A guide to... Peruvian cuisine
Winning the World’s Leading Culinary Destination for the past eight years at the World Travel Awards, it’s no surprise that Peruvian cuisine is becoming exceedingly popular around the world. London has seen a rise in Peruvian restaurants over recent years; Michelin starred restaurants COYA in Mayfair and Lima by Virgilio Martinez are both highly recommended. Peruvian chef Martin Morales also has four more relaxed restaurants: Ceviche in Soho and Shoreditch, Andina and Casita Andina, each offering diverse menus with Peruvian traditions fused with London creativity.
Nikkei is an increasingly popular Japanese-Peruvian fusion cuisine that incorporates simple Japanese dishes with locally sourced Andean chilies, tubers and fresh fish. In 2017, Lima’s Nikkei restaurant Maido – meaning welcome in Japanese – became Latin America’s top restaurant, overtaking Virgilio Martinez’s Central that had held the top spot since 2014. Run by Chef Micha Tsumura Nikkei, the tasting menu is a gastronomic journey through Peru’s finest produce. The calamari and snail dim sum and a 50-hour asado de tira – slow-cooked beef ribs – are the most notable dishes, recreating Latin American classics with a Japanese twist.
Peruvian cuisine has had a number of influences over the decades, with different cuisines brought in with immigrants from Europe, Asia and West Africa as well as the recipes and techniques of the indigenous Incas. Based on local, fresh ingredients, Peru’s food can be divided into three regions: coastal, Andean and Amazonian. In the Andes, a popular dish is alpaca meat, a domesticated animal that has incredibly lean, red meat with low cholesterol and fat. In Lima however, fresh seafood is much more common, while more exotic fruits and Amazonian fish are eaten in the jungle regions.
Ceviche is thought to have originated in Peru, although Ecuador, Chile and Colombia also have their own variations. Peruvian ceviche consists of chunks of raw white fish cured in freshly squeezed lime juice and often accompanied with chopped red onions, chili peppers and salt. Many people are put off as they think the fish is eaten raw. However, the lime juice ‘cooks’ the fish in the time it takes to reach the table. In Lima and other coastal areas, sea bass is a popular choice but in the Andes, especially Cuzco, freshwater trout is used.
Another dish made with raw fish is tiraditos – the fish is cut in the shape of sashimi and served with a spicy chili sauce. Many say this dish is thanks to Chef Toshiro Konishi, who took inspiration from his own Japanese heritage and Peruvian cuisine to create it. For the best tiraditos in Lima, head to Toshi, a restaurant opened by Toshiro before he died in 2016 that still serves his recipes.
From the land that cultivated the potato, and home to almost 3,000 varieties, the colourful Peruvian starter, causa, could best be described as cold mashed potato. But that does it no justice at all! The papa amarilla – a sweet, yellow potato – is cooked, cooled then mashed and seasoned with lime juice and chili. It is often served with a layer of avocado and tuna, chicken or crab.
Arroz con pato – rice with duck – is a dish influenced by Chinese immigrants, evident across the country with the presence of chifa restaurants – Chinese fused with Peruvian cuisine – 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, giving it an earthy taste. Another Chinese inspired dish is the Peruvian staple lomo saltado, served at almost every Peruvian restaurant. Strips of soy-marinated beef or alpaca are stir-fried with garlic, cumin, tomato and Spanish onion and accompanied with French-cut potatoes and rice.
Chupe de camarones is a shrimp and potato chowder. It is a hearty soup including red chili, corn and cheese. The soup is often served with eggs that have been poached in the broth before serving.
Chupe de camarones
Suspiro a la limena is the classic, but very sweet dessert, that translates to ‘the lady from Lima’s sigh’. It 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. It’s similar to lemon meringue pie without the pie. Tastier than it sounds, but probably one to share!
Chicha is a drink typical of the Andean regions made from fermented corn and definitely an acquired taste! Chicherias, 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. Peruvians and Chileans argue over who invented the grape-based liquor, with both producing their own varieties. Pisco sours can be found in both countries but the Peruvian version is made with lime juice, sugar, egg white and a dash of angostura bitters. Chileans use lemon juice and miss out the egg white.