Peruvian cuisine can be summed up in one word: Delicious. If you are someone who has already had the pleasure of tasting this food, you know what I have written is gospel. In fact, the food here is so good that the President of Peru recently asked UNESCO to declare its food a World Heritage Status for National Cuisine – just as France and Mexico have received. Peruvian cuisine has already received the first Cultural Heritage Award by the Organization of American States (OAS), in 2011.
If you have yet to have the opportunity to try it, let me tell you that you will not be disappointed. Encompassing flavors and products from the Amazonian rainforest, tropical coastal regions, Andean highlands and arid desert lands alone, makes the food rich and varied; but add to it Spanish, Chinese, Japanese and African influences and it is easy to see why the food is considered a rock star of the culinary world.
Unlike many other countries in South America, food in Peru is far from bland. While Argentina is known for its beef (and rightfully so, it is delicious) the rest of the food there is pretty bland. The same can be said for Uruguay and a little less so for Chile. These countries are fairly adverse to any spice (other than salt it seems), and they have a fear of even the smallest spiciness. This is not to say that Peruvian food is overtly spicy. Some dishes might have some heat from the use of aji (a Peruvian chili pepper), but it can be toned down, and is definitely not the star ingredient.
And if you love sauces to dip and smother food in, you will have a friend in Peru. There are many to choose from, but the signature sauce quite possibly could be Huancaina, a blend of queso fresco (similar to feta), vegetable oil, aji amarillo, garlic, onion, milk, crushed crackers and salt all mixed together in a blender. It is also a great sauce to accompany alpaca meat (similar in taste to venison) or smothered over a boiled potato.
The Peruvian dishes that most of the world is familiar with are probably lomo saltado, aji de gallina, and ceviche (also written here as cebiche and not to be confused with Mexican ceviche, which is prepared differently). It is easy to see why these dishes are so popular the world over, but they are definitely not the only superstars. Dishes such as tacu tacu (mixture of beans and rice, fried and topped with breaded and pan-fried steak and an onion salsa), anticuchos (grilled brochettes of beef heart, marinated in vinegar and aji panca) and rocoto relleno (red bell pepper stuffed with chopped beef, eggs, peas, carrots, cheese, milk, and potatoes) should not be missed!
Food is one of those things that really can make it or break it when you become an expat and move to a new country; it is something that you cannot live without, and if you don’t enjoy what you eat, you probably won’t enjoy yourself. In Peru, this will be the furthest thing from your mind, as you experience flavors and dishes that you will wonder how you lived without!
Now that your appetite has been sufficiently whetted, check back with us next week when we begin our Recipe of the Week posts!