Outdone by the sights of gauchos on the fields, out-romanced by flashes of Brazilian beaches and fares, and engulfed by Mexican and Caribbean flavours, Peruvian food seems like an anonymous hue in the pan-Latin palette that has painted many restaurants in the world.
But Peruvian—one of the greatest cuisines in the world—has a much larger repertoire of dishes. It is an original fusion of food, having absorbed influences from almost every continent over the last 500 years and melded them with ingredients and dishes that provide a direct link to the Incas, a tribe in the southern highlands of Peru.
Peru, the glittering heart of the Incan empire, with its indigenous cooking techniques, often spectacularly amalgamates with Western and Asian methods. One of the world’s most exquisite and sprightly cultural melding, Peruvian cuisine is the living heritage of a radiant history played out across regions of South America.
The cuisine has a way through the pages of history, culture and natural wonders of the most Latin of the lands. The fare, which, for centuries, has been touched up and plated with a myriad of local and foreign influences is in itself a journey through history and the explosion of new flavours.
Peruvian is an amazing cuisine, one that has evolved from both local and immigrant traditions. Foods that were prepared by ancient civilisations are still enjoyed today, while typical Peruvian dishes also benefit from European, African and Asian influences.
Peru’s geography yields diverse ingredients: abundant seafood from the coast, tropical fruits from the jungle, and unusual varieties of grains and potatoes from the Andes.
The Peruvian preparation pushes you to let go of all things familiar, as you bite into the dishes which trace their beginnings to the recipe scrolls of the mighty Inca and Moche civilisations, and the kitchens of the Creole people. These are dishes which have been inspired by the palates of Peru, Chile, Columbia, and the culinary fares of Spanish conquistadors, French merchants, Portuguese colonists, Dutch treasure-seekers and Asian immigrants.
Currently, Peruvian food is having a moment. The cuisine has been growing in popularity and the number of restaurants specialising in it for the past few years have witnessed success. Its food, like the country from which it hails, is complex and blessed with influences that make it a true fusion—influenced by its distinct geographical regions and by other cultures, because of immigration and colonial past.
While best known for the Ceviche, the marinated raw seafood dish, Peru’s food is remarkable for the diversity of its ingredients, from the wonderful fresh seafood to the impressive diversity of potatoes, corns and chillies. It is also known for its stir-fried beefs, pastas and shrimps.
Each influence got its own ingredient to this fusion cuisine. While the Spanish gifted it garlic and onions, guinea pigs and cows, the Africans got peanuts and yams. The Italians brought the pasta and the Chinese influenced the rice, soy sauce and cooking techniques. Not only did it borrow flairs from nearby countries like Argentina and Chile, it did so from Africa and Asia as well. As in Saltado, a popular stir fry with combinations of marinated meat, tomatoes, fries and more. Tiradito, a raw fish is a signature dish with Japanese influences. Antichucho, an anti-style cut of meats including chicken, lamb liver marinated with robust flavours. These are some signature dishes of the Peruvian cuisine.
As an Indian and an avid traveller and explorer of different flavours and cuisines of the world, it is great to see the similarity of the two cultures—Indian and Peruvian, with a similar story of influences and invasions by many. It is an honour to introduce the cuisine in India, keeping its roots alive through Nueva, a Peruvian cuisine restaurant in New Delhi.
The journey of Peruvian cuisine is not simply about food and drinks, but a melting pot of age-old traditions, exquisite flavours, and fantastic experiments which carry the essence of an entire continent. This is an undiscovered cuisine, but no one can deny its alluring and exciting newness. To the world they are new, but not for long.
Vikrant Batra is founder and director of Batra Bros and Hospitality Pvt Ltd; his stand-alone ventures are restaurants Café Delhi Heights and Nueva