming as a child, Machu Picchu didn’t come up during my initial research. My exploration of this ocean-front South American country started rather simply with a restaurant here in Tulsa, Oklahoma called Mia Tierra recommended by long time reader Brian Schwartz. It was in this little restaurant that I got a first hand sampling of authentic dishes from a Peruvian woman.

Plaza de Armas – Trujillo, Perú. Photo by Morrissey.

She insisted we try ceviche [Recipe], a natural dish found on Peru’s long coastline. She assured me many good ceviche recipes include a smidge of fresh ginger. Turns out this isn’t the only Asian ingredient found in Peru. China has had a lasting influence on the cuisine, as I learned from her next recommendation: lomo saltado (or stir-fried beef) [Recipe. This dish is one of many “Chifa” style Chinese-Peruvian fusion found in Peru. Chifa is the kind of food locals crave when out of the country. These dishes often balance flavors like soy sauce and cilantro. Cumin and vinegar. An intercontinental festival of flavor.

It’s a wild ride.

Cuzco, Peru. Photo by Cacophony.

She also mentioned the Italian influence on Peruvian cooking. While she didn’t have any to sample, she strongly recommended Peruvian Tiramisu [Recipe], which is made just like Italian Tiramisu [Recipe], with the addition of lucuma, a local fruit that tastes something like sweet potatoes and caramel. There’s also Menestron, a beloved soup derived from Italian Minestrone. In the Peruvian version you’ll find corn, sometimes yucca, and potatoes.

Speaking of potatoes, Peru lays claim to the origin of the potato with more than 3,000 kinds available to roast, boil, fry, and mash. Makes sense, as all the dishes we sampled that night were loaded up with potatoes (and usually two kinds).

Corn is Peruvian gold… far more wonderful than anything the Spaniards were after. You can even enjoy it in chicha -fermented corn beer, perhaps with a side of roast guinea pig… which, if it were the good old days, you could use to divine the future. I won’t go into how, although Anthony Bourdain knows.

In a country so steeped in history and incredible beauty, there’s nothing to do but simply eat it all up.

What’s your favorite food from the region?

Maps, flag and photo courtesy of CIA World Factbook.

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Comments

  1. I never tried the guinea pig, but there were rotisserie chicken (pollo a la brasa) places everywhere with lots of fun sauces to try. I also loved pollo aji amarillo and gorged myself on a fruit called chirimoya (custard apple?) that I haven’t seen anywhere since.

  2. First, some music. From sultry singers in smoky Lima nightclubs to Inca bands in the Andes to Amazon jungle tribes, the music of Peru never ceases to amaze. Those nightclub singers are often black, from the coast; those highland bands play instruments going back hundreds of years, and dance forms like the Huayno which fuse traditional and modern rhythms. Now I’ve made a music player dedicated to the music of Peru. Have a listen. The recordings were in the main made between 1960 and 1995, but the songs are much older.

    http://www.myspace.com/0/music-player?friendid=61062139&plid=1217277
    The first is a song about chicha beer!

    And the food, you nailed it when you told about the many influences on Peruvian food. Some dishes, such as carapulcra, a potato stew with a thick gravy, are 1000 years old and may even predate the Incas. Others, such at that yellow sauce served with chicken, were brought by French chefs around 1795; they were fleeing the French Revolution! Obviously the Spanish had a big impact. As for ceviche, it probably originated in Peru but we don’t know when. Some people think it was born after the Spanish conquest and others think it was discovered by the local people even before Incas came.

    • Sasha Martin says:

      I think it has to do with when the citrus arrived. On No Reservations, the woman interviewed said they were brought over by the Spanish… Of course, we see it all over Polynesia as well.

  3. My favorite Peruvian food hands down is sanguiches crillollas, creole sandwiches. It’s french bread with slow-cooked meats covered in salsa crillolla (red onions with cilantro & lime), ají (a creamy hot sauce), olive mayo, and tartar sauce, and sometimes sliced & roasted sweet potatoes :)

  4. I love your sentence, “Thank goodness for stovetop travel.” That will be my Facebook status for today!

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