There are many ways to meet a country, but for me one of the most gratifying and charming way to learn about a culture is through its cuisine. In the case of Peru where the senses multiply with the infinite amount of textures, colors, aromas and flavors, this rings very true. Peruvian cuisine is the result of a nearly 500-year old melting pot of Spanish, African, Japanese and Chinese influences, to name a few. Without the familiar ingredients from their home countries, immigrants modified their traditional cuisines by using ingredients available in Peru.
One of the questions I get asked the most is “What is Peruvian food like?” and after many attempts to put it in a few words, I have come to the conclusion that there is no short answer to this question.
Today, I am honored to have the opportunity to share with you a little more about Peruvian cuisine. I am Peruvian Chick, a self-proclaimed Peruvian food ambassador to the world. Being born and raised in Peru and now living in the Northwest, I have taken it upon myself to share Peruvian recipes and techniques’, utilizing the beautiful ingredients the Northwest has to offer.
Peru has three very distinct regions: coast, highlands and jungle. Each of these three regions has a different climate, providing Peru with a wide variety of crops, ingredients and dishes. Its biodiversity makes Peruvian cuisine one of the most varied and richest in the world and therefore, adaptable to any region.
Thousands of years ago what the Incas cultivated the most was potatoes. At that time they were used in basic ways such as for soups and stews. Today, there are over 3,000 potato varieties in Peru. Spanish conquistadors introduced the potato in Western civilization, but the potato was born in Peru!
The rich biodiversity of the Peruvian ecological zones combined with new species and plants brought by the Spanish, created the foundation of Peruvian cuisine, as we know it. The Spanish created a whole new layer of flavor which included the introduction of meats (beef, pork and chicken), rice, barley, wheat, olives, oils, vinegars, new vegetables, fruits, spices and other flavorings.
The Arab influence in Spain left its mark through the arrival of cumin, coriander, cinnamon and cloves, which joined the Peruvian desserts along with sugarcane, a perfect complement to Peruvian herbs and spices.
The greatest and most dramatic influence on Peruvian food however would come from Asia with the first Chinese workers in 1849. These workers retained their culinary traditions and cultural identity by importing seeds to produce their vegetables, such as peas and ginger. This once again infused Peruvian food with new flavors. In 1899 Japanese immigrants left their mark in Peruvian kitchens as well, mostly revaluing fish and fresh food from the sea. While the Incas ate fish, it was the introduction of limes and onions made by the Spanish and the new approach to fish from the Japanese that gave us ceviche.
As you can see, there is not a “short answer” to the question “What is Peruvian food like?” but maybe these few words can sum it all up: fresh, seasonal, diverse and unexpected!
Sara Balcazar-Greene and her husband host trips throughout Peru with a special emphasis on food. Their stateside business is a branding agency. For information and inquiries, please visit PeruvianChick.com