In recent years Peruvian gastronomy has continued to progress, drawing on the legacy of our regional culinary styles, accepting influences from other parts of the world and giving full rein to the creativity and talent of our cooks.
Just as the Spanish Conquest made Peru a mixture of the Spanish and the Andean, migrations from different parts of the planet have, throughout its history, had an influence on Peruvian society and cuisine. This, together with the variety of ingredients and recipes provided by the country’s various regions, results in a gastronomy that is constantly evolving, a mixture of ancient traditions and the continual search for innovation, products and cooking methods that blend harmoniously together. Today, Peru can offer the world a variety of culinary styles that is as wide as it is exquisite, as well as restaurants where proper homage is paid to good food and drink. Lima and some of Peru’s regional cities are becoming even more attractive gastronomic destinations.
This is a mixture of Peruvian and Spanish styles –both techniques and ingredients– resulting in a tasty and refined menu, the secrets of which have passed from generation to generation. The customs and cooking of the African slaves brought to Peru have also had a marked influence on Creole food. Tasty main courses and exquisite desserts are its principal attractions.
REGIONAL PERUVIAN COOKING
Regional Peruvian cuisine is extraordinarily varied and the heir to recipes that in many cases date back hundreds of years. Northern cuisine, for instance, as well as having many seafood specialities, offers some marvellous dishes using local ingredients, such as duck and rice or “seco”. All over the Andes a classic dish is the “chupe” –a mighty broth with numerous ingredients– complemented by native products, meat and fresh water fish. In the centre of the country, in the zone known as the Callejon de Huaylas (Ancash) the signature dish is the “pachamanca”, Meats and tubers cooked in a hole in the ground with hot stones. To the south, Arequipa and Cusco stand out especially. The first because of its spectacular fresh water crayfish and its great red hot pepper rocoto; the second because the use of native products has given rise to an interesting contemporary fusion of styles. The jungle has much to offer. “Juanes”, (rice and chicken wrapped in leaves), palm heart salad, Amazon fish and exotic fruit mark the culinary landscape.
This movement arose with the rediscovery of native Peruvian produce –cereals, tubers, fruits and herbs, among others– combined with the techniques of international cuisine-both
classical and modern.
NEW PERUVIAN CUISINE
Following, to a certain extent, the path beaten by nouveau Andean cuisine, this style fuses Peruvian products with those from other countries. Traditional culinary techniques are also used in new ways. The style also respectfully reinterprets classical dishes as novel signature dishes.
FISH AND SHELLFISH
This may be said to be the products most deeply rooted in Peruvian tradition and they can be enjoyed in many places all over the country. Cebiche –so versatile that it is a favourite of establishments from the simplest beachfront cabin to the most sophisticated restaurant– has many succulent variations. All of these are based on the freshest produce from the Peruvian coast.
“Chifa” is the generic name given to Chinese restaurants in Peru. It is also used for Peruvian Chinese food, which incorporates a number of local elements and preferences. This style of cuisine is one of the most popular in the country and boasts a wide variety of dishes.
Nikkei cuisine is an adaptation of the customs and practices of Japanese residents in Peru. This combination gave rise to a culinary style which emphasizes the Japanese liking for seafood and an elegant simplicity of flavours.
Fusion is the confluence of so many gastronomic trends that it merits a work of its own. Peru has welcomed different culinary styles, which are cultivated passionately in many restaurants: Italian, French, Mediterranean, Arab and Thai. For this reason fusion with Peruvian cuisine occurred almost naturally and there are many creative chefs who continually surprise their diners by extending the boundaries of Peru’s colourful gastronomic panorama.
PROVISIONING THE WORLD
Its biodiversity and varieties of microclimates mean that Peru produces high-quality produce all year round. Some of these are unique, with qualities that make them excellent starting points from which chefs throughout the world can make the most of their talent and creativity. Peru has given –and is still giving– the world a variety of products that now form part of the culinary traditions of other countries or are on the way to being considered valuable gastronomic discoveries. First among these is the potato. A native of the Andes, this tuber is much more than a simple foodstuff. Not only was it the basis of the diet of the pre-Columbian peoples of South America, but it spread successfully to almost all continents. Peru has more than 3,000 varieties of potatoes and their planting cultivation and harvest are linked to ancestral rites and tradition. The native “papas”, whose seeds have been preserved over the centuries by the people of the high Andes, are now to be found on the most refined dining tables. Another important Peruvian product is maize, of which there are various types. Tender and fresh sweetcorn is called “choclo,” while dry and toasted it takes the name “cancha”. Mature maize is known as “mote”. There is also a purple variety of maize used to make purple “chicha” and “mazamorra”, a very popular Peruvian soft drink and pudding respectively.
FROM THE HIGHLANDS
Other Andean root vegetables include “oca” –which is the second most important after the potato– and is characterized by its somewhat sweet flavour and variety of colours. On the other hand, “olluco” is small and yellow and much used in stews and soups. Finally, “mashua” is another nutritious tuber that should be left in the sun for several days before cooking and eating as this softens its flavour. As far as cereals are concerned, there is “quinua”, a smallgrained cereal which comes in different colours –white, yellow, pink, red, brown and black– which, apart from its excellent nutritional properties has an interesting texture giving rise to modern dishes such as “quinotto” or quinua risotto. And speaking of other root vegetables, “arracacha” is similar to a carrot and is used in a number of dishes typical of the Andean highlands. The “yacón” is another root vegetable that has a unique sweet flavour. Rich in sugars, it is used to make drinks, puddings and natural preserves; it is beneficial for and tolerated by diabetics. Finally, “yuca” or cassava with its soft texture is one of the most common root vegetables in Peruvian cooking and can be found in croquettes and purées as well as numerous varieties of canapés.
A UNIVERSE OF SPICES
The world of Peruvian “ajíes” and “rocotos” (our unique chili peppers) is fascinating. The number of varieties and the uses to which they are put are many. There is a whole repertoire of “ajíes”, some linked to specific recipes and types of food. The most popular is the yellow or green “ají”. Then there are the limo, panca, mirasol and arnaucho chillis, among others. In sauces or as part of the main recipe, each type of “ají” provides just the right amount of heat. “Rocoto” is hotter than other varieties of chili and is typical of Arequipa cuisine. Peruvians love heat in their food, but not too much to overwhelm the flavour.
From the north: “algarrobina” and “loche”. The first is a sweet syrup obtained from the fruit of the carob tree. It is used to prepare the delicious cocktail “algarrobina” –which also contains pisco– the signature drink of the department of Piura, but popular all over Peru. “Loche”, in contrast, is a type of pumpkin, brightly coloured and creamy in texture once cooked; it has a distinctive flavour and is used in the succulent northern cuisine, especially in Chiclayo. And when it comes to more exotic produce, we have palm heart or chonta to make the delicate salads of the Amazon region. Another Peruvian product that should not be forgotten is the peanut, with its high oil content and strong flavour that was known to the ancient inhabitants of Peru and is represented in the ceramic work of several cultures and in fine jewelery such as the funeral attire of the Lord of Sipan. Aromatic herbs play a fundamental part in cuisine and Peru has a veritable arsenal of these plants. One of these is cilantro, whose singular taste is deployed in seafood, Creole and regional cooking. Other herbs used regularly in Peruvian cuisine are “huacatay” (black mint), “hierbabuena”, “paico” and “muña”, among others. The coca leaf, meanwhile, has a deep cultural significance as it was the sacred plant of the Incas and is used today in cocktails such as “coca sour”.
FRUITS OF PARADISE
Biodiversity, numerous microclimates and different altitudes mean that Peru grows a wide variety of fruit in its different regions. One of these is the “aguaymanto”, a small golden yellow fruit used to make cocktails, confectionary and
preserves. The “sachatomate” or tree tomato has been rediscovered by modern chefs who use it to prepare sauces and sweets because of its aroma and juicy texture. Another popular Andean fruit is the “sauco”, a species of small cherry or plum with a bittersweet taste, used in desserts and cocktails as well as main dishes, to which it provides an interesting contrast of tastes. Three further fruits used to prepare exquisite desserts are the “chirimoya”, the “guanábana” and the “lúcuma”. The first two belong to the anonacea family. With a green skin and white, creamy, sweet flesh, they look very much alike, though guanábana has a very slight and subtle acidity. “Lúcuma” is somewhat coarser in texture with a very sweet taste and can be used to make mousses, drinks and ice cream, and can even be processed to make flour used in baking. With the resurgence of pisco and cocktails in general, many typical Peruvian fruits have become popular ingredients in different drinks: passion fruit “maracuyá” –with its highly aromatic flesh and acidic flavour– the exotic “camu camu”, with its uniquely high vitamin C content and the “carambola” or “star fruit”, which is both refreshing and decorative. This is just a small sample of what the generous land of Peru has to offer the gourmet world.
Peruvian cuisine is a tasty mixture of dishes created in Peru before the discovery of America and others brought from far away, all recreated on
a daily basis. Here is a selection of Peru’s best known dishes.
AJÍ DE GALLINA
This is a Creole dish consisting of chicken (better with the meat of a fully mature hen) cooked and teased into small strips in a tasty creamy sauce whose principal ingredients are “ají”(peruvian unique chili) and milk. It is accompanied by boiled potatoes and white rice, and decorated with hard-boiled egg and olives.
An alfajor is two biscuits separated by a sweet filling of “manjar blanco” or a condensed sweet cream. Alfajores are traditionally sprinkled with icing sugar. Alfajor dough is very light and is usually made with butter.
Anticuchos are brochettes of grilled beef heart. This is one of the tastiest dishes in Peruvian Creole cooking, as the pieces of heart are marinated beforehand in a spicy marinade. Anticuchos are usually served with boiled potatoes and sweetcorn.
ARROZ CON PATO
Duck and rice is a traditional dish from northern Peru, but it is particularly associated with Chiclayo. The rice is cooked with cilantro, maize beer (chicha de jora) or stout, sweet pumpkin and spices. It is mixed with pieces of tender duck, which give it a special flavour.
Causa is a dish based on mashed potato. The potato is seasoned with oil, lemon juice, “ají” (peruvian unique chilli pepper) and condiments. Causa is generally filled with mayonnaise and
different fillings: chicken, tuna, crab meat, vegetables and others.
Cebiche is one of Peru’s national dishes. It consists of fish and shellfish –depending on the type of cebiche– seasoned with lemon juice, onion and “ají limo” (a special type of unique peruvian chilli pepper). Cebiche is made all along Peru’s coastline and in many parts of the interior, with typical local ingredients used in each place. The juice of the cebiche is referred to as “tiger’s milk” and is served in a shot glass with a splash of pisco or other spirit.
Chicha morada is a sweet drink made from purple maize, one of Peru’s native maize varieties. It is flavoured with fruit, cinnamon sticks and cloves. It has recently started to be used as an ingredient in creative cocktails and even desserts.
Chicharron generally means crispy fried pieces of meat or fish. The classical chicharron uses pork cooked for a long period in its own fat. Seafood chicharron is prepared using fish and shellfish.
CHUPE DE CAMARONES
Crayfish chowder is one of the best known of Peru’s regional dishes. It originates in the region of Arequipa. It is a soup made principally from fresh water crayfish, to which are added vegetables such as peas, beans, potatoes and rice. It also contains milk, eggs, chilli pepper and aromatic herbs, among other condiments. In Peru “chupe” means a broth containing a variety of ingredients and which are therefore robust and nutritious.
A humita is a dough of steamed maize wrapped in sweetcorn leaves. The maize dough can be sweet or savoury and is flavoured with herbs and spices such as aniseed. Humitas can be simple, or stuffed with cheese, ají (the unique peruvian chili pepper), manjar blanco or other ingredients.
This is one of the emblematic dishes of Peruvian Creole cooking. It consists of pieces of tender beef stir fried and accompanied by fried potatoes, onions, tomato and ají pepper. During preparation the beef is often flambéed in the pan, which gives it an extra special flavour. It is generally served with white rice.
This is a preparation similar to milk toffee, but it has a softer taste and velvety texture. Made with milk and sugar cooked slowly until it thickens, manjar blanco is the basis for a number of Peruvian desserts. Different varieties have also been created, which include ingredients such as lúcuma, chocolate, guanábana and others.
Pachamanca is a Peruvian dish of pre-Hispanic origin, which consists of a number of native products placed in a hole in the ground lined with hot stones, which slowly cook the ingredients. Traditional pachamanca uses beef, mutton, pork and poultry. It also includes potatoes, sweet potatoes, Andean tubers and other ingredients. It is a dish of deep traditional and cultural significance and is closely associated with Andean rites such as the “payment to Mother Earth.”
PAPA A LA HUANCAÍNA
Huancaina sauce can be more or less spicy and is made from cheese, ají (our unique type of chili pepper) and oil. It is served over boiled potatoes, hard-boiled egg, olives and lettuce.
Stuffed potato consists of a portion of mashed potato filled with minced and flavoured meat. A sort of croquette, it is fried in hot oil until crispy on the outside. Traditionally, the filling is of beef, but there are other variations.
Peru’s national cocktail. This cocktail is prepared from pisco, lemon juice and sugar or syrup. Depending on your taste, pisco sour can be sweet or “dry”, the name given to it when it has less sugar and the lemon is the dominant flavour.
Picarones are a sweet Creole version of buñuelos, ring-shaped they are fried and served with caramelized sugar syrup (chancaca). The ingredients include flour, yeast, cooked sweet
potato and aniseed.
Another classic of Arequipa cuisine. The rocoto is stuffed with cooked meat and sauce and is gratinated with cheese thereafter. Rocoto is a very hot pepper and is cooked several times to reduce its heat. The classical accompaniment to this dish is potato baked with cheese.
A meat stew (beef or kid goat) prepared with aromatic herbs. Lima-style seco includes cilantro, while northern seco is made using pumpkin and maize beer (chicha de jora).
SUSPIRO DE LIMEÑA
A creamy dessert consisting of manjar blanco covered with meringue containing port. Served sprinkled with cinnamon powder. Novel versions using Peruvian fruit and other ingredients have been developed from the classical suspiro de limeña.
A hearty meal of rice and cooked beans browned in a frying pan to form a sort of large croquette. It is traditionally made from beans but recipes have been created to use other ingredients such as broad beans, lentils or chickpeas. Tacu tacu can be served with various different types of meat, sauces and different side dishes.
The tamale is steamed maize dough wrapped in banana leaves. This maize dough is spiced with ají (peruvian unique chili pepper), species or aromatic herbs. Tamales can be filled with pork or chicken and also contain hard-boiled egg and olives.
A close relative of ceviche, tiradito is fish seasoned with lemon juice and spices or sauces. There are many different types of tiraditos: ají amarillo (our unique chili pepper, rocoto (another type of peruvian chili pepper), or some innovative ways that could add some fruit juices such as maracuyá (passion fruit), or tumbo (a very citric northern fruit). Fresh and subtle, it is so called because the fish is cut into fine strips (tiras in Spanish) so that it ‘cooks’ quickly in the lemon juice.
PISCO, A UNIQUE SPIRIT
Pisco is Peru’s national drink and has a history that stretches back 400 years. It is a fine spirit made from nothing but grapes, using a traditional method that has remained unchanged for centuries. In the 19th Century it was known as Peruvian brandy and was exported to the United States and Europe. At that time it was shipped from the port of Pisco –in Ica, to the south of Lima– which led to it being called “Pisco brandy” and later simply pisco. Pisco is a clear, transparent spirit obtained from pure grape juice (must), fermented and then distilled when fermentation of the must is complete. One litre of pisco requires around seven kilos of grapes. No water or any other ingredient is added, which speaks of the noble quality of the spirit. This has been corroborated in numerous international competitions such as the latest Brussels World Fair, held in the Belgian town of Maastricht, in which Peruvian piscos won nine gold medals and seven silver medals in competition with 273 other spirits from different countries. The regulations governing production say that pisco can only be made in the Lima, Ica, Moquegua, Arequipa and
Tacna regions, using grape varieties known as “pisqueras”. Pisco grapes are divided into aromatic and non-aromatic types. The aromatics are: Albilla, Italia, Moscatel and Torontel. Whilst the non aromatics are: Negra Criolla or Negra Corriente, Mollar, Quebranta and Uvina. The first produce piscos with strong aromas. Piscos made from the second group have personality and flavour, but much less aroma.
TYPES OF PISCO
The world of pisco is extensive and rich. There are different types. First comes pure pisco, made from a single pisco grape variety. Such piscos given the name of the grape variety, for example, Pisco puro Italia, Pisco puro Quebranta or Pisco puro Torontel. The second type of pisco is called “acholado” (mixed origin), made from two or more pisco grape varieties. There is, therefore, a wide range of acholado piscos, depending on the grape combinations used by each producer. The third type of pisco is mosto verde. The production process varies slightly, with the must being distilled before fermentation is complete. This gives such piscos a more subtle, soft and velvety aroma and flavour. It should be pointed out that mosto verde pisco needs more grapes –around 10 or 11 kilos– for a litre of spirit.
COCKTAILS AND PISCO SOUR
Being a very high quality spirit, pisco can be drunk on its own, in a wine or shot glass. However its qualities come to the fore when used in cocktails. The classical cocktail and emblem of Peru is the pisco sour. This cocktail became popular in the second half of the 20th Century. It is made with pisco, lemon juice and sugar or syrup to sweeten it. It is served with a few drops of Angostura bitters on the top. Pisco sour can be made more or less sweet, depending on the drinker’s taste. Another very popular cocktail based on pisco is algarrobina, which includes milk and syrup obtained from the fruit of the
carob tree, which grows mainly in the north of the country. As well as pisco sour, many variants based on Peruvian fruit and vegetables have been created, such as passion fruit sour, coconut sour or tumbo sour. There is also a large variety of creative recipes for martini which include pisco among the ingredients. As you can see, there are a thousand ways to enjoy this unique and special drink.