Destination: Peru

Cuisine of Peru: The food of Peru is a symphony of the many cultures found in the country and is considered by some to be a shining example of fusion cuisine. Let’s explore Nikkei, Criollo, and Chifa cuisines, considered the most popular fusion cuisines in Peru.

With the 2nd largest population of Japanese immigrants in South America, Nikkei Cuisine is becoming increasingly popular. Featuring Japanese ingredients and culinary techniques that are used to enhance the foods of Peru, this is a true fusion cuisine. While highly influenced by Japanese sensibility, the cuisine is distinctly unique to Peru.  Chefs that are known for this cuisine include Virgilio Martinez of Centrale and Hajime Kasuga of Ache. Tiradito is one of the best known dishes in this cuisine and consists of fish sliced thin and bathed in a spicy sauce. The onions common to ceviche are noticeably absent in this presentation.

The most popular fusion cuisine in Peru is Criollo (Creole) due to the immense influence of the African population that was originally brought here as slaves. Plantains, sweet potatoes, anticuchos (skewered grilled meats), and tacu tacu (a dish made with mayocoba beans and cooked rice) are among the ingredients/dishes common to this cuisine. Gaston Acurio of Astrid Y Gaston (Chef Gaston is considered the ambassador for the food of Peru) is known for Creole-Mediterranean cuisine.

Chinese immigrants of Cantonese descent have also highly influenced Peruvian cuisine. The fusion cuisine termed Chifa is derived from a Cantonese word that means “to eat rice and have a meal”. The dish arroz chaufa (Peruvian-Cantonese fried rice) and lomo saltado, a stir fry of beef, are two common Peruvian-Chinese dishes. Chifas are very common in Peru and are considered the “everyman’s” restaurant since they appeal to all walks of life. Again, here the distinction is the use of predominantly Peruvian ingredients.

Agricultural Products

The Andean highlands are the birthplace of potatoes. With over 5,000 documented species, Peru and the surrounding countries are a literal smorgasbord of these delicious tubers. Most varieties are only found locally (approximately 100 varieties are sold commercially in the United States for comparison).

Aji Amarillo, also indigenous to Peru, is known for its unique spicy flavor and is showing up on menus across the country, as well as grocery stores as a paste or whole canned peppers.

From the Western coastal desert and high Andeans to the Amazonian river basin, Peru offers a wide range of climates, and thus a wide range of agricultural products. Major export goods include coffee, cuisine asparagus¸ artichokes, and avocadoes, and yet, these ingredients only scratch the surface of the agricultural products grown in Peru. Let’s look at a few that you may not have heard of:

Granadilla: a relative of the passion-fruit, it has a hard orange external skin that surrounds a pithy white middle skin. The inside is comprised of a delicious pulp with numerous black seeds.

Tumbo – also called the banana passion fruit, it has clustered black seeds and pulp in a firm yellow skin, and it is best eaten cooked, as the pulp is very acidic when raw.

Pichuberry: also called aquaymanto, it is a relative of the husk cherry, and like the husk cherry, it has a papery outer husk.

Tamarillo: known as the tree tomato, while related to tomatoes, is not a tomato. Its flavor is said to be a cross between a tomato and a passion fruit.

Capulin: also called rum cherry, it is a dark purple, oblong fruit related to the cherry and is intensely sweet.

Airampu: the seed of a cactus, it imparts an intense red color to food. It is found in drinks and used similarly to hibiscus.

Tarwi: the seed of a species of lupine, it a similar to a bean, and in the same family. Light yellow with a brown dot, it is a beautiful flower that produces a bean, which is 40% protein.

Cocona – related to tomatoes, but resembling the persimmon, it has a taste that is a cross between a tomato and a lemon.

Llulluchas – a spherical colonial cyanobacteria (scientific name Nostoc) that grows in the mountains of Peru during the rainy season.

Lucuma – this fruit is not usually eaten raw and has a flavor that is reminiscent of maple syrup and sweet potatoes. It is an ingredient in ice cream in Peru.

As you sit and ponder just how you can ever sample all the unique flavors that Peru has to offer, consider attending Mistura, the largest food festival in South America, which takes place every September.  Since most of these products are not yet available commercially, the Mistura is the perfect place to taste to your heart’s content.  You never know, you might just knock them off your bucket list.

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