Experiencing Food In Peru
I Couldn't Complete My Visit To Peru until I was able to take cooking lessons from an experienced Peruvian cook. After arriving in Lima with my husband, I spent two days learning from Diego, a native of Peru, who works for SkyKitchen cooking school. As in most countries, the cuisine varies among the different areas of the country according to customs, ingredient availability, climate, and traditions. Peru, as an example, has 88 different micro-climates. Of course, you don't have to take a cooking class to learn all about regional foods. Dining at restaurants and chatting with the locals can get you a lot of information and experience.
Diego took me to a local market where he described the many different fruits and vegetables grown in Peru. We also checked out the day's fish catch, and all the varieties for sale.
Back At The Cooking School, he taught me how to prepare traditional ceviche, made with fresh fish marinated with onions, chiles, and corn in lime juice. My favorite was the ceviche marinated in Lecce de tigre, which is a sauce made of fish stock, raw fish, chiles, evaporated milk, and lime juice. There are many different ways to prepare fish in Peru, and we made pan-fried, deep-fried, sashimi-style, boiled, and steamed fish.
What Impressed Me The Most was the use of the delicious Peruvian chiles. The aji amarillo was my favorite, but there are many other varieties with different amounts of spicy heat, including: aji ricotto, aji panco (similar to ancho chiles), and mire sol (a dried amarillo chile). We incorporated the purée of several chiles in beef, vegetable, chicken, and fish dishes.
In Peru, There Are 4,000 Varieties Of Potatoes, and they're still discovering more. Diego and I prepared a dish with boiled potatoes covered in a delicious sauce made with three chiles, garlic and milk. We also made causas, which are little "sandwiches" made with mashed boiled potatoes flavored with chile paste, which are layered in a mold with different fillings. We made one with octopus, avocado and olives. Another was layered with a tomato salad and topped with thin fillets of fried fish. This dish is common in restaurants, and I got some great ideas on how to make them at home.
Corn Is Widely Available In Peru, and comes in as many as 55 varieties. Ceviche almost always has at least one type of corn. Many dishes have toasted dried chulpe corn, called cancha salada, which is similar to corn nuts in the U.S. Diego put chulpe in ceviche, and I had it in restaurant salads and other dishes as a garnish.
Another Ingredient Widely Used In Peru Is Quinoa. In the market there were many varieties available, and it is used in several ways in Peruvian cooking. It has been a staple in their diet for over 5,000 years and has always been a great way for poor people to eat nutritionally, until the rest of the world discovered it. Now, quinoa from Peru is mostly sold abroad; and, it was rumored there is a shortage of it in Peru, causing the price to skyrocket. Still, it is eaten in most Peruvian homes, and offered on nearly every menu. Diego and I made "risotto" with quinoa, and it was absolutely delicious. We also put it in soup and toasted it for garnish.
Of Course, I Had To Learn About The Native Alcohol Spirit, Pisco, a brandy made from grapes grown in Peru. I took a Pisco lesson and learned there are many types of Pisco (we were offered 13 to try). It is a fermented clear drink that is usually drunk in its pure form, but the most popular way to serve it is in a pisco sour, which is a refreshing cocktail made with fresh lime juice, simple syrup, egg white and pisco. It's finished with three drops of angostura bitters. Another popular drink is the Chilcano, which is made with pisco, lime juice and ginger ale.
After Lima, We Ventured South To Cusco, where we stayed for a couple of days before taking the train to Machu Picchu. In Cusco, I saw many of the same dishes offered on Lima's menus, but Peruvian tamales seemed to be more popular. Often sold as street food, they are filled with meat or cheese, and have the added flavor of boiled eggs and olives. The ones I saw were steamed in banana leaves. Roasted guinea pig is also an important dish in the Cusco area. One old religious painting shows it being served at the Last Supper. I chose not to try this dish, and I must say I don't think I missed anything. I quite preferred the delicious pork belly, sautéed beef, and chicken that I had in both Lima and Cusco.
Although I tried Only A Small Amount Of Chinese Food While In Peru, it is quite prevalent due to the number of Chinese immigrants. Nearly 10 percent of the population is Asian, and the influence in Peruvian food is quite obvious (and delicious). The Chinese introduced soy sauce, ginger, scallions, fish sauce, and other ingredients that pair beautifully with Peruvian food. In the market where I visited in Lima, there was an entire section devoted to the Asian markets where Chinese noodles, rice paper, and vegetables were sold.
I Spent Only One Week In Peru, and tried only a small sample of the native foods. The cooking school, restaurants, and visits with several Peruvians certainly introduced me to the vast flavors and piqued my interest to study more about the food and recipes of this ancient culture.