Want to know more about Peruvian Food Culture? Maybe you’ve heard that Peruvian Cuisine is the next biggest thing. Or you’ve seen the buzz about top Peruvian Chefs taking the world by storm. What about the incredible Superfoods native to Peru and the fusion cuisine that blends native and imported traditions? Were the culinary traditions of Peru always this strong? What is it that makes typical Peruvian food so special and why has it suddenly become a hot topic? Who are these new Peruvian chefs and what are popular foods in Peru? Let’s take a brief look at the history of food in Peru and then discuss the delicious food itself. Provecho!
The world’s recognition of world class Peruvian cuisine has caused the explosive growth of a culinary tourism industry proving there is so much more to Peru that just Machu Picchu
Peruvian Cuisine & Cultural Influences
Peru is South America’s third-largest country and has three distinct regions within its borders. There are the Andean highlands, the coast, and the Amazon basin which is a rainforest on the eastern side of the Andean highlands. Each region offers different but influential indigenous culinary meats, fruits, and vegetables to their menus which provide diversity within Peruvian Cuisine.
Peruvian food is often referred to as Criolla or Creole food because of the blend of Spanish, Asian, Incan and other European cuisine influences which are integrated into their cooking. Ingredients are based heavily on potatoes, beans, rice, beef, eggs, lamb, fish, corn, chicken and especially the Aji, or chili. The hot chili pepper is used to create stronger flavors in the food dishes which mostly build on Spanish and indigenous foods. Peruvian food offers spectacular cultural and biodiverse combinations of cooking techniques and ingredients which were brought to this land from across the globe during several centuries of immigration.
International Influences on Peruvian Cuisine
The cultivation of beans, chili peppers, squash, and corn by Peru’s original inhabitants around 3000 BC set the culinary scene. Next, the Inca empire, the dominant power during the 1300s, started to grow potatoes in terraces on the hillsides throughout their vast lands. Peru was the first area of the world to grow potatoes and the potato crop is still a staple throughout South America today.
The Spanish and European influences came next in the 1500s with the Spanish conquest. They introduced chicken, pork and lamb and began to grow crops such as beans, carrots, barley and wheat. African immigrants were then imported to work in the fields, due to diminishing numbers of native Peruvians (from death by disease) . The infusion of African culinary culture began at that time with the introduction of their indigenous products to Peru.
African slaves introduced numerous different spices, bananas, pumpkins and sugar cane. They made pumpkin dough and used sugar cane to create a sweet pastry that they called picarones. They created the ultimate delicious beans and rice dish tacu tacu. The cultural diversity of Peru’s cuisine is what separates it from the rest of the food world. Peruvian cuisine is based on the infusion of different ethnic ingredients and specific cooking techniques to create lush and powerful flavor profiles.
Peru’s Regional Cuisine History
Within Peru, as I mentioned, there are three diverse culinary regions. African, Asian and Spanish/European ethnicity can be seen in the style and dishes typical to each of the regions. The different landscapes, climates and cultural diversity set Peru apart from other countries, even close neighbors, by enabling a more substantial and diverse culinary experience.
The tropical region of the Amazon basin is inhabited by many different tribes and families who live within the rainforest’s confines. Most of the tribes still surviving today are considered hunters and gatherers and feed off the many fruits, wild game, spices, peppers, nuts and vegetables that grow and live naturally in the rainforest. The communities have markets and street corner vendors who deliver a culinary experience comprised of fresh, natural and healthy ingredients.
The rainforest is an abundant habitat that provides diversity in what it brings to the local cuisine. Over 2000 amazon fish species are eaten on a daily basis along with an abundance of tropical fruit like lucuma, cherimoya, and guanabana. There are other naturally grown foods such as guava, avocado, yams and yucca which are a staple food in the rainforest region. A local favorite, juanes, is a delectable dish that’s sold at markets throughout this region and is made of chicken (or any other meat available) and rice rolled into banana leaves.
If you are not squeamish you could try the local delicacy of what they call Suri. It is the palm weevil grub and it is prepared by either boiling, frying or sautéing using chili peppers and other spices then placed on skewers. If you are adventurous and want to try some bush meat dive right into what has become an extremely lucrative international trading business.
The likes of deer, wild boar, rodents, primates, reptiles and birds are hunted and killed for consumption and cooked using several different cooking techniques and ingredients within the local region. The wild game trade is very quickly becoming a detriment to the region by causing several different species to become rare and extinct. This practice goes against Peruvian culture’s views on protecting and preserving the environment and animals within its borders.
The Peruvian Andes have rich soil which is great for farming and allows for the growth of potatoes, oca, tarwi, quinoa and olluco to name but a few. From the time of the Incas, the livelihood of the locals depended on the production of traditional crops such as roots, tubers, grains, vegetables, fruits and the rearing of edible animals such as guinea pigs, llamas and camelids.
Their most prevalent meals are stews and soups. All of the meats and vegetables are put into the same pot and cooked for many hours to infuse the natural flavors throughout the dish. Meats, maize, hot chilies, potatoes, and carrots are all cooked together for hours. This is something which takes time due to the lower oxygen levels in the highlands. Another cooking method utilized for centuries in the Andes is called Pachamanca.
Seasoned meats, herbs and vegetables are placed underground on hot stones and left to cook for many hours. The most popular dish in the highlands is Cuy Chactado which is fried guinea pig. The guinea pig has been a staple in the Andean culture for centuries, even before the Incas ruled.
The coastal region of Peru is very mountainous and rocky with dunes and rolling hills of barren sand. Peru’s coast runs from Chile to Ecuador and has numerous small rivers that run down the mountainsides and through vast sand dunes then empty into the Pacific Ocean. The coast is abundant in seafood from the ocean and the many rivers. The coast of Peru has two separate divisions that bestow different climates and food products.
The northern coast is very hot with a savannah desert climate and a definitive short rainy season. But it is mostly very dry for the majority of a year. The northern coastal region is mostly made up of dry tropical forests comprised of shrubs, thorny trees of varying types and mangrove forests.
The area is biodiverse with tropical wildlife such as crocodiles, boas, iguanas, anteaters, sloths and many others. There are warm sunny valleys, rice fields, and palm trees on beautiful warm turquoise beaches. Some region-specific cuisine staples are, Chicha Morada, Chicha de Jora or corn beer. This beer is locally made and used to cook with solely over other liquids. Lamb and goat are more predominantly used along with maize tamales in the northern region of the coast.
Lima along with the central and southern coast has a more subtropical desert climate and has quickly become a hub for international Peruvian restaurants and marketplaces. Lima has become the gastronomic cooking hub of Peru and most of South America. A favorite meal is Ceviche which is a dish of raw fish, shrimp, scallop or squid soaked in lime juice. The dish is infused with local spices and hot chili to create a wonderful sauce and is sometimes served with a salad or plantain chips.
All the regions of Peru enjoy a slightly different version of Ceviche, but they are fairly similar in ingredients. One could venture into Lima and the central/southern coastal regions and find a vast array of Peruvian chefs and restaurants that will provide exceptional culinary experiences.
Master Chefs: More than Just Cooking
Many chefs claim to be connoisseurs of Peruvian cuisine but only a handful few understand the importance of utilizing indigenous ingredients to derive multicultural flavor elements from the ingredient mixes crafted and developed over centuries. These chefs are pushing the boundaries of Peruvian cooking and opening the wonderful foods of Peru to the world.
This man is the undisputed ambassador of Peruvian cooking, entrepreneur, and writer of some of the most world-renowned Peruvian cookbooks. Gaston Acurio is the superstar of the Peruvian cuisine revolution and feels that his creations are more than just cooking. He has over 33 restaurants in 12 different countries, hosts a cable TV cooking show, runs a world-class cooking school for underprivileged youth, and has published over 20 cookbooks including the wonderful Peru.
Acurio has successfully reshaped Peru’s culinary world by joining the biodiversity of Peru with the cultural diversity to globalize Peruvian cuisine. He has the outlook that cooking for others, is solely about sharing and not about the vanity or ego of it. He turned the once bland food world in Lima into the gastronomic capital of the world.
This chef is all about cultural diversity, sustainability, and nutrition with his sublime cooking. His path to the culinary arts started at a young age. His parents were all about self-sufficiency and strong social values. His mother is now the mayor of Lima and continues to support Emmanuel’s dreams and desires to reshape the world’s view of Peruvian cuisine.
Piqueras opened several successful restaurants in the US and continues to be a part of the education of the new generation of chefs in Peru. He believes the world needs the younger chefs to create more modern style food but still be conscious of the environment and nutritional value of the food. He has been hailed the ambassador of the so-called New Andean style cooking and continues to successfully build a culinary empire in the US based on this style.
Jamie Pesaque has carved out his own Peruvian culinary empire that could only be compared with that of Gaston Acurio’s Peruvian cuisine phenomenon. Jamie started at a very young age on a journey of cooking and learning to create delicious food. Chef Pesaque worked in his family kitchen with their cook which helped to propel what was once an interest in cooking into a powerful passion for the culinary arts.
He has opened several restaurants all around the world to bring the cultural and biodiverse Peruvian cuisine to the forefront within the culinary arts realm. He is passionate about using organic ingredients, experimenting with Latin cuisine and wants to show people outside of his country the fascinating culture of Peru through his culinary creations.
Peruvian Food Culture is here to stay
Peruvian cuisine is so diverse and sensational because it encapsulates culinary influences from the entire world. It relies heavily on indigenous and unique ingredients, centuries-old techniques and diverse cultural traditions. Peruvian food is considered fusion cuisine which means the creations are not considered one particular cuisine style but rather infuses different food traditions and cooking styles together.
Peruvian food began its take-over of the food world beginning in the United States and Europe in the 1990s.
The superstar chefs and culinary kings took their pride and love of their Peruvian culture and biodiversity of their land and wanted to share it with the world. People started to realize that Peruvian cuisine is unique but still uses familiar ingredients and therefore was easy to understand. The increase in demand for Peruvian cooking is part of a culinary phenomenon.
Peruvian cuisine is a creation based on fusions of cultural elements which include Spanish, Asian, African and Incan cooking techniques and ingredients. These combinations have become so popular that they are creating sub-cuisines within the culinary world. For example, the Japanese and Peruvian fusion took off so much that the sub-cuisine Nikkei was created to support the demand for this cultural combination. Renowned chef Ferran Adria states that the gastronomic boom in Peru is a sociocultural phenomenon which is unique in the world. It is generating global economic activity based on lavish cultural elements translated into the culinary arts.