Growing up, our kitchen has always been the heart and soul of our house and the social hub for gatherings of friends and family. Food has always, for me, been a way of making sense of my environment and integrating with it. When travelling to a new country or region you can’t ignore the cuisine if you want to truly understand the people and their culture. It is a great tool for gaining insight into a community and will, without fail, enrich your experience anywhere.
Peru is one of those fantastic countries that can grow anything it wants. Because of its geology it has a great variety of climates, and growing conditions like tropical jungles for fruits and vegetables we know like pineapples, mangos, avocados, etc. as well as the more exotic like guanabanas, tomate de arbol, lúcuma and yucca. There are grass plains for animal husbandry, the generous Humbolt current with its abundance of marine life as well as plenty of water and fertiliser (also thanks to the Humbolt current in a roundabout way) adds to the astounding array of produce available in the local markets.
Humans settled the area of modern day Peru many thousands of years ago, with evidence of complex societies dating back to before 2500BC. Most of these early civilisations flourished along the coast where the ocean and good growing conditions provided an abundance of food for populations to bloom. As less time was needed for food production, these societies could develop technologies, arts and cultural advances as well as trade. All these things make for a diet of rich variety. Some of the many Peruvian national dishes date back to these early cultures. The world famous dish ceviche, for example, is virtually unchanged from the original Moche recipe from AD 100-800.
The planting cycles and food production in Peru has always been closely linked to the culture and religion here. There are many ceremonies and festivities linked to the agricultural calendar. In the highlands today, even with Catholicism as the principal religion, there are few people who do not honour Pachamama (the Mother Earth), and the abundance she provides.
Although a lot of the food in Peruvian cuisine is native and the recipes have ancient roots, the more modern history and influences played a crucial role in making Peruvian food what it is today. Europeans introduced breads, pastries and rice, vegetables and fruits from Europe as well as other colonies , plus all the other delicacies of the noble palate. African slaves brought their own flavours to not only the music and dancing, but introduced new spices and cooking methods while the influx of Chinese immigrants at the end of the nineteenth century has left a distinctive mark on many dishes like chaufa de pollo (chicken fried rice) and lomo salteado (stir fried beef and vegetables).
Today Peruvian cuisine is world renowned and rightly so. They have the most number of national dishes according to Guiness Book of World Records over 400. That means you could have a different dish every day for a year and not have tried them all. As Peruvian cuisine rises in popularity the locals are making the most of this by offering cooking classes and gastronomy tours that give you a taster (if you’ll excuse the pun) of what Peruvian food has to offer.
It doesn’t matter weather you are an adventurous foodie or a squeamish eater, a vegetarian or a carnivorous vegetable phobe, the sheer variety of foods and beverages on offer should bring out your inner glutton and give it a taste sensation.