la vida comida

food. life.

Tag: food

A culinary tribute to my father on his birthday

* This post was originally published on April 22, 2011. I’m reposting it to honor my dad, who would’ve been 87 years old today.  

April 22, 2011

This is only my third blog post, and already I’m straying off-topic… but I have good reason, I promise.

Today, April 22nd, is my father’s birthday. He would have been 83. We lost him to cancer six months ago, after a valiant two-year fight that only highlighted his strength, grace and dignity. I still struggle to accept that he is gone. It’s like accepting that I’ll never see the moon again. 

Today, I celebrate my father with food… because while my mother apprenticed me in the skill of cooking (for which I am eternally grateful), it was my father who taught me the art and pure joy of eating.

My father was Swedish, German, and English. His first loves were cultivated at home, and early: smoked salmon, pickled herring, fresh fish, dark rye bread, creamy wursts and pâtés, sausages, thick stews, strong cheeses. And candy.

He grew up in New Rochelle, New York, and worked for over fifty years in Midtown East Manhattan.  The Lorson family business had been located in an office suite in Rockefeller Center since the early 1900s (which my dad sadly vacated in the 1980s, when he semi-retired). We’d sometimes accompany him to work on Saturdays.  We’d talk to the impassive elevator-man, plunk on the massive typewriters, spin each other on office chairs until we were nauseous… then run to the café downstairs for lunch and hot chocolate (and do a bit of skating, if it was the season).

When we lived in Pelham, he would pick up teawurst and still-warm onion bread every Sunday afternoon from the German deli. I dreaded church… but eagerly anticipated the earthly reward for behaving during mass! For a rare treat, we would go to the Italian deli in New Rochelle, and get bread and fresh mozzarella – and sometimes, a grapefruit-sized manteca. We dug out salty butter and spread it on fresh-baked Italian bread, and topped it with slabs of pungent cheese… there is no better definition of heaven. Yes, Sundays were good when I was a child.

For our birthdays every year, each of us got to pick any restaurant in Manhattan and have a “date” with just our parents.  We dressed up, took the train to Grand Central, marveled at the constellations. We ate at the Rainbow Room, the Brasserie, Flutie’s, other places which have faded into the landscape. It sure made each of us five kids feel like we were the center of the universe, if only for one day.

He was on a first-name basis with the people at Caviarteria while they were in Grand Central. When they left, he had a steady stream of shipments arriving almost weekly.  In his later years, crème fraiche and caviars were a staple of his diet. And mine, thanks to him.

Manhattan is my father.

Later, after he and my mom moved to Connecticut, and ventured into the city less often, Dad found a wonderful cheese shop, The Villa Gourmet in Milford. The delicious treats – and Linda, the sweet owner – offered my father a brief respite from the devastating rigors of chemo. I truly believe that for a while, those rich, fattening cheeses helped to keep his weight up… and looking forward to them helped sustain him in a way no other meal ever could have.

My father definitely had caviar and champagne tastes… but he didn’t like pasta, rice, vegetables, and most fruits. He replaced those with junk food.  Cheese puffs, potato chips, and his all-time favorites, M&Ms and Reese’s peanut butter cups, were never more than an arm’s reach away. His constant working and striding across Manhattan kept him from ever becoming heavy; it also helped that he was 6’2” and absolutely never stopped moving.

My dad knew pretty early that I was his snack-mate. I liked everything he liked (except scotch, thank God!). When we grilled steak, my father would share the rarest, juiciest pieces with me; and would give me a big slab of “bread and gravy” (salty blood-soaked bread). When he discovered a new cheese, a new pâté, a new gourmet shop – or got a fresh batch of Andes mints – I was the first to know. I inherited his mash-up tastes:  when I first started learning about wine, my first impulse was to find a dessert wine to accompany my Hostess cupcakes. I never would have become so fascinated by food – and certainly not so adventurous – if it hadn’t been for him. He has made me who I am, in so many ways – but this particularly was a precious gift that continues to shape my life… and the life of my daughter as well.

While my heart breaks a little every day that he is not here – and every day that passes carries me further from the time that he was on this earth – I know how very lucky I am to have had such a wonderful father for 42 years of my life. Whenever I miss him, I can share one of our much-loved treats and smile, knowing he is looking on approvingly (and with a bit of jealousy).

So today, I’m going to nibble a bit of caviar and good cheese, scarf down a Reese’s and a handful of M&Ms, and sip a glass of wine (for which he longed since quitting drinking nearly 30 years before he died, but refused even on his deathbed) to honor the memory of a kind, loving, neurotic, quirky, impatient, passionate and utterly human father… who made colossal mistakes, but gave his complete unconditional love without a second thought… who lived every single day without looking forward or back, with the pure joy of a child, and the savoring appreciation of an old man all at once. He made every simple moment special.

Skål, Dad. I wish you were here.

Donde Peruco

Seafood / ceviche, Northern Peruvian (norteña)
4 Stars (4 / 5)
$$
review date: 12/24/2014
+51 1 4491030
Calle María Elena Moyano (La Merced) 178, Santiago de Surco 15038, Perú

 
 

My husband’s sister Susi and brother-in-law David brought us to Donde Peruco for Christmas Eve lunch, saying that if we couldn’t get up to my husband’s northern hometown of Piura, Donde Peruco had some good norteña dishes, and some great seafood too.

The restaurant’s located on a side street in Surco, Lima’s largest district. Mistura and Apega signs hang prominently outside the restaurant, proclaiming the restaurant’s participation in the country’s largest food festival (and by association, its quality).

Outside, the small, winding street was packed with cars (and attendants looking to help you park for a few nuevo soles); but the restaurant’s interior – while smallish – had a rustic, breezy feel. There was a little alcove bar which looked cozy.

The server was extremely polite, and swiftly served us beers, and a pitcher of sweet, clove-y chicha morada. We munched on the provided cancha (fried maize kernels) and chifles (plantain chips), then started with leche de tigre – for which chefs and home cooks alike have their own special recipe. Often this consists of strained ceviche marinade, while sometimes it is made on its own; still others use a combination of these two. Donde Peruco’s, to me, was more like a ceviche in a glass, with extra marinade – but I’m not complaining. The tart creaminess of the marinade, the inimitable floral, tangy-sweet Peruvian lime, fresh sea bass, and crisp red onion… my mouth waters just thinking about it, and I’m not even exaggerating.

This led into our main dishes, the first of which was a mild ceviche de pescado (which was nearly identical to the leche de tigre, I think). I personally like my ceviche much spicier, but it was still delicious.

The lomo saltado was incredible. Those who’ve had it before may think this phrase is an oxymoron! It’s a simple dish, certainly – strips of beef and bell pepper, with a lot of garlic and a hint of soy sauce, a nod to the many Asian influences in Peruvian cuisine. But the beef was filet mignon-tender, the sauce so flavorful, with just the right balance of salt and garlic. Even my husband said it was the best he’d ever had.

We also shared a plate of jalea, a plate of battered fried seafood and yucca, with homemade mayonnaise for dipping. Hot, light, crisp… yum.

Our arroz con mariscos had a dark, rich seafood sauce, with shrimp, squid, calamari, mussels, and a paella-like rice. It was very good.

We also sampled a few of the norteño dishes. I’d never had seco de chabelo before, and it was… well, interesting. It was like smashed tostones with fresh dried beef (charqui, or jerky), and chifles stuck in the top. There’s no question it was well-made; I’m just on the fence about tostones, which I find to be bland and dry. I greatly prefer ripe, moist plantains, fried to a dark caramel on the outside, and that sweet, deep yellow creaminess on the inside… well, I digress. If you’re not a fan of unripe plantains, you may want to skip this one. (My husband says that in his hometown, they do not put chifles, and they use chicha de jora to make it more moist and flavorful.)

Majado de yucca is another northern specialty. Now I’m a yucca freak, and I could pretty much eat fried yucca (with an assortment of dipping sauces of course) every day of the year. But this was similar to the seco de chabelo, only with yucca. Like the chabelo, it was very good – just not my thing.

For dessert, we went to a gelateria, though we’ll be sure to try Donde Peruco’s postres (and the arroz con pato, the one norteña dish we didn’t get to try) next time. 

For a restaurant in Lima, the prices might be considered middle of the road. For American visitors, the prices are quite reasonable; almost all of the entrées are priced between $8 and $9 American dollars.

Donde Peruco is simply an excellent restaurant. I can’t say one negative thing about it. Every single dish was well-made, perfectly seasoned, nicely presented, and served quickly and courteously. I absolutely recommend it, and plan to go back as soon as we return to Lima.

Sancocho

As most everyone knows, New York’s winter has been especially brutal this year. Subzero temperatures, weekly snowstorms, blustery gray days that blend into one another… it feels like winter will never end.

My husband’s friend Will is a Nuyorican who has lived in Albany for many years. He’s helped us out of many a jam, not the least of which has been digging us out of every snowstorm.

After the last storm, I gratefully asked Will what I could make to repay him. He immediately answered, “Sancocho!”

I wasn’t even sure what it was. But after a little investigation, I learned that sancocho is another ubiquitous culinary term: most countries in and near the Caribbean have their own version. (Peru’s sancochado is a soup – not quite the same.)

Some cite sancocho’s origin as the Canary Islands: slaves brought to the Caribbean by the Spanish brought the dish (originally made with fish) along with them. Others elaborate, asserting that African slaves set a pot of sancocho to simmer in the morning, so they would have a hearty stew to sustain themselves after toiling in the scorching heat. (It also alludes to the individuals themselves, boiling under the hot sun.) Still others credit the indigenous Taino peoples with introducing the Spanish to their root vegetable stew.

Like most food history, things have a tendency to get muddled over time. There’s surely truth in each version.

But it is important to remember – especially now, in honor of Black History Month – that each Latin American country’s cuisine was not created by only indigenous and Spanish food cultures. African slaves prepared, influenced – and truly, invented – many dishes for the viceroy and upper class households. This vastly influenced the mainstream cuisine of many countries. African contribution to Latin American cuisine simply cannot be overstated.

Will says his family always used oxtails – which is usually used in the Colombian version – and included tomatoes. This version, based on Will’s family recipe, is a meat-heavy stew, full of earthy roots, sweet squash, and of course, sofrito.

Sofrito is a central ingredient in sancocho. Every Latin American culture has at least one version of sofrito. (Truly, almost every food culture has a similar culinary staple: a mix of aromatic vegetables which form the foundation of a dish’s flavor. Think pre-cooked, Latin American mirepoix. (Recaíto, a cilantro-based sofrito, is usually used for Puerto Rican sancocho.)

When I asked Will if his family’s recipe was traditional, he said that each family had its own version; but added: “Does it taste good? Then it’s traditional.” Truer words were never said!

It was such a hit, I’ve made it three more times in the last month! I can’t think of a more satisfying comfort food for this frigid weather – or for a loyal friend.

Sancocho
Servings Prep Time
8people 30minutes
Cook Time
1.5hours
Servings Prep Time
8people 30minutes
Cook Time
1.5hours
Ingredients
Browning meat:
  • 2packets Goya Sazon seasoning
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper, ground
  • 1pound oxtails or beef shin bones
  • 1pound beef short ribs
  • 1pound beef neck bones
  • 2pounds beef eye or top round,cubed
  • 1 ham hock
Stew base:
  • 2 Tbsp. vegetable oil
  • 1large yellow onionmedium dice
  • 10cloves garlicminced
  • 1medium green peppermedium dice
  • 1/2can tomato paste(6 oz.)
  • 1pint Sofritofresh or frozen Goya
  • 2quarts beef stock
  • 1 1/2 quarts water
  • 1packet Goya Jamon seasoning
  • 1tsp. Goya Adobo seasoning
  • 1tsp. achiote, ground
Vegetables:
  • 4medium yellow potatoespeeled and quartered
  • 1large sweet potatopeeled and quartered
  • 1pound yucca,frozen, defrosted, strings removed
  • 1large batata (yam)peeled and quartered
  • 1large plantain,cut in quarter width-wise
  • 1 pound butternut squashfresh or frozen, large dice
  • 2whole corn cobs,cut in thirds width-wise
  • 1bunch cilantrochopped
  • salt and black pepperto taste
Instructions
Mise en place:
  1. Gather / measure all ingredients.
Browning Meats:
  1. Sprinkle meats with the two Sazon packets and ½ tsp. black pepper. Heat oil in a very large, heavy-bottomed stockpot, over medium-high heat. Brown meats, starting with the fattiest meats (oxtail / shin bones, neck bones, then boneless diced meat). Lightly brown pork bone. Remove meat from pot with slotted spoon.
Base:
  1. Lower heat to medium. Add onions to oil; sauté until transparent (3-4 minutes). Add garlic; sauté 2-3 minutes. Add green pepper; sauté until soft (3-4 more minutes).
  2. Add tomato paste; sauté until paste darkens and has a distinctive, rich aroma (pincé), about 3-4 minutes.
  3. Add liquids; deglaze pot. Add sofrito; stir. Bring liquid to a boil, then add meats and pork bone to the broth.
  4. Turn heat back down to medium; partially cover (but allow some steam to escape). Simmer meat for 45 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  5. Check that all meats are tender. (They do not need to be completely fork tender, since the stew will continue to cook. But if they are still firm, continue to cook. Check every 10 minutes until meats are just starting to become fork tender (fork will penetrate meat, but will not sink all the way through with no effort).
  6. Remove cover. Add all vegetables except butternut squash, corn, and cilantro. Simmer for another 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  7. Check that all starches are fork tender. If not, continue to cook until they are tender; but be careful not to overcook, or they will disintegrate.
  8. Add squash and corn; cook 7-10 more minutes, until squash is tender and corn is done. (Be careful not to overcook squash, or it will fall apart).
  9. Taste the sancocho. Add Adobo, salt, and/or black pepper to taste, if desired. Stir in cilantro. Remove from heat and serve immediately.
Recipe Notes

You can find Goya (and other) brand sofrito, recaíto, and yucca (cassava) in most grocery stores.

Goya frozen sofrito has a very strong oregano flavor and aroma.

If using recaíto instead of sofrito, omit the tomato paste.

You can substitute 1 can yellow hominy (rinsed) or 1 cup frozen and defrosted corn nibs for the cobs, if desired.

I can hardly believe so much time has passed since I’ve written! I’m so glad to be back. It’s been such a busy year for me: I’m just two semesters shy of my food studies master’s degree, which has been very hard but rewarding research work. I’m also working as a pastry chef at a gourmet market, as well as a private cake artist (and participated in a cake competition earlier this year as well). But I will be posting regularly from now on – really, I promise!

Today’s my birthday, which I’m pleased to find falls during Mistura (September 5-15 this year). Quite a nice birthday present, I think! It’s my mission to attend next year.

Mistura is a Peruvian culinary festival which was created by APEGA (Peru’s Gastronomic Society, which promotes Peruvian biodiversity, farming, and cuisine). APEGA and Mistura seek to educate the public about Peru’s incredible and unique food products, which immediately translates into its tremendous gastronomic diversity. In that vein, Mistura’s chef-participants showcase Peruvian agricultural and food products in creative and exciting ways.

At Mistura, Peru’s culinary “worlds” are represented by ingredients or dishes (like anticucho, ceviche, and sandwiches) – and regional / fusion cuisines (including north, south, Amazon, chifa, and nikkei). Quinoa, the Andean superfood, local fish / seafood products, and chocolate took center stage this year.

Peruvian cuisine is dynamic, innovative fusion at its best – and the culinary world is finally starting to take note! Mistura is fast becoming a culinary destination for top chefs and international foodies. The festival has grown in recent years to include culinary exhibits from around the world. Celebrated international chefs headlined food presentations, including (of course) Gastón Acurio, Ferran Adrià, José Andrés, Rick Bayless, Alain Ducasse, and René Redzepi.

One aside: I was greatly disappointed to learn there was not one female chef included in the presentations. I sincerely hope this inexplicable exclusion is corrected in Mistura 2014. However, chef Milagros Herrera was selected as Mistura’s Best Pastry Chef 2014, whose quinoa crème brûlée thrilled the judges. Read about it here:

This beautiful English-language video about Mistura was shared with me by filmmakers Mo Stoebe and Katja Kulenkampff. (It is also posted on their stunning blog, Cut and Cue.) It showcases renowned chefs Gaston Acurio, Tony Custer, and René Redzepi sharing their views about Peruvian cuisine, food culture, and the Mistura festival. It perfectly captures both the visual beauty of Peruvian food and the cultural essence of the cuisine – and especially how Peruvian food can become a vehicle for social change.

Mo and Katja, thanks so much for this enlightening glimpse into Mistura and Peruvian food life!

 

Want to learn more about Mistura? Check out the links below.

¡buen provecho! ¡hasta pronto!

Link to the official Mistura website (español)…

http://mistura.pe/

…and its official Facebook page (español):

https://www.facebook.com/misturaperu

Eater.com’s Mistura review (English):

http://eater.com/archives/2013/09/10/hangover-observations-from-mistura-2013-in-lima-peru.php

Peru This Week.com’s Mistura writeup (English):

http://www.peruthisweek.com/food-everything-you-need-to-know-about-mistura-2013-100774

Latina Lista.com (English):

http://latinalista.com/2013/09/international-foodies-turn-their-attention-to-perus-mistura

Peruvian newspaper El Comercio’s website, with Mistura 2013 news (español):

http://elcomercio.pe/gastronomia/?tag=mistura&ref=ecb

El Comercio’s aerial camera view of Mistura (español):

http://elcomercio.pe/gastronomia/1628820/noticia-feria-mistura-2013-desde-lente-dronevideo

Seco de Pollo / Cilantro Chicken Stew

Seco de pollo is a very typical Peruvian entrée; it can be found in nearly every region of the country. “Dry chicken stew” is so named because the chicken is first fried (the “dry” part), then returned to the stew (the “wet” part). It is also because the liquid is reduced to a thick sauce – not dry, per se; but more so than a soup or many other stews.

It can be made with any meat (seco de res – beef; seco de cordero – lamb; seco de cerdo – pork; etc.). In the northern region, it is frequently made with goat or lamb; and is traditionally served with the corn tamales that are typical of that area. Wherever it is found, it is also accompanied by arroz a la peruana.

Estofado is similar to the seco dishes, except that it has tomato, paprika and only a little cilantro. I’ll include that recipe at a later date.

 

Seco de Pollo / Cilantro Chicken Stew
Servings Prep Time
4servings 20minutes
Cook Time
45minutes
Servings Prep Time
4servings 20minutes
Cook Time
45minutes
Ingredients
Browning chicken:
  • 3 1/2 pounds chicken thighs and legs(about 8 pieces)
  • 2tsp. Kosher salt
  • 1tsp. black pepper, ground
  • 1/4cup vegetable oil
Base:
  • 2Tbsp. olive oilextra virgin
  • 1large yellow onionsmall dice
  • 5cloves garlicminced
  • 1/2medium red bell pepperseeded, sliced thinly
  • 1/2medium green bell pepperseeded, sliced thinly
  • 1/2small ají amarillo, freshseeded, minced
  • 1/4cup ají amarillo paste
  • 1quart chicken stock(enough to cover)
Vegetables / Seasoning:
  • 4medium yellow potatoespeeled and quartered
  • 1cup green peasfresh or frozen (defrosted)
  • 1cup cilantro, chopped(plus sprigs for garnish)
  • Kosher salt(to taste)
  • black pepper, ground(to taste)
Instructions
Mise en Place:
  1. Gather / measure ingredients
Browning chicken:
  1. Combine salt, pepper and cumin; sprinkle onto both sides of chicken. Heat the vegetable oil over medium-high heat in a large sauté pan. Brown the chicken, then remove from pan.
Base:
  1. Turn the heat down to medium; add the olive oil. Add the onion, and sauté 7-8 minutes (until golden). Add garlic; sauté 2-3 more minutes. Add green pepper, hot pepper and pepper paste; sauté 2-3 more minutes.
  2. Deglaze with chicken stock, scraping bottom of pot to release the fond. Add the chicken back to the pot. Add enough chicken stock to nearly cover the chicken. Turn up heat until liquid simmers.
  3. Add the potatoes and chicken. Cook for approximately 35-40 minutes (until chicken is very tender). Stir occasionally to prevent sticking.
  4. Add peas, and cook for 2-3 minutes; then add cilantro. Cook for 1-2 more minutes only.
  5. Taste; add salt and pepper as desired (it may not need any) Garnish with cilantro sprigs, and serve with arroz a la peruana.
Recipe Notes

The liquid reduces to a thin sauce consistency as it cooks. If you would like it to be thicker, remove the chicken and potatoes when done, then reduce sauce to desired consistency.

Take care when handling hot peppers! Always use gloves, and wash hands and cutting surfaces thoroughly afterwards.

This recipe traditionally adds diced carrots; I leave them out. If you would like to include them, add ½ cup diced raw carrots with the onions. (If using frozen pre-cooked carrots, add them with the peas.)

 

Copyright © http://www.lavidacomida.com.

Recipe by Jennifer Ramos Lorson.

A Brief History of Peruvian Cuisine

The next several posts will be about Peru and Peruvian cuisine, since it’s closest to my heart (and mouth!). We will get to the recipes soon, I promise! But I thought I would be in remiss not to mention the rich cultural history that is behind this exciting cuisine.

Believe it or not, this is relatively brief overview of Peruvian food history! It would be impossible to cover the entire history of the Inca Empire, Spanish conquest and subsequent cultural development in a blog post (and not really relevant for our purposes!). I will, however, include links to websites that offer more in-depth explanations, for anyone who might be interested.

Peruvian cuisine is one of the most fascinating food cultures in the world. It is unmatched in both its diversity and individuality – in my humble opinion, anyway. It is a fusion of many different cultures; it retains unique elements of each, yet is a distinct cuisine all its own. Its main influences are the indigenous Inca peoples; the Spanish conquistadors; African slaves brought by the Spanish; and large waves of immigrants who became integral components of the cultural and culinary framework.

Peruvian Girls in Traditional Dress

Incas

The Inca Empire, at the time of the Spanish conquest, was a vast and complex civilization that – at its height – extended into modern-day Chile, Ecuador and Colombia. This region was called Tahuantinsuyo, or “land of four regions.” The Tahuantinsuyos (the word “Inca” actually referred to the nation’s nobility, though we’ll use it because it’s familiar) were already a mixture of cultures and languages themselves, united through the conquests of emperor Pachacutec and his sons. After Pachacutec’s death, both brothers vied for power; as a result, the nation was greatly compromised by war between the two brothers’ factions. It is at this time that the Spaniards arrived; the weakened state of leadership, government, and army greatly contributed to the Incas’ downfall at the hands of the Spanish.

The indigenous peoples had a rich array of native foods, recipes and techniques when the colonizing Spanish arrived. Peru is one of the most biodiverse regions in the world, and a multitude of important native foods were consumed throughout the country:  notably the variety of peppers, hot and sweet, which are an essential ingredient in many Peruvian recipes. Peanuts and many tomato and bean varietals were also cultivated and widely consumed.

In addition to these universal ingredients, local cuisines were – and still are – highly dependent upon the geographic area and climate of each region. While it is important to note that there is a considerable overlap of foods in each region, there are three main climatic (and culinary) regions:

The Andes Mountains and Highlands

Purple Corn

The mountain regions had a highly developed system of farming, which included terrace farming and its complex irrigation systems. Many mountain crops grow only at specific altitudes; these ancient farmers knew which crops grew best at which altitude, and 

Corn was a highly-prized staple of Andean cuisine; there were a multitude of corn cakes and tamales, each serving a different meal or cultural purpose (i.e. some were for ritual celebrations, some for everyday meals, etc.). Chicha morada is a drink made from purple corn; and chicha de jora is a fermented corn beer which held great ceremonial importance in ancient Inca life.

They also cultivated hundreds of tuber varieties indigenous to the region, especially the incredible diversity of potatoes; but also sweet potatoes and unique tuber varieties such as the olluca.  Quinoa, amaranth (kiwicha) and other ancient grains were important for nutrition and culinary variety. While the majority of the common folk ate little meat, the Incas did hunt fresh game such as venison (most often in the participation of ritual hunts). They also domesticated native animals, such as llama, alpaca, and cuy, or guinea pig, which they also sacrificed.

The Inca people developed advanced preparation and preservation methods such as freeze-drying; these enabled them to endure times of scarcity and difficult weather conditions. Chuños / papas secas (dried potatoes) are still a staple, and a main ingredient in the stew carapulcra. The Incas also dried meat and freshwater fish; in fact, charqui (jerky) is one of the few Andean foods and Quechua words that have been adopted worldwide. Pachamanca is a huge celebration meal that is cooked in an earthen pit with hot stones. Native plants such as huacatay, a native herb related to marigold, and hot peppers, seasoned and flavored their foods.

Tropical / Amazon Basin

This region grows vast quantity of tropical fruits, many of which are not often found outside of Peru; they include camu camu, lucuma, cherimoya, and guanabana. Also found are yucca, yam, guava, passion fruit, granadilla, and avocado. The Amazon River provides an abundance of fish and wildlife. Wild pig and other jungle animals are hunted.

The Coast

Fish and seafood are obvious staples. Ceviche – raw fish or seafood marinated in lime juice – is a regional delicacy; each area has its own version. Waterfowl such as duck was also common.

There are two subdivisions of the coastal regions:

The Northern Coast is extremely hot, with a desert savanna climate. In addition to an abundance of fish and seafood, Chicha de jora (corn beer) is used in cooking more frequently here. Also, maize tamales are more common, whereas corn tamales are made in Lima and the southern portion of the country. Goat and lamb, particularly in stews (secos), are common entrées in this region.

Lima and the Central / Southern Coast has a subtropical / desert climate. Once home to the Viceroyalty, Lima is now considered the gastronomic center of Peru, if not all of South America. The sheer number and variety of Peruvian restaurants is extraordinary. 

Spanish Conquest

When Francisco Pizarro and the Spaniards arrived in Peru in 1532, they not only found a state weakened by civil war; but they also brought smallpox and other epidemics, which wiped out somewhere between 60% to over 90% of the Inca population by the end of the 16th century… leaving few people to fight or to be conquered. The Spanish used the remaining Inca as slaves – frequently working them to death – and suppressed their culture and traditions to the point that few Inca artifacts or history remain. They also brought their own blended culture’s cuisine, which consisted of European and Moorish recipes, ingredients, and methods.

Aside from pestilence and oppression, the Spanish brought European classical cuisine and ingredients including: onions and garlic; cumin, cilantro and parsley; and fruit trees (especially grape, olive, citrus, apple, peach, and pear). They also brought domesticated livestock, such as chicken, cows, rabbit, goats and sheep. The Spanish contributed significant agricultural staples such as rice and wheat. The Spaniards’ contribution of sugar cane transformed Peru into a sweet-loving culture in a very short period of time.

Mestizo Cuisine

The Inca intermarried with the Spanish over many generations; and their descendants came to be called mestizo (mixed). This created a lower-middle class that took many generations to develop. This process began on the culinary level as well, as the two food cultures began to blend together along with the families. Over many generations, the two cuisines became intermingled, recipes marrying ingredients and techniques became commonplace; and the foundation of modern Peruvian cuisine was created. Criollo (Creole) literally means locally-born people of foreign descent; but the term came to describe Peruvian cuisine itself: the marriage of Spanish colonial cuisine with the foods and food culture of the indigenous Inca groups.

Immigrant Waves

Peruvian cuisine was later influenced by large immigrant population waves. The Spaniards brought African slaves as obviously unwilling immigrants. They contributed many culinary techniques and ingredients, often borne out of necessity (i.e. being forced to use less appealing cuts of meat, leftovers, etc.). They contributed African methods, particularly frying foods in oil; and made a significant contribution to the cuisine. A few notable recipes include anticuchos and tacu tacu. Also, as servants in the Viceroyalty’s kitchens, they helped transform Peru into a sweet-loving culture: they imbued Spanish desserts with African undertones. Picarones and turrón de Doña Pepa are a few examples.

Peru formally declared its independence on July 28, 1821. In 1872, the Peruvian government created the Sociedad de Inmigración Europea (“European Immigration Society”); it offered financial support to Europeans looking to emigrate to Peru. Many immigrants – most notably Italians, Germans, and French – soon arrived. Classical French cuisine and Italian ingredients (especially pasta) were readily incorporated into the food culture. Many settled in isolated communities in mountain valleys and lowlands; Italian and German enclaves in the mountain valleys and Amazon basin still exist today, and strive to maintain their ethnic heritage. (My husband is himself a descendant of the Tremolada family of Junín province, and is one-quarter Milanese!)

Chinese immigrants arrived to build the railroads in the 1800s, and contributed tremendously to Peruvian food culture. Chifa – Chinese-Peruvian cuisine – blends traditional Chinese with native Peruvian ingredients. Peruvian cooks began to integrate Chinese ingredients into their meals; ginger, soy sauce, and scallions can be found in many Peruvian recipes. Chifa is quite different from Chinese-American cuisine – which has been altered to suit American tastes, and is not generally consumed by Chinese people (either in the U.S. or in China). It is a unique cuisine onto itself.  Lima and the larger cities hold the greatest concentration of Chinese immigrants, and consequently the greatest number of chifa restaurants.

Last – but certainly not least – the Japanese made their mark on the cuisine. Peru established diplomatic relations with Japan in 1873; emigration to Peru began soon afterwards. Today, Peru is home to over 1.5 million Japanese-Peruvians. (Former President Fujimori and his presidential-candidate daughter Keiko are notable, if dubious, Japanese-Peruvians.) Partly through the expertise of sushi chefs, ceviche – a traditional Peruvian dish of fish macerated in citrus juice – has been elevated to an art form in the haute cuisine kitchens of Lima. Tiradito – a sashimi-inspired dish similar to ceviche – was the result of Japanese influence.

The cuisines of the Inca, Spanish, Africans, Europeans, Chinese, and Japanese have been seamlessly incorporated into one unified Peruvian food culture. Spaniards’ own mélange of cultures, as well as the multitude of microcultures that made up the Inca people, may have set the stage for an attitude of culinary acceptance that might not have been possible elsewhere. The result is Peruvian Cuisine: an exciting, vibrant, eclectic mix of cultures, ingredients and recipes that continues to evolve today.

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