Peruvian Culinary Treasure Chest
The spiritual draw of Machu Picchu combined with the gastronomic fame of Peru’s cuisine lured me to Lima and the Andes mountains.
I joined grazing llamas and fellow travelers to explore the stone structures and staircases throughout the majestic and mysterious mountaintop ‘lost city of the Inca.’
Discovered by American historian Hiram Bingham in 1911, archeologists still do not know why the Inca built Machu Picchu.
It’s a reminder that civilizations of the world– ancient and modern- have much to reveal and share with visitors from afar.
MORE THAN QUINOA ON THE MENU
The popularity of quinoa in the U.S. has people talking about Peru where it’s a staple of the traditional diet.
Though technically a seed not a grain, quinoa is nutritious and high in protein. It can be served like rice and comes in a variety of colors including black and red. A crunchy quinoa salad with fava beans and corn on the menu at La Huaca Pucllana is chef Marilu Mandueno’s contemporary spin on classics, “I want to keep tradition to show where the modern interpretations come from. It’s my way of rediscovering ingredients.”
Peru is celebrated for ceviche, too. From tiny stalls in bustling city markets to gorgeous restaurants, the art of raw fish slightly marinated in citrus juice and chili peppers is not to be missed.
Peru is the perfect for potato lovers where there are over 3000 types including purple, red, and yellow and all shapes, sizes, and textures.
One of the most delicious Peruvian recipes is causa, which combines mashed yellow potatoes with olive oil, lemon juice and chili.
Moray, an Inca archeological site in the Cusco region is believed to be an ancient agricultural experiment station to develop potato and corn varieties for varying altitudes.
Each Ingredient is Prized in Peru
A dish called “diversity of corn” is presented on the ‘elevations’ tasting menu at the ultra contemporary Central restaurant in Lima, home to chef Virgilio Martinez. I first met him at the Worlds of Flavors conference at the Culinary Institute of American in Napa Valley.
Another course, called ‘dry Andes’ is a tiny bite of grey colored clay with citrus flower garnish.
“Peruvians like impactful flavors,” says Gregory Thomas Smith, formerly of Atlanta and wine director at Central. “If they eat an orange they want the most passionate orange they can find.”
Peru’s bounty from the ocean, plains, mountains and jungle is celebrated at Astrid & Gaston in Lima, recognized as one of the finest restaurants in the world.
Roasted potatoes are served table side, unearthed from steaming black dirt.
Dining in Peru is an adventure.
Get ready to discover fish and fruit from the Amazon, the flavor of cuy (guinea pig) and learn that alpaca isn’t only for sweaters. Alpaca, raised by certified purveyors, is a lean meat and tastes a bit like venison.
The restaurant at Tambo del Inka Resort in the Sacred Valley elegantly serves grilled alpaca with native potatoes, lavender flowers and cocao sauce.
Not so daring? Have an empanada and a Pisco sour.
While many people associate the Amazon River with neighboring Brazil, nearly twenty percent of the Amazon basin lies within Peru. A living laboratory of nature’s biodiversity, the Amazon supplies chef Pedro Miguel Schafino’s groceries for Amaz restaurant in Lima, the first restaurant to showcase the history and culture of the jungle region. “Nobody’s doing this. One hundred percent of our menu is from the Amazon,” says Schafino. The menu at Amaz is a colorful, tropical mix of fruit and vegetables including pomelo (ancient cousin of grapefruits), sugar cane and hearts of palm cut into spirals and served like pasta. “We’ve introduced forty new fruits into Lima,” says Schafino. “It’s a very healthy cuisine integrated with nature and these plants have high levels of vitamins and antioxidants.”
There are four different kinds of Amazon River fish on the menu (of the 20 to 30 Amazon natives currently consume) prepared ceviche style or in flavorful stews. For the adventurous palate there are river snails and fresh water clams too.
When I tell Schafino that I thought I was going to eat piranha at his restaurant he smiles and says, “Oh there would be piranha if I could find a consistent quantity and good quality!” Check the menu if you visit Amaz on a trip to Lima. Maybe piranha will appear on the menu. Of course, not to be missed are the two most famous flavors of the Amazon- chocolate and coffee, both indigenous to the region.
High Altitude Help
When traveling to cities such as Cusco above 10,000 feet and the archaeological site Machu Picchu at about 8000 feet a lot of folks can feel the effects caused by less available oxygen in the air.
This so called “thin air” makes it harder to breath and speeds up dehydration. It can cause insomnia, dizziness and nausea. At first, I felt like I had boulder on my chest. Taking your time while climbing steps on a city tour and hiking trails is critical as well as drinking plenty of water. Go easy on the Pisco sours, too.
Professional tour guide, Jaime Vasquez, who has led over 650 groups traversing the mountainous Inca Trail to Machu Picchu says, “While it’s offered at some hotels, I don’t recommend using oxygen because it will take longer for your body to acclimatize to the altitude. Instead take aspirin, drink a lot of water and slow down.”
Mate de coca, tea brewed from coca leaves (yes, that kind of coca but legal in Peru) is a time honored folk cure for soroche in the Andes. It’s provided in hotels, restaurants and sold in tea bags at the market. “Coca tea has alkaloids so it helps stimulate the system,” says Vasquez. Just don’t try to bring any souvenir coca leaves home to the USA.
For great information on all things Peruvian and planning travel to Peru I recommend connecting with the Peru Trade Commission office Los Angeles. Gracias!!!