Peru on a Plate: Why Peru’s Contemporary Cuisine is Sweeping the Globe
In 2007, Peru’s government raised the country’s cuisine to National Heritage status. Since then, the foodie world has gone crazy for the South American cuisine that’s bursting with color, spice, and influence from all over the globe.
Today, Peru is known as a gastronomic centre for fusion cuisine, with Lima taking the trophy for the most creative food capital on the continent (helped, no doubt, by the World of Travel Awards naming it the world’s leading culinary destination). Among the exclusive boulevards and the backstreet neighbourhoods in Lima, there are more chef schools than any other city in the world and, across the country, there are around 80,000 student chefs learning the ropes.
Since 2007, the global interest in Peru’s cuisine has snowballed into a whole new phenomenon. In London, chef Martin Morales has turned the delightful dishes of Peru into a hot new foodie trend with Ceviche, a stylish Peruvian kitchen and Pisco bar, while Alejandro Saravia has brought the fine flavors of Peru to Australia with his hugely successful restaurant, Pastuso, in Melbourne. Peruvian people take pride in their national dishes, and chefs are now considered artists – a huge change from previous notions that becoming a chef was a risky career associated with the lower economic percentiles of the country.
The Ultimate Fusion Cuisine
But it’s not just Peru’s new status as a culinary hotspot that has people lapping up its local dishes. In fact, the base for success has always been there thanks to the country’s rich history.
From the Spanish invasion in the 16th century, Peru’s cuisine has taken a whirlwind journey through several cultures, picking up new flavors, ingredients, and cooking styles along the way. Before then, maize, potatoes and beans were the height of foodie interest until the historic Inca food culture was blended with Spanish, Arab, African, Chinese, Italian, Japanese, and French influences – all of which came about through conquests and, later, the impact of globalisation.
Each influence has stamped its ownership on Peruvian cuisine, resulting in a menu of colorful dishes that tell different stories from different parts of the world.
In fact, Peru’s cuisine is often called the original fusion cuisine because of its diverse collection of worldwide recipes. What makes it so interesting, though, is the pervasive underpinning of Inca heritage. Even today, corn, potatoes and chillies still form a major part of Peru’s dishes, but dashes of influence from elsewhere have made themselves at home in even the most traditional of dishes.
Take the Japanese-inspired tiradito, for example, a sashimi-style dish that’s now a firm favorite in Peruvian cuisine, or chifa, which refers to the fusion of Chinese and Peruvian food. Even anticucho, an age-old recipe of skewered barbecue meat was inspired by the African slaves colonised in South America – the dish was used to make meat scraps like beef heart more palatable. Even recipes like this that were once a lowly addition to Peru’s cuisine are considered national delicacies served at street stalls throughout the country, and at modern restaurants in places like London, Paris, and New York.
A Fresh Larder of Ingredients
Perhaps the most notable thing about Peruvian cuisine, though, is its eclectic mix of ingredients – all fresh, all colorful, all flavorful.
Diverse is the only way to describe the concoction of ingredients grown both on small and large scales in Peru, thanks to the country’s incredibly unique ecosystems. The ocean that spans the north coast is home to an abundance of seafood – so much, in fact, that Peru is known as one of the world’s most prodigious producers of fresh fish and shellfish. Further inland, the Andean mountains offer the perfect growing conditions for potatoes, quinoa, and meat, while the Amazon jungle and its fertile soil bursts with colorful plants, fruits, and vegetables.
Combine this wealth of produce with the influence of immigration and you have a menu that’s exciting, different, and open for endless experimentation.
Contemporary Eating Trends
These days, food forms part of a lifestyle which is determined, in part, by trends, fads, and new ideas.
Because the roots of Peruvian food lie in gluten-free goods, the cuisine is perfect for vegans, vegetarians, and gluten-intolerant eaters – trends that have boomed in the foodie industry in recent years. Through pride of their heritage and a dedication to preserving the history of their cuisine, Peruvian chefs are continuing these age-old traditions in kitchens all over the world.
A Hearty, Homegrown Tradition
To top it all off, Peruvian cuisine is, at its heart, comfort food – think filling meat recipes and starchy side dishes. Throughout the country, Peruvians eat large, laid-back meals with their families, where they mix fresh ingredients and experiment with worldly flavors.
It’s not just the recipes from Peru that have penetrated the globe, it’s the way of life that accompanies meal times. Dishes are usually served on small plates, perfect for sharing with family and friends, and dinnertime is the place for chatting, laughing, and trying new things – the latter of which is vitally important to the growth of Peruvian cuisine. Dishes may well hark back hundreds of years, but the classics are beginning to be reinvented in unique and contemporary ways. Restaurants in London, like Morales’ Ceviche, serve the traditional arroz con pato (duck with rice) with a twist – tender duck confit tossed with coriander and dark beer rice.
It’s the combination of influences, the abundance of fresh, hearty ingredients, and the idea that grandma’s home cooking can be brought into the present day that has pulled Peruvian cuisine from being a nobody to being the thing on everyone’s lips (and plates).