After months of writing about various places I decided that I will dedicate this one to my food loving friends. In my recent trip to Peru after tasting their culinary I was very much reminded of India (from where I originally am). That’s because Peruvian food is all about spices and big flavours, some clean and crisp, others deep and heavy.
When most of us think of Peru, we think of the ancient ruins and high mountains, and if one has got a little bit of knowledge about the Peruvian food the conversation usually starts with the country’s mind boggling variety of potatoes and whether it was first found to be growing in Peru or Chile.
But gastronomically speaking, Peru is the only country in Latin America, home to dishes and flavours you won’t find anywhere else. Peruvian food is a blend of traditional native foods, like corn, potatoes, rice and quinoa along with influences from immigrants arriving from Europe especially the Spanish. Because of the variation in topography of the country there is vast difference in the diversity of food up in Andean Highland and the coastal areas (Lima). I could write about at least 20 different dishes which I tried there but I will cut down my list to just 5 in the order of my favourites 🙂
- Grilled Alpaca – In the Northern Hemisphere, the name alpaca refers to expensive wool used to make sweaters and socks. In the Andean highlands, this animal (a smaller cousin of the llama) has also been a source of meat for centuries. The taste is similar to lamb or other grass-fed meats: somewhat grainier than beef and very lean. This is a very common dish in the Andean Highland and you get various versions of it in restaurants.
- Aji de Galina – This traditional Peruvian dish is believed to be the result of the aftermath of the French Revolution with many of the noblemen’s cooks travelling to South America having lost their jobs. The mild yellow chili pepper gives this dish its eye-catching bright yellow colour and the mild kick that is found in many of Peru’s dishes. This smooth stew is made with chicken and condensed milk which is thickened with de-crusted white bread and of course accompanied by white rice. For the vegetarians, a great alternative with a similar flavour is a dish called ‘Papa a la Huancaina’ which consists of boiled potatoes in a creamy yellow sauce. (The only dish available in most restaurants for my poor husband 🙂
- Lomo Saltado – A Chinese inspired feast for the senses. Hundreds of years before Asian fusion cuisine had even been heard of in the West, Chinese immigrants began arriving in Peru looking for work. Arriving from mainly the southern provinces of China such as Guangzhou, this wave of Chinese immigrants settled along the coast of Peru and the capital of Lima, bringing with them their cooking traditions and influences. Lomo Saltado is the product of the marriage of these two cuisines with this hearty Peruvian stir-fry consisting of beef, tomatoes, peppers and onions mixed together in a pan with soy sauce and fried potatoes which is usually served over white rice.
- Ceviche – The most well know dish of Peru in Lima or in cities by the coast. It is like the new ‘SUSHI’ on the block, a delicious and fresh dish which will take your taste buds on a journey like no other! The fresh fish is marinated in a mixture of citrus juice, chili, black pepper and onions. The idea behind this is that the fresh raw fish is then slowly ‘cooked’ by the acidity of the citrus. Most restaurants serving Ceviche stop serving it by afternoon because the fish is no longer fresh anymore.
- Cuy – This one has appeared last on my list because there is a high possibility that you won’t try it. There is no way to sugar coat it, but Cuy goes by a different name in most countries…guinea pig! (One indication of how important the dish is to the rural Peruvian diet: In a cathedral in Cusco hangs a replica of Da Vinci’s Last Supper, in which Christ and the 12 disciples are seated around a platter of cuy.) Once you get past the fact that the dish is commonly a house pet in most places, it can be quite easy to try. I saw many foreigners trying Cuy in Peru . The meat, which is quite bony, is usually baked or barbecued on a spit and served whole—often with the head on. To be very honest this is one dish which I didn’t try but though should feature it on this blog because it is a very important dish up in Andean Highlands.
Most of these dishes are available in Peruvian restaurants all around London especially in Oxford Circus and Soho (except the Cuy, if you are expecting to eat a guinea pig in a London restaurant you will probably admitted to the NHS for mental illness first 😀 😀 ). If you are a enthusiast of flavours and spices Peruvian food is a must try for you.