We continue our culinary and cultural tour of South America by checking into Peru – an outstanding travel destination with truly iconic natural attractions, big hearted people and a must-see destination for gastronomy
Think of Peru and even for those who have not had the pleasure of visiting the awe-inspiring country, it evokes so many images, sights and sounds. These include gentle Andean pan pipes played by men and women in top hats and brightly coloured shawls in the the heartland of the Inca Empire; bustling City streets with glorious colonial architecture on Inca foundations, such as Arequippa, and diverse landscapes.
Machu Picchu and Inca Trail
Peru is also home to the highest navigable lake in the world, Lake Titicaca and its manmade floating islands ; the magnificent and deeply spiritual Inca citadel of Machu Picchu and the iconic Inca Trail, where thousands of people have followed in the Inca footsteps to see the Sacred Valley of the Incas. Elsewhere in Peru and equally as stunning, you will find southern Amazon rainforests, one of the deepest canyons in the world, Colca and the beautiful city of Cuzco.
What is less well-known about Peru is that it has one of the best traditions of cooking outside Italy, France, China and Mexico – making it a really popular foodie destination.
Fantastic street food
Lima – Peru’s beautiful coastal capital city - is often referred to as the culinary capital of South America. This city boasts several award-winning restaurants but it also has some fantastic street food available from vendors on almost every street corner. Its street markets are a fabulous way to see what food and produce are available – with bursts of red from the peppers, autumn hues from a vast array of potatoes, a real staple in Peru – not to mention lush looking fish freshly caught from the ocean that day.
Ceviche and pisco sour
Gourmet tours of the city are widely available and can be done as group visits or just for individuals or couples. You will get the chance to eat fresh ceviche and maybe even prepare it in the restaurant’s kitchen. Ceviche is a refreshing dish of fish marinated (and cooked) in lime juice and goes down really well in the searing heat of a summer’s day as it’s light and refreshing. The best kinds of fish are semi-firm white-fleshed ocean fish like sea bass, striped bass, grouper, sole or flounder – which are in abundance in Lima.
There is a lot of debate about how long to marinate the raw fish in the lime juice – with some recipes suggesting an hour and others saying 10 to 20 minutes. The experts in the Peruvian restaurants will guide you.
You also need to use a red onion, a handful of pitted green olives, finely chopped; two to three finely chopped green chillies and two to three tomatoes, cut into small chunks. After you have marinated the fish in the lime juices, remove the excess liquid and then add the olives, chilies, tomatoes – a sprig of coriander and then some glugs of extra virgin olive oil. Stir gently, then season with a good pinch of salt and sugar.
For a more substantial meal, ceviche can be eaten with lettuce, corn and sweet potatoes. There are many juice bars in Lima, so you wash your ceviche down with a gorgeous juice of tropical fruits.
When in Peru it is also obligatory to try pisco sour, the country’s national cocktail. Pisco is basically a distilled grape spirit that originates back to the early 17th century in Peru. A pisco sour is a delicious combination of pisco, lime juice, sugar, syrup and egg whites. The cocktail was invented by an American expat called Victor V Morris in 1904 – and there is even a statue of him in Lima’s Surco district, honouring his contribution to Peruvian culture.
If you aren’t enjoying the real thing in Peru but want to recreate a South American vibe at home, why not throw a South American-inspired cocktail party. pampeano has a range of luxury leather items and homeware that will help you on your way. Serve your cocktails from our butler table; use our throws across your favourite piece of furniture, serve salads in our beautiful wooden bowls and keep your champagne cool in our opulent leather champagne cooler.
National Pisco Day
Such is the reverence in which this drink is held in Peru, there is even a National Pisco Day (Día Nacional del Pisco Sour) on the first Saturday of February. This could be a good time to go and sample the local tipple. A great accompaniment to the cocktail is salted and roasted corn kernels.
The cultures that have influenced Peruvian cuisine are diverse – drawing from Andean, Spanish, African and Chinese influences. Potatoes are very popular and come in lots of different varieties – and colours.
Potatoes a plenty
In fact there are some 4,000 varieties of potatoes grown in the Andean highlands – offering a variety of shapes, colours and flavours. Not surprisingly, then, potatoes feature highly in Peruvian recipes. Papa Huancayna is a really famous recipe that origantes from the town of Huancayo in the Peruvian highlands – a cold potato salad in a spicy, creamy and cheesy sauce. It is typically served as an hors d’oeuvre over lettuce leaves and garnished with black olives, white corn kernels and hrd boiled eggs.
This recipe is enjoyed across Peru. Variations on potato dishes abound. Another popular one which offers pops of gorgeous colours on the plate is causa - a traditional Peruvian dish of mashed potatoes seasoned with lime juice and aji amarillo, layered with chicken salad and slices of avocado. When served it looks like a beautiful layered tower – just waiting to be sliced up.
Another dish enjoyed across Peru is tacu tacu con sabana de lomo – a large plate of specially seasoned beans and rice topped with a huge sheet (sabana) of breaded tenderloin.
Guinea pig for lunch?
Of course, no account of Peruvian food would be complete without a mention of fried or roasted guinea pig - cuy. Not to everyone’s taste, but it offers a good amount of protein, without being fatty and truly is considered a delicacy.
The guinea pig is an indigenous mammal and has been a staple in Andean diet for about 5,000 years. It is flattened and roasted in its entirety and then served with corn on the cob, yellow potatoes and a salsa sauce.
Anyone for Chifa?
Another favourite type of cuisine in Peru is a version of Chinese food. There are lots of Chinese type restaurants as Inca culture is close to Chinese, so there are plenty of Peru/Chinese type fusion dishes. It is known as ‘Chifa’ and is the name given to a cuisine that merges Chinese Cantonese flavours with Peruvian ingredients and traditions, which first came about as a result of heavy immigration from China to Peru.
Peru’s gastronomic renaissance
The renaisssance of Peru as a culinary leader means that there is a growing interest in wines of Peru – both for production and consumption, according to the thelatinkitchen.com blog.
Some wine experts think Peru has the potential to be the next big wine-producing country in South America.
There are five different vineyard regions: the north coast, central coast, the south coast, the Andean Sierra and the Selva. Of the 11,000 hectares of vineyards in the country, the most important lie in the Central and South Coast where the wines, like Tacama, Vista Alegre and Ocucaje are produced, according to winebusiness.com, a website for the wine industry.
“The coastal region of Peru is desert, intersected by a series of valleys flowing from the Andes down to the sea. The best vines are grown in these fertile irrigated areas, which benefit from the cool currents of offshore air that rise into the vineyards. The essential balance between the humidity and daily contrasts in temperature provide exceptional vine growing conditions.”
All of Peru's wines are inexpensive. Tacama, Ocucaje and Santiago Queirolo branded wines are the best.
In short, a trip to Peru will delight you in every single way – whether it is taking in Peru’s natural beauties or enjoying its mouth-watering and world-renowned culinary delicacies – give or take the odd fried guinea pig.