Author by Kathleen Pokrud
Photo credit by Jenny Chan and Teresa Biesty
When Kathleen Pokrud approached the embassy with the idea of publishing an article on Peruvian gastronomy, my wife and I were delighted to offer our immediate assistance, especially since the great rise of Peruvian cuisine in recent years has already made it a world reference.
When thinking of Peruvian food, the dish that will probably come to many people’s minds would be the famous ceviche. However, Peruvian cuisine has so much more to offer. The gastronomy of Peru reflects the wonderful biodiversity of the country: 84 of the 103 life zones on the planet are found in Peru. Separated by geography into three regions —the Andes highlands, the Amazon jungle, and a 3,000 km long coast to the Pacific Ocean— and with influences from European (mostly Spanish, Italian, and French), Asian (especially Chinese and Japanese), as well as African cultures, each of our dishes offers a unique history and distinctive flavors.
One of the staples of Peruvian cuisine is potato, one of the greatest gifts of ancient Peruvians to the world; 99% of potatoes cultivated worldwide can be genetically traced back to the Andes Mountains. Today, Peru has more than 3,500 varieties of potatoes, the largest in the world, and Lima is headquartering the International Potato Center.
In the last 30 years, there has been an increase in the popularity of many traditional and new Peruvian dishes. This boom is due, in large part, to the figure of a group of Peruvian cooks led by Peruvian chef Gastón Acurio and his belief that Peru is a “…great nation, with a great living culture, the result of centuries of métissage, and it is precisely this miscegenation that has made our cuisine a varied and diverse proposal that has finally captivated the international public”.
Today, Peruvian cuisine is recognized by the world, with many Peruvian restaurants included on the top of the World’s 50 Best List. In addition, Peruvian embassies all around the world are actively promoting the brand “Super Foods Peru” which consists of produces -capsicum, fruits, vegetables, grains, herbs, roots, and fish- that are exceptionally high in nutrients. Some of that Super Foods Peru is not well known yet in Thailand, while others, such as quinoa, blueberries, grapes, and avocados, are our important exported products to Thailand. Additionally, Pisco, the spirit of Peru, is another flagship product that Peru offers to the world.
I want to thank Kathleen for her initiative and hope that the article below will be an appetizing introduction for its readers to the fantastic and tasty world of Peruvian cuisine.
HE Fernando J. A. Quiros Campos
Ambassador of Peru to the Kingdom of Thailand
Peruvian cuisine is taking the world by storm with many restaurants in Peru now ranked among the World’s 50 best restaurants. Probably lesser known in Asia, documentaries on Netflix and cable food channels have started to raise awareness of Peruvian food culture. I recently spoke with Madame Ximena Rios Hamann, spouse of H. E. Fernando J A Quiros Campos, Ambassador of Peru to the Kingdom of Thailand, to learn about delicious Peruvian gastronomy.
Peru has been the winner of the World’s Leading Culinary Destination awarded by the World Travel Awards for eight consecutive years, from when the awards were introduced in 2012 until 2019, and in 2021. Our discussions included what makes typical Peruvian dishes so extraordinary and why it has become so popular among foodies as well as the culinary traditions of Peru, its undiscovered cuisine and how Peruvian cuisine is being exported with its cosmopolitan appeal.
Peruvian cuisine reflects the country’s history, with an exclusive variety of dishes. Madame Ximena explained, “The history of Peruvian cuisine dates back to the pre-Columbian, Inca and pre-Inca periods. The Incas are known for their unique agricultural and preservation methods. They developed their skills growing a variety of grains, potatoes, tubers and legumes on terraces, and these farming techniques have influenced Peruvian dishes up to the present. During the Spanish Viceroyalty, the Spanish brought African slaves to the Americas, and over the years, African culture influenced Peruvian culture. The slaves were talented in creating delightful dishes from discarded ingredients, and many of their creations have become well-known Peruvian dishes such as Tacu Tacu, frijol colado, and anticuchos (heart meat roasted on a metal or wooden skewer).”
Madame Ximena elaborated further, “The real gastronomic revolution of Peru arrived from the Far East when immigrants from Asia began to arrive. First were the Chinese, who introduced new frying techniques and ingredients like soy and ginger. Peruvian classic Lomo saltado is possibly where their influence is most evident as it is with Arroz chaufa, a rice-based dish that originated from the fusion of Chinese and Peruvian tastes. Later in the 20th century, when Japanese immigrants arrived to Peru, they introduced ways to prepare and cook fish and seafood, which has been elevated to an art form, as seen with ceviche (Peru’s national dish) and tiradito.”
Madame Ximena proudly declared, “Peruvian cuisine is one of the world’s best. Many dining venues in Peru are ranked among the World’s 50 Best Restaurants (https://www.
Lima is fast becoming the culinary capital of Latin America and a new global gastronomic epicentre. Peruvian restaurants are mushrooming around the world. Famous Peruvian chefs are building recognition on the world culinary scene. One well-known example is Pía León, who was recently named The World’s Best Female Chef 2021 (https://www.
The cuisines of Lima, the North Coast, the Amazon, Arequipa and the Andes as well as Novo-Andean dishes are waiting for every adventurous tourists who comes to Peru. Peruvian food offers spectacular cultural and biodiverse combinations of cooking techniques and ingredients, brought to the land from across the globe during centuries of migration. One would say that the cultural diversity of Peru’s cuisine is what makes it so special.
Peru is a land of unique delicacies with its abundance of extraordinary resources and inexhaustible larder of agricultural products. “Our diet is full of superfoods, exquisite fruits, grains and vegetables – exceptional products that stimulate the palate and wellness of the body.”
Madame Ximena explained, “Peruvian cuisine is also about family, where recipes are prepared by grandmothers who hand them down to mothers or fathers and then daughters and sons. Families tend to meet very frequently and often at a table. La sobremesa, the time after a meal spent at the table, is a precious time as well. It’s the opportunity for everyone to talk, many at the same time, and most probably about food.”
Peruvians possess real talent in conserving their traditional culture while seamlessly adapting to modern culinary styles. Peruvian food is characterized by variety. The more popular world cuisines, like Chinese and French, pose no threat to the diversity and richness of Peruvian cuisine. Madame Ximena explained, “Traditional Peruvian cuisine is Andean food. The most common dish that has been prepared the same way for 500 years is pachamanca. Pachamanca means, “earth oven” in Quechua. It is magic and serves as a tribute to mother earth. What makes it most interesting is its cooking method. First, the “oven” is built by digging a hole in the ground where stones are layered to create a dome shape, and then they are heated by burning logs. After the oven is heated, ingredients are added in layers: first the sweet potatoes, potatoes and oca, and then more hot stones on top, followed by a variety of marinated meats, after which come the beans and guinea pigs (cuy). Then, the oven is sealed with leaves, cloth and soil and left to cook and simmer for around three hours.”
Due to the country’s geographic diversity, traditional Peruvian cuisine can be classified into three main regions: the coast (la costa), the mountain (la sierra), and the jungle (la selva). Peruvian food is often referred to as “Fusion food”, or comida criolla, due to its blend of Spanish, Asian, Incan and other European cuisine influences, which are integrated into the cooking.
On the topic of modern Peruvian cuisine, Madame Ximena introduced Gastón Acurio, “As one of Latin America’s celebrity chefs, he is one of the most important Peruvian chefs who has contributed to making Peruvian cuisine known worldwide. In a CNN travel interview, Acurio stated that Peru is a mix of indigenous cultures, Spanish colonizers and many immigrants who have come to Peru — Italian, Japanese and Chinese — and our food is a reflection of that”. He famously declared that he wanted “our people to feel that we were not condemned to imitate others’ cultures or others’ cuisines. We have a beautiful cuisine that deserves to be celebrated around the world.” Chef Acurio has achieved this goal with his empire of over 30 restaurants spread across a dozen countries.
She went on to say, “One of the modern Peruvian fusion cuisines is Nikkei, a combination of Japanese and Peruvian cuisine, using Peruvian ingredients but crafted by Japanese techniques. Peruvian and Japanese cuisine share common ingredients such as rice, vegetables and fish, which help create a natural fusion between the two. Nikkei cuisine a unique blend of meticulousness of Japanese preparation and presentation and the relaxed nature of Peruvian culture.”
“Novoandina is another modern Peruvian style cuisine. Dishes contain traditional, native ingredients such as quinoa, maca and yacón
Popular Peruvian dishes
Madame Ximena recommended, “The most authentic Peruvian specialties are to be found back home. Popular Peruvian dishes are made of four main groups, namely potatoes and roots; fish and seafood; quinoa and other cereals; and ‘cuy’, guinea pig, which is part of our dietary tradition.”
Potatoes originated in Peru. For centuries, potatoes were an important staple and primary energy source for Andean cultures. It is estimated that there are over 3,500 varieties. They differ in colour, shape, size, skin texture and taste, but all play a vital role in the Peruvian cuisine. Known as Causa, derived from the old Incan Quechua word kausaq, potato, its name means “giver of life.” In the most basic form, potatoes are served cold mashed, layered like a lasagne with avocado, hardboiled eggs and tomatoes, for example.
Ceviche is Peru’s national dish, which can be found almost in every restaurant there. There are lots of variations, but the original is sea bass soaked in lime juice, onion, salt and hot chillies. It is then served with a side dish of sweet potatoes and corn.
Peru is one of the most bio diverse places on earth, producing a vast variety of unique and nutritious foods. The most well known is the ancient Inca crop quinoa. Although often mistaken as a whole grain, it is in fact a pseudo-cereal, a seed that acts like a grain. Being a goosefoot, the plant itself is more like spinach and whole grains like wheat. It is often labelled as a superfood since it is not only gluten-free but also contains more protein, minerals, vitamins and fibre than many usual grains and seeds.
Flamed guinea pig has been a part of Peruvian traditional cuisine for around 5,000 years. The whole guinea pig is often barbecued or baked over an open fire, which creates smoky and crispy skin outside with juicy and tender meat inside. It is the staple meat of many households in the Andes while it seems unconventional to Western tourists who see this indigenous animal more as a domesticated pet.
Peruvian cuisine with its fusion of local and international flavours has gained a foothold in the global culinary scene. Although rooted in indigenous traditions, Peruvian cuisine has eagerly embraced influences from other cultures including European, African and Asian over the past several hundred years. The result is an exceptional fusion cuisine that reflects the nation’s multicultural history.
As our interview draws to a close, Madame Ximena encouraged all readers to visit Peru, “Apart from Machu Picchu and our iconic scenery, please come and enjoy the pride and joy of South America, Peruvian cuisine.”