A foodie guide Peruvian cuisine
Cox & Kings’ Katie Parsons recently returned from a visit to Peru and discovered a country with a vast range of regional specialities, and a cuisine emerging onto the world gastronomy stage.
Peru has recently been nominated as the best culinary destination in South America at the World Travel Awards. With two new Peruvian restaurants opened in London this year, Ceviche and Lima, for anyone that’s visited the country, this award will hardly come as a surprise. For those who haven’t, this guide to the best of Peruvian food will hopefully tempt you to go.
Peru’s food is very regional and can be roughly divided into three large areas: coastal, Andean and Amazonian. Each is as distinct from the other, focussing on the freshest ingredients, sourced locally from the region. For instance, alpaca meat, an incredibly lean meat with very low cholesterol, is a popular dish in the Andes, where alpacas are a domesticated animal. But it would never be seen on a menu in Lima, where fresh seafood is much more common. In the jungle regions, more exotic fruits and Amazonian fish are eaten.
Ceviche (img. 1), which now has a restaurant in Soho named after it, originates in Peru, although Ecuadorians and Chileans may dispute this. The classic Peruvian Ceviche is chunks of raw white fish, marinated in freshly squeezed lime juice, with sliced onions, chili peppers, salt and pepper. Many people are put off from trying as they think it is fish eaten raw. However, the lime juice ‘cooks’ the fish in the time it takes to take it to the table. In Lima and other coastal areas sea bass is a popular choice but in the Andes, especially Cuzco, freshwater trout is used.
This dish(img. 2), similar to ceviche, is credited by many to Toshiro Konishi, who used his Japanese heritage to create a dish similar to sashimi. Served in a spicier chilli sauce than ceviche, it also differs in the way the fish is sliced. For the best tiraditos in Lima, head to Mesa 18 at the Miraflores Park hotel, where Toshiro is the executive chef.
From the land that cultivated the potato, and home today to almost 3,000 varieties, this unique and colourful Peruvian starter could be best described as cold mashed potato(img. 3). But that does it no justice at all! The papa amarilla (a sweet yellow potato) is cooked, cooled and then mashed and seasoned with lime juice and chili. It is often served with a layer of avocado, tuna, chicken or crab. A hard-boiled egg is a classic garnish for the dish.
Translated literally as rice with duck, this dish (img. 4)comes from the influence of Chinese immigrants, evident across the country with the presence of chifa restaurants and an impressive Chinatown in Lima. Peruvian corn beer, chicha, is used to cook the rice and duck, and parsley is blended with water to braise the duck.
This (img.5) is best described as a shrimp and potato chowder, and is a hearty soup including red chili, corn, and cheese. It is often served with eggs in, which have been poached in the broth before serving.
This classic (img.6), but very sweet desert translates as ‘sigh of the Lima woman’ and is said to have been named by the famous Peruvian author José Gálvez, who when asked what inspired the name, reportedly replied, “Because it is soft and sweet, like the sigh of a woman”. It is predominantly made from dulce de leche, a caramel-like sweetened milk, that has been enriched with egg yolks, similar to lemon meringue pie, without the pie. Tastier than it sounds, but probably one to share!
An acquired taste, but a drink typical for the Andean regions, chicha is made from fermented corn. Chicherias, or places that sell the drink in rural areas, can be identified by a pole outside the front door with a red bag attached to it. A blue bag signifies they are selling frutillada, the same chicha drink but with strawberries and supposedly just for ladies. Chicha morada is a much sweeter version and is made from purple corn, cinnamon cloves, lime and sugar.
Finally, no trip to Peru is complete without trying a Pisco sour (img.7). Peruvians and Chileans argue over who invented Pisco, a grape-based liqueur, with both producing their own varieties. The Pisco sour can be found in both and is made with lime juice, sugar, egg white and a dash of angostura bitters.
The Telegraph has recently put together its recommendations of where to eat, so when you get to Lima, why not try some ceviche at Astrid & Gastón, or causa in Perroquet.
For Peruvian restaurants in London, try Ceviche in Soho for informal tapas-style plates, Lima in Fitzrovia, serving contemporary Peruvian food, and Titos, a more relaxed but very authentic and local feeling restaurant.